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ND Women’s Soccer: In a class of their own

Fran Tolan | Thursday, November 15, 2007

Coaches often implore their teams to play every game like it’s their last. Notre Dame’s senior class needs no such motivation.

As the Irish prepare for the first round of the NCAA Tournament against Loyola (Ill.) Friday, the seniors realize they have no more room for error.

“After this, there are no more opportunities [for them],” Irish coach Randy Waldrum said. “The next loss and the season’s over and these girls know that.”

The group of fourth-year players, who were part of a national championship team as freshmen, immediately bonded before that first season. Soon after arriving for preseason workouts as freshmen, the team headed to Brazil for an exhibition tour.

“It was interesting because we came in [to Notre Dame] the night before we left for Brazil,” senior goalkeeper Lauren Karas said. “It was just kind of scary because the team all knew each other and [the freshmen] didn’t really know what was going on.”

But the crew of rookies, which included current seniors Karas, captain Amanda Cinalli, midfielder Ashley Jones and forward Susan Pinnick, got to know each other very well in Brazil.

“There was no time to be shy and let people come to you,” Karas said. “You just had to get along immediately or it was going to be a long trip.”

Four years later, the seniors have endured their most turbulent season since arriving at Notre Dame. After starting 3-4-1, the Irish won their last 10 regular season games before winning two postseason games to reach the finals of the Big East tournament. On Sunday, the seniors failed to capture their third conference championship as they fell to West Virginia in a shootout.

But despite the difficulties the team has endured, Karas said being a member of this squad has been most rewarding.

“This is the best team we’ve had in that we all get along and I’m so excited to see everybody every day for practice,” Karas said.

The Irish know they have a legitimate shot at another national championship to bookend their careers with triumphs.

“I just want everybody to feel that sense of accomplishment that we had [as freshmen],” Karas said. “[The fact] that we worked our butts off every day, we came to school before the preseason [paid off].”

Whether the seniors end their careers with a disappointing loss or another NCAA title, Waldrum said they have already had a huge impact for the Notre Dame soccer program.

“I think they’re one of the winningest programs in the nation over those four years,” Waldrum said. “You’ve got to give them a lot of credit for what we are.”

The seniors have posted a combined record of 87-9-3 in their four seasons. But Waldrum also praised the class for its dedication off the pitch.

“This particular class has not only been great on the field, but great ambassadors for the program,” Waldrum said. “Community service and [public relations] and just things we do off the field, they’ve been great with that. And that’s just as important as what goes on on the field.”