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Women’s Soccer Analysis: Waldrum’s early-season tough love payed off for team

Bill Brink | Wednesday, November 7, 2007

After Notre Dame’s loss to Penn State on Sept. 23, the Irish were 3-4-1 and had lost four of their last six games. That was a crucial moment, a fulcrum on which the result of their season balanced.

The team simply couldn’t afford to lose. A deviation from the standard was necessary, so Irish coach Randy Waldrum took a chance. He sat the team down for what he called a “come to Jesus” talk about the rest of the season – and told his players that from that point forward, losing could sink their hopes of postseason success.

“We have now hit our last weekend of being able to lose a game,” Waldrum told the players at the time. “Here’s your season in a nutshell if we don’t get this turned around and get it turned around now.”

Waldrum said Tuesday that he held nothing back and let the players know exactly what lay ahead of them.

“It was a pretty blunt meeting,” he said. “‘The season’s down the tubes if we don’t start winning now.'”

Maybe Waldrum’s thoughts echoed the players’ inner feelings. Maybe his tone resonated in a motivational way. Maybe he struck a nerve by putting that much pressure on his players. Whatever the reason, the meeting worked – Notre Dame hasn’t lost a game since.

The weekend following the talk, Notre Dame beat Louisville on the road and came home to clobber Cincinnati 6-1. Heading into Friday’s Big East semifinal game against Georgetown, the Irish have won 11 straight games.

“It was a little bit of a gamble, I think, to do that,” Waldrum said. “It could have gone the other way, and we still continued to play poorly. Or it was a turning point, and I think right now, obviously, it was a turning point for the better.”

Waldrum said he debated with his coaches whether to give the talk, but in the end felt that he should be honest with the team about its prospects for the rest of the season.

“From there on out, almost the whole month of October, every game we played has been almost a must-win game for us,” Waldrum said. “The reason being is that we couldn’t afford to lose any more games and have any shot at the NCAAs or have any outside shot at hosting at home.”

The urgent attitude put immense pressure on the players. Conference tournament play, however, should be nothing new for them – even the freshmen.

“I don’t think this is going to be anything new to them as freshmen,” Waldrum said. “I think they’ve gone through the pressure of having to win.”

The team focuses on itself rather than opponents, Waldrum said, and worries only about the next game. Both are characteristics he likes to see.

“It’s a funny group. You don’t hear them too much talking about the opposition, you don’t hear them too much talking about the pressures of big games,” Waldrum said.

“They’re really a focused group of kids. They don’t get too high, they don’t get too low.”

The Irish have had offensive success, defensive stability and solid goalkeeping while steamrolling 11 opponents since the Penn State game. But the opposition is hardly what they’re thinking about.

“Right now, let’s just get all of our 27 players focused on Notre Dame,” Waldrum said of his team’s mentality. “More importantly than anything, we’ve just kind of said, ‘Right now, it’s all about us.'”