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ND Women’s Soccer: No. 1 women open Big East competition

Fran Tolan | Friday, September 19, 2008

Another weekend, another tough road trip for the Irish. Top-ranked Notre Dame (6-0-0) opens Big East play at DePaul tonight before heading to State College to take on No. 17 Penn State Sunday.

The Irish have not talked as a team about the No. 1 ranking that they earned for the first time of the season this week. But coach Randy Waldrum said he knows his players will have added incentive to win this weekend in order to retain it.

“The program and the team is used to [being ranked No. 1] but I’m not naive enough to think the girls don’t read about it, and people are patting them on the back about it,” Waldrum said. “We haven’t discussed it but it’s there and I’m sure there’s extra motivation to keep it.”

Waldrum said even though DePaul is 2-6, the matchup is a dangerous one for the Irish because it is the first Big East game for both teams.

“It’s the first conference game so you always have to see what everyone in the conference is like and you want to rack up as many in-conference wins as possible,” the coach said.

In addition, DePaul plays on a small, turf field that Waldrum said nullifies some of Notre Dame’s athleticism.

“The facility is very poor,” he said. “Hopefully it keeps us sharp and we realize that it might present some difficulty for us.”

The Blue Demons have won two of their last three games after dropping their first five contests.

After facing off against DePaul, Notre Dame will fly from Chicago to Pennsylvania to take on No. 17 Penn State. Brown upset Penn State last Friday before beating No. 25 Connecticut Sunday. Penn State fell in the rankings, a factor Waldrum said could make the home team hungrier when the Irish come to town.

“I almost wish they hadn’t lost to Brown because that might have added some fuel to their fire,” he said. “And with us being No. 1 they’re gonna be really ready to go.”

Penn State beat the Irish 2-1 at Alumni Field in the teams’ only meeting last season. Waldrum said his squad outplayed the Nittany Lions in that game but the visitors had one great equalizer – then-sophomore goalie Alyssa Naeher.

“I think she’s the best goalkeeper in the country,” Waldrum said. “Last year when they beat us she was responsible for [the win] … That was last year and this year she’s playing as well as ever.”

In the team’s first road trip this season, Notre Dame toppled both then-No. 3 North Carolina and then-No. 12 Duke. Waldrum said he hopes for similar results this weekend.

“This is just another one of those tough games that we’ve bitten off,” Waldrum said. “But if we can sneak out of [Penn State] with a win, we should be in really good shape for the meat of our Big East schedule.”

The contest against Penn State is the last non-conference game for the Irish during the regular season. And, beginning with DePaul Friday, Waldrum said his team is ready to begin Big East play.

“We have done so well in the [conference] regular season; we typically win our league,” he said. “We’re excited to go back and actually have an opportunity to win our conference tournament.”

Last season, the Irish fell to West Virginia in the Big East tournament final and Waldrum said they are eager to get another crack at it.

Still, the coach emphasized that it is more critical for his team to have a solid regular season than to worry about the postseason at this point.

“Our entire body of work [in the regular season] is much more important to me than the tournament,” Waldrum said. “And usually by the time the NCAA Tournament rolls around, we’ve done enough with our body of work to get in.”