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Women’s Soccer: Headin’ to Tobacco Road

Fran Tolan | Friday, September 5, 2008

No. 5/4 Notre Dame has rolled to a 3-0 start, including a win over No. 21 Santa Clara. But the nation will get to see what the Irish really have to offer this weekend in the Fetzer Classic, hosted by North Carolina.

The Irish will take on the No. 3/2 Tar Heels Friday and – as if the first contest won’t be enough of a test – conclude the tournament with a match against Duke Sunday.

While the Irish have been impressive in the early-going, outscoring opponents 13-0 in three games, they will have a chance to prove they are among the top teams in the country this weekend. The team has not yet played away from Alumni Field, but the Fetzer Classic should provide one of the most difficult road tests imaginable.

“It’s certainly a very difficult place to play,” Irish coach Randy Waldrum said. “… We’re expecting about four or five thousand people to show up so the place should be electric.”

The Irish are just 3-9-2 against North Carolina all-time and 1-2 at Fetzer Field, which is located on the Chapel Hill campus.

And despite Notre Dame’s poor overall mark against the Tar Heels, this will be one of North Carolina’s most important games of the year. The Irish are one of North Carolina’s main rivals, in part because the Irish are one of only two teams to have beaten the Tar Heels more than twice. In addition, North Carolina will be seeking revenge after Notre Dame ended its season a year ago with a 3-2 win in the third round of the NCAA Tournament at Fetzer Field.

“The North Carolina-Notre Dame series has two of the most storied programs in women’s soccer, so we really bring out the best in each other,” Waldrum said.

If the Irish have any energy left after the showdown with North Carolina Friday, they will take the field Sunday against Duke, another team on the hunt for vengeance against Notre Dame. A week before knocking out North Carolina last season, the Irish bounced the Blue Devils from the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Irish defense has been impenetrable so far, allowing just five total shots on goal in the team’s three games. The back line is anchored by senior co-captain Carrie Dew, who was named Big East defensive player of the week for the second consecutive time on Monday. But the unit will be pressured by North Carolina’s potent attackers. Led by senior midfielder Allie Long and junior forward Nikki Washington, who each have four points, the Tar Heels have averaged three goals a game in wins over Charlotte, Texas A&M and Tennessee.

“They’re offense is certainly a big challenge,” Waldrum said. “There’s not many teams that can hold them to two or three shots a game like we’ve been doing to teams.”

At the Fetzer Classic, the Irish will look to continue their offensive dominance. Senior forward Kerri Hanks, the reigning Top Drawer Soccer national player of the week, leads the Irish with four goals to go with one assist.

“Their offense is great but we expect to have a lot of chances against them, too, with all the firepower that we have on our side,” Waldrum said.

Notre Dame’s 3-0 record stands in stark contrast to its disappointing 2-3-2 record to begin last season. The Irish look to add an exclamation point to their hot start when they go toe-to-toe with some of the best programs in the country this weekend.