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ND Women’s Soccer Commentary: Don’t expect too many more deficits this year

Fran Tolan | Friday, October 10, 2008

Bad news, Irish fans. Notre Dame’s quest to avoid falling behind in a game this season ended last weekend.

But the sight of the top-ranked Irish on the short end of the scoreboard will not be a common one throughout the remainder of the season. How uncommon? It should happen about as often as Rosie O’Donnell opts for low-fat brownies.

When Notre Dame fell behind by one goal against Marquette last Sunday, the Irish were visibly frustrated and one standout player jokingly admitted to being puzzled.

“Some of us were like, ‘Okay, what’s going on?'” senior forward Kerri Hanks said.

The Irish deficit to Marquette did not hold up for long, though. Notre Dame roared back with two goals in less time than it takes for a Deadhead to leave a DMX concert. Within four minutes, the Irish took complete control of the game and built a 2-1 lead.

Marquette, one of the stronger teams in the Big East with a 3-1-1 conference record, could not even come close to matching up to Notre Dame talent-wise. And Golden Eagles coach Markus Roeders admitted as much after the Irish wrapped up their 3-1 win.

“We cannot honestly say that we have the talent they have,” Roeders said. “Here, they are one of the teams that gets the real best players.”

Roeders said he thinks the Irish rank among the top four teams in the country, along with UCLA, Portland and North Carolina.

Guess who North Carolina’s only loss in 13 games came against? That’s right, Notre Dame. And that match was played in Chapel Hill.

Irish coach Randy Waldrum said he would place his top-ranked team among the top five squads in the country.

“The rankings are very arbitrary so you don’t really know who’s the best until the top teams start facing each other,” Waldrum said. “So I’d have to agree with [Roeders] and be more realistic and just say we’re definitely in that top group.”

But while he was reluctant to label his team as the one to beat, Waldrum said this year’s Notre Dame team is one of the most impressive squads he has coached. Waldrum, who has managed top-flight Irish teams for the past 10 years, also said that the 2008 version has the deepest talent base.

“This team is clearly up there with the best ones we’ve had here,” he said. “And I’d have to say it’s the deepest, in terms of talent, that we’ve had.”

That depth allows the Irish to stay fresh and may prove to be the difference when they finally face off against the few teams that can conceivably match up with them.

“If you look back at the past couple of Final Fours, we’ve been worn out at the end,” Waldrum said. “So this year we’ve been cautious, trying to keep playing time to where we can win but to where we don’t wear our [top players] out.”

And the undefeated Irish may just now be starting to hit their stride.

Senior co-captain Brittany Bock came into the Marquette game with just one goal but notched a pair – including the go-ahead tally – against the Golden Eagles. Bock carried the Irish for the second half of the season last year and looks poised to do so again. She did not play in Notre Dame’s first three games because of an ankle injury but now appears to be playing at full strength.

“She’s personally been a little frustrated because she hasn’t scored the goals that she thinks she should but I told her if you be patient your time will come,” Waldrum said. “Last year when she made such a good run with her goal-scoring it came in the second half of the season. I told her last weekend, I said we’re right about at that point again.”

In addition to the re-emergence of Bock as a scoring threat, the Irish back line looks like it can shut down any offense in the country. Senior defender Carrie Dew is fully healthy after playing at less than full strength for the past two seasons. Waldrum said having her at full strength could allow the Irish to bring home their first national championship since 2004.

“We have all great players [on defense] but the glue that holds all four of them together is Carrie Dew,” Waldrum said. “The past couple of years, I’ve said that the difference between us not winning it all might have been not having her healthy.”

The depth the Irish have on both ends of the field puts them in great position to win all of their remaining regular season games and secure home-field advantage for most of the NCAA Tournament. Then again, that won’t be nearly as impressive if they keep falling behind like they did last Sunday.

The views in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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