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ND Women’s Soccer: Nearing perfection

Deirdre Krasula | Monday, November 10, 2008

It was a slick battle, and far from the clean, smooth, familiar game of Irish soccer. But even in the snow and rain, freshman Melissa Henderson was able to clinch the 1-0 win over Connecticut and the Big East title in the first period of overtime.

With under four minutes left in the first overtime period of a scoreless draw, junior Michelle Weissenhofer drilled a shot at Huskies goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe, but Labbe was unable to win control and Henderson put the rebound away.

Labbe’s inability to grab onto the slick shot was indicative of the whole game. Between the snow and rain, players on both sides had trouble controlling their first touch and even hanging on to their footing.

“The field conditions weren’t great, and there were a lot of times where you would go in and try to stand somebody up, or go in for a tackle and you’re losing your footing and there was a lot more contact because of that,” Irish coach Randy Waldrum said.

But the weather conditions weren’t the only thing that turned the game into a physical contest. As the No. 1 team in the country, the Irish have no worries about the NCAA tournament, but that wasn’t the case for Connecticut.

A win in the Big East championship would have guaranteed Huskies a tournament berth, and it was clear they weren’t going down without a fight.

“We ran into a Connecticut team that really had to win, and win the tournament to get into the NCAA,” Waldrum said. “They’re throwing everything out there, they’re on their last leg – it was their last hope. We ran into a team that had an awful lot of fight in them.”

Labbe led the Huskies fight by ruining Notre Dame’s many attempts to take the early lead. The senior keeper had her strongest season for Connecticut coming off a summer as a reserve for the Canadian Olympic team. And that experience helped lead her team all the way the Big East finals.

“[Labbe is] a big reason why Connecticut made it all the way through to the final,” Waldrum said. “She had a really good tournament, a great game against West Virginia and she was very good against us.”

And teams usually turn to their strongest goal scorers to test a keeper like Labbe, but stars Kerri Hanks and Brittany Bock remained sidelined with injuries. Hanks strained her MCL in Notre Dame’s 5-0 win over Cincinnati in the Big East quarterfinals, and Bock hurt her knee in a 2-0 win over Marquette in the semifinals Friday. Both are likely to recover in time for NCAA competition.

“You don’t ever want to play without two players who are probably arguably two of the best players in the country, so it certainly hurts not having them on the field,” Waldrum said. “But I think the one thing that we’ve always talked about this year, even with the team, is depth, we’ve done nothing but speak about our depth. I just felt like trying to put them out there when they’re not 100 percent is not fair to them and their health.”

And the Irish showed their depth throughout the tournament. Weissenhofer and Taylor Knaack tallied the two goals in the win over Marquette, and even without Bock and Hanks, Henderson was able to give the Irish the golden goal they needed to secure the championship.

Now its on to the NCAA tournament, as seedings will be determined later today.


uIn an awards ceremony Thursday night, Kerri Hanks was named Big East offensive player of the year. Carrie Dew was named Big East defensive player of the year and Melissa Henderson was named Big East rookie of the year. Irish coach Randy Waldrum was also named Big East coach of the year.