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ND Women’s Soccer: Just one thing left to do

Fran Tolan | Friday, December 5, 2008

Irish coach Randy Waldrum first saw senior forward Kerri Hanks play when she was just 10 years old. Apparently, Hanks – who has 83 goals and 73 assists in her Notre Dame career – was a natural.

“She was just a shorter version of what you see now,” Waldrum said. “She was always very competitive and from a very young age, you could see she had some special ability.”

Waldrum, who like Hanks hails from Texas, said the state’s soccer community is very tight-knit and he met Hanks through her family.

“Our friends were friends with her parents and I coached in camps with her brother,” Waldrum said. “It’s just a small world out there but that’s how we got our eyes on her.”

Hanks said she was not even completely sure how she came to know her future coach.

“It was just a family connection, one family to another to another,” she said. “It’s kind of hard to explain.”

Regardless of how the two met, though, they head to the College Cup in Cary, N.C., this weekend with a chance to finish off one of the best seasons in Notre Dame history.

Just Missed

Hanks played just two years of soccer at Allen High School before deciding to compete exclusively on United States national teams. She was recruited to come to Notre Dame as a freshman in 2004, the year the Irish last won their most recent national championship. But Hanks said she elected not to join the team that fall because she was busy “travelling.”

“Kerri’s actually very modest,” Waldrum said. “What she was actually doing after high school was playing with the U.S. [Under-19] national team when they won it all.”

Hanks arrived at Notre Dame in the spring of 2005 but only after the Irish put the finishing touches on a 24-1-1 championship season. Hanks has not yet won a national title since arriving on campus.

“I was glad for the [2004] team but I just wished I was with that team,” Hanks said. “Hopefully, this year I can come out with a win.”

Individual Accolades

Since joining the Irish, Hanks has had an almost unparalleled career.

She was a second-team All-America selection as a freshman before becoming the youngest-ever Hermann Trophy winner as the top player in the country as a sophomore. That season, she joined former North Carolina great Mia Hamm as the only players to lead the nation in both goals and assists.

This season, Hanks has reached a new milestone virtually every week. When she recorded two assists in an NCAA quarterfinal win over Florida State last Friday, Hanks moved past Hamm into a tie for second place on the all-time assist list.

“I actually haven’t thought about all of [the honors] yet,” Hanks said. “The records have obviously been great and I’m speechless about it still … It hasn’t really set in yet.”

Hanks is only the third player ever to notch 70 career goals and 70 assists. And after being nominated Sunday as one of 15 Hermann Trophy semifinalists, Hanks could become just the fourth player ever to win the award twice.

Still, Hanks said she would rather have a national championship trophy than any individual honor. And she said she wants to leave a legacy as a good teammate rather than a top statistical performer.

“I would rather win than have the records,” she said. “I just want the younger players to look up to me.”

Besides, Hanks said, it would have been much more difficult to put up such gaudy statistics if she did not play for a premier team like Notre Dame.

“It would be impossible without my teammates to finish off those assists and set up those free kicks for me to take,” she said. “Without my teammates and [Waldrum] I wouldn’t be able to get those records.”

The Missing Piece to the Puzzle

Hanks and her classmates have garnered virtually every team and individual honor except the national championship. The team has made it to the College Cup the past three seasons but has lost once in the semifinals and once in the championship.

“It would be unbelievable if we win,” Hanks said. “It would sum up my career here.”

Waldrum said Hanks is the right person to lead the team this weekend.

“She [has] what separates the good players from the great ones,” Waldrum said. “Great players have that constant mentality to win at all costs.”

Hanks’ competitiveness can frequently be seen in her emotional, demonstrative on-field nature.

“She’s highly competitive,” Waldrum said. “What [fans] see a little trace of on the field, we see every day in training.”

Waldrum said Hanks is serious even during daily scrimmages.

“Kerri will always let me know what the score is in practice,” Waldrum said. “If I have the wrong score, she’ll let me know if I’m wrong.”

Hanks said she knows she might rub some people the wrong way during games but said her attitude simply reflects her will to win.

“I’ll be the first to tell you I’m not very nice out there,” she said. “I tell everyone on the team, whether it’s the reserves or even [fellow senior Brittany Bock] if they’re doing something wrong.”

But Hanks said she is critical of herself, as well.

“I expect my teammates to do the same to me, if I’m not doing my best,” she said. “… Once I step off the field it’s completely different. But if I do anything wrong, I’d expect my teammates to step up and yell at me.”

For Hanks, this weekend is especially critical since it will include her final NCAA game. She said she even has high expectations for Waldrum on the sidelines.

“Soccer is everything to me right now, especially heading into the Final Four,” Hanks said. “I want everyone to leave it on the field, even Randy … We [potentially] have one game left so we better bring it.”

Hanks said despite all she has accomplished, her career will not be complete without adding two more victories to Notre Dame’s undefeated record.

“I’m just focused on winning right now,” she said. “All that other stuff doesn’t mean anything to me yet.”