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ND Women’s Soccer: No. 2 Irish women to play No. 1 Tar Heels

Joe Meixell | Friday, September 4, 2009

Notre Dame opened Alumni Field 19 years and two days ago with a 5-1 victory over Northeast Missouri State. Irish coach Randy Waldrum coached his first game on the Irish bench 10 years and one day ago – a 3-2 overtime loss to No. 1 North Carolina.

Tonight Notre Dame looks to re-write history as the No. 2 Irish (2-0-0) face the top-ranked Tar Heels (3-0-0) at 7:30 p.m. in the women’s first game at newly-opened Alumni Stadium. The game is part of the Inn at St. Mary’s Classic.

“It is rather fitting for women’s college soccer in general that the two best teams in the country are playing each other in a brand new stadium,” Waldrum said, downplaying the meaning of the game to his team.

The last time the two soccer powers clashed was in last year’s NCAA National Championship, in which North Carolina topped the Irish 2-1. The winning goal was scored with only two minutes left in regulation time.

“We definitely thought we had the ring on our finger, and then it was ripped off,” senior forward Michele Weissenhofer said. “Being the competitors that we are, we will definitely hold that against them.”

The team captain’s sentiments were echoed by Waldrum.

“It has not been a hard week to get them excited about playing,” Waldrum said. “Everybody is ready and anxious to play. Practice has gone well [this week].”

Waldrum said he thinks that the game presents an opportunity for his squad to evaluate where they are at this point in the season.

“You know what, I think it’s more of seeing where we are now and being prepared for the next time we play them down the road,” Waldrum said. “As we found out last year, beating them early in the year doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll beat them at the end of the year. With that said, we’ve had this game on the calendar for a while now and we’re excited about it.”

Waldrum said he expects North Carolina to utilize the same game plan against the Irish that has made the Tar Heels one of the premier programs in the country.

“Against a Carolina team you have to do a couple of things,” Waldrum said. “Over the past few years we’ve been successful with them and we’re sure they’re gonna use the same strategy as always. We’ve got to break their back three [on defense]. Their three in the back are very good and very athletic and we’ve got to get in behind them. They lure you in and let you think that you have space, but they drop back and defend their space well.”

On the other side, Waldrum expects the UNC offense to put pressure on the Irish defense.

“We’ve got to handle their pressure,” Waldrum said. “They’re more of a direct team, not much of a soccer playing team. They want to dump the ball in your end and make you make plays.”

The Irish first practiced on the new field at Alumni Stadium Thursday night after first laying eyes on it Tuesday night, when the men’s team topped Michigan 5-0. Neither encounter with the $5.7 million facility helped ease the team’s impatience.

“Everyone is counting down the minutes until we can step onto that field and play,” Weissenhofer said.

In order for the Irish to avoid losing the first stadium-opener in program history, focus and fierce competition will be key.

“We know whenever we play [North Carolina] it has not been pretty soccer,” Weissenhofer said. “It really is who is going to compete and work the hardest.”

The Irish will also face off Wisconsin-Milwaukee?(2-0-2) as part of the Classic. Kick-off is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, and will follow a North Carolina-Marquette matchup at 11:00 a.m.

Of course, the marquee matchup is the first.

The Irish seniors have played North Carolina five times already in their career, and the two teams met twice last year. Their first, and possibly last, meeting this season will begin tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the new Alumni Stadium.