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ND Women’s Soccer: Irish fall to Tar Heels twice

Douglas Farmer | Thursday, May 13, 2010

Notre Dame met North Carolina in the College Cup for the third time in four years, and, for the third time in four years, the Tar Heels ended any Irish dreams of a third National Championship.

The two storied programs met in the second week of the regular season, in a match-up of the top two teams in the country that served as a grand opening for Alumni Stadium. But within the game’s first 23 seconds, North Carolina found the back of the net, and never looked back, winning 6-0.

“To open the stadium with an unbelievable crowd, fans turned away, I couldn’t have asked for more from the students or the local community. Everybody did their jobs on that opening day, except us,” Irish coach Randy Waldrum said. “It was embarrassing. I felt humiliated. I felt we let the fans down, let Notre Dame down.”

Notre Dame (21-4-1, 17-0-1 Big East) lost two more games against top-10 foes the following weekend in California against Santa Clara and Stanford. Suddenly, a team that had reached the College Cup Final in 2008 was 3-3 heading into Big East play.

“In the end, I think that made our team a lot tougher,” Waldrum said. “It was a rude wake up that we had to get this ship righted pretty quickly here.”

The 2-0 loss to Stanford would be Notre Dame’s last until the national semifinal against North Carolina. In between, in a 19-game span, the Irish rattled off 18 wins and one double-overtime scoreless tie against Pittsburgh. Winning the program’s 13th conference regular season title and 11th Big East tournament title restored some of the team’s confidence.

“To [win the Big East] in a year when everybody was thinking Notre Dame was down, and I think all the Big East opponents probably thought that was the year they could beat us,” Waldrum said. “That not only really got us going into the NCAA tournament, but I think the other thing it did was send a message to the Big East that Notre Dame is still the team to beat.”

In order to send that message, the Irish needed to overcome a series of devastating injuries in the first few weeks of the season. Senior captain Courtney Rosen broke her foot in a fluke accident during preseason practices and missed the entire season. Fellow senior captain Michele Weissenhofer struggled with hamstring issues throughout the entire season, as did classmate Haley Ford. Sophomore forward and leading scorer Melissa Henderson suffered through a slow start to the season after summer surgery.

“Melissa missed the entire summer where she couldn’t even run or train, so if you look at the first part of her season, just like the team, she got off to a really slow start,” Waldrum said. “But if you look back, she got hot in the Big East and NCAA tournaments. I think a little bit is because she was finally coming back into form off those surgeries.”

In fact, Henderson ended the season with 18 goals and five assists, including 10 goals and two assists in eight postseason games alone.

Riding Henderson’s hot streak, consistent goaltending from junior Nikki Weiss and that 19-game unbeaten streak, the Irish entered their fourth consecutive College Cup with more confidence than ever before, and exited the Cup after the 1-0 loss with more pride than in years past, Waldrum said.

“We really felt at that point we were playing well enough to win a national championship,” he said. “In years past we have walked away shocked, devastated. This year was the one time that I felt like we probably did all we could to get to that point, we battled hard that entire game, and with a lucky bounce here or there, we could have won that game.”