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ND Women’s Soccer: Tough road ahead

By Mike Gotimer | Tuesday, August 31, 2010

No. 4 Notre Dame knows this stretch is coming every year, and the time has come for the Irish to begin their challenging non-conference schedule.

This year’s slate is no different from previous ones, as Notre Dame will play two of its next three matches against top-10 West Coast foes. But Irish coach Randy Waldrum knows it’s a necessity for his team each year in order to earn favorable seeding in the NCAA Tournament and boost its chances to win the program’s third national title.

“The interesting thing is that it could make a difference in whether you open the NCAA Tournament at home or away at the end of the year,” Waldrum said. “It should be really an interesting two weeks. The thing that you thrive on is that you want to play good teams, and I can’t wait until it gets here.”

The Irish begin their gauntlet on Friday against No. 8 Santa Clara, which beat Notre Dame 2-0, last season in California, and travel to No. 3 UCLA the following Friday. Both teams present a tough matchup for Notre Dame because they play similar styles of soccer to the Irish.

“I think that Santa Clara’s going to play the same system we play and they play very much like we do,” Waldrum said. “UCLA plays a little bit of a different system than we do, but they also try to possess the ball and they try play very attractive, very attacking soccer. Neither one of the teams are like Big Ten teams that are real physical, Big East teams are real physical, and these two teams will be more like our style.

“I think the fans are going to see two teams that are very similar in their style this weekend, and I would expect it to be the same when we got out west to UCLA.”

Both teams are talented, too.

“Santa Clara’s got a really good goalkeeper [junior Bianca Henninger], and I think she’s going to make a difference,” Waldrum said “They also have a young girl we were recruiting a little bit, [Julie] Johnson, the freshman in their midfield that they’ve got this year. With UCLA, they’ve got kids like [junior midfielder] Sydney Leroux, who won the Golden Boot at the under-20 World Cup. They’re really loaded with talent- you look at that roster, and it’s made up of a lot of national team kids, so they’re going to be pretty solid through and through.”

Wedged in between the Broncos and Bruins will be upstart Texas Tech, which has a familiar face at the helm in coach Tom Stone, who played for Waldrum at his first coaching job at MacArthur High School in Irving, Tex.

“[Texas] Tech is going to be new for us because we haven’t played them since 2004 and they’ve got a new coach in Tom Stone that’s been there about three years now, and he’s probably been the one coach that they’ve had over the last decade that has actually been able to turn that program around,” Waldrum said. “I’m going to expect that he’s going to try to play as much soccer as he can too because that was kind of his style when he was a player.”

The Irish will take on Santa Clara Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Alumni Field.