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ND Women’s Soccer: O Canada!

Allan Joseph | Monday, September 6, 2010

For most Canadian athletes, hockey is far and away the most interesting, prominent and popular sport for males and females alike, as evidenced by Canada’s domination on both sides in the most recent Winter Olympics.

Despite the sport’s tight grip on the Canadian national consciousness, Irish coach Randy Waldrum has been able to find and recruit Canadian soccer players to South Bend on a consistent basis, including former All-Americans Melissa Tancredi and Candace Chapman from Ontario. Freshman forward Adriana Leon is Notre Dame’s latest talent from north of the border, and it comes as no surprise that the striker is a hockey player herself.

“I was actually looking to play hockey on a scholarship,” Leon said. “But I chose Notre Dame soccer because of the reputation it has for its academics, and it’s a great soccer program. You can’t get much better than this.”

Waldrum is glad that the Farley Hall-dwelling business intent chose to lace up cleats for the Irish instead of skates somewhere else, as his program needed another goal-scorer after losses to graduation. He discovered Leon through an unconventional route and said he’s glad he did.

“We really, really were in the need for a forward, and we kind of stumbled on to her through a connection,” he said. “The lady that brought her to my attention actually had a daughter who played at West Virginia, which is actually one of our biggest rivals. I thought that was a little odd.”

No matter Leon’s unusual path to get here, Waldrum is effusive in his praise of his forward’s skills and mentality and has high hopes for her, evoking the name of Irish soccer legend Kerri Hanks in terms of Leon’s ceiling.

“[Adriana’s] got a ton of skill and ability – I think she’s a goal scorer and really strikes the ball well,” he said. “But I think her biggest strength is her intensity. She’s physical, she’s highly competitive, and that’s what’s going to make her successful.”

Leon logged her first minutes of the season on Friday night in Notre Dame’s 1-0 triumph against Santa Clara, making her return from a broken ankle she sustained in a physical collision early in the summer season. Despite the long layoff, she was able to step right in to the game and play well enough to earn another 30 minutes of playing time in the Irish’s Sunday win over Texas Tech. The diminutive striker credits her experience on various Canadian national squads with providing her with the confidence to play at the college level.

“Playing internationally prepared me for a higher level,” Leon said. “I got used to the faster pace of the game.”

Waldrum, who has coached many players with national team experience, concurred, seeing national team experience as invaluable to a player’s development, especially freshmen who struggle with the transition to the faster-paced college game.

“The level of the training and the intensity level of the [national team’s] is very hard to simulate, because every player is obviously the top of the top,” he said. “When they come back at a really high level of play, they start to understand the game a little better.”

Despite Leon’s experience, both she and her coach agree that she has to improve on playing the ball more quickly to her teammates, an improvement that will come simply by playing more with her new teammates.

“The biggest thing [for Adriana] is just getting her back and getting her used to playing with the players around her,” Waldrum said.

Leon agreed with her coach.

“It’s hard to play with people you’ve never really played with before, so getting used to it will take a while,” she said.

Despite the challenges that Leon faces, she hopes to utilize her outside shot and her speed (still recovering from the ankle injury) to make an impact this season – and it comes as no surprise to hear that she will draw on her hockey experience to help her do so.

“You definitely need a nose for the goal as a forward in both sports,” she said. “You need to work hard. It’s the same in both sports.”