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ND Women’s Soccer: Pair of Big East games looms

Allan Joseph | Friday, September 24, 2010

With the season’s final nonconference game behind them, the Irish spent the week gearing up for a potentially season-defining weekend in the Big East. The No. 5/9 Irish (7-1-0, 1-0-0) will host Cincinnati Friday night and then travel to Kentucky for a matchup with No. 24/18 Louisville Sunday.

Irish coach Randy Waldrum has impressed the top-to-bottom competitiveness of the Big East on his squad, and the team knows this weekend will be a key example of that skill level.

“The Big East is always a competitive league,” Waldrum said.

The Bearcats (6-2-1, 0-10) started the season with one of the best season-opening stretches the Cincinnati program has ever seen, rising as far as No. 15 nationally at the peak of their hot start. Though the Bearcats are now unranked, the Irish know that they will be no easy matchup, even in the friendly confines of Alumni Stadium.

“[Cincinnati] is clearly good enough to beat you,” Waldrum said. “They’ll come in very ready to play.”

The onus will be on Notre Dame’s back line Friday night, as the Bearcats feature a talented attack corps fed by junior defender Kelli Pawelko, who leads the team in assists and is second in points, demonstrating the balanced Cincinnati attack.

Waldrum said he feels the best game plan for the Irish is to get out to an early lead and thus force the Bearcats to play from behind.

“They have a very good attack and they’re solid everywhere else,” he said. “We’ve got to jump on it early.”

After the bout with the Bearcats Friday night, the Irish will head to Louisville (7-1-0, 1-0-0), who is also off to one of the program’s best starts. The game will be a crucial early-season test for Notre Dame, as it could hold the key to the winner of the National division of the Big East.

“No disrespect to anyone else in the division — Georgetown, Rutgers and Villanova are all very good teams,” Waldrum said. “But this could be a game that decides who wins the division.”

The Cardinals’ biggest scoring threat is freshman forward Christine Exeter, who has scored six goals this season on merely 10 shots on goal. Exeter, freshman defender Julie Casselman and Notre Dame freshman forward Adriana Leon are teammates on the Canadian under-20 national team, adding a layer of intrigue to the Sunday afternoon matchup that was already interesting due to the comparable talent levels of the two squads.

“They’re very tough on paper, and they’ve got strength in key spots,” Waldrum said.

Through all the scouting and practice, one message remains clear for the Irish.

“This is going to be a big weekend,” Waldrum said.

Notre Dame clashes with Cincinnati at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Alumni Stadium and then squares off against Louisville on Sunday at 1 p.m. at Louisville’s Cardinal Park.