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ND Women’s Soccer: Coach wants more attendance

Chris Masoud | Tuesday, October 12, 2010

With an NCAA Division I-record unbeaten streak of 73 consecutive games against Big East opponents, Irish coach Randy Waldrum has figured out what it takes to build up one of the strongest programs in the nation. However, he admits he still hasn’t mastered one of the final pieces to the puzzle — how to attract more students to the games.

“Around the country, teams like Portland are drawing 4,000 and 5,000 [fans],” Waldrum said. “We have big recruits coming in here and they see an empty stadium — it’s demoralizing.”

Although the Irish have generally received strong support from the local South Bend community, the contingent of students who lent their support in the early part of the season has been missing in recent games. Waldrum said that his players feed off the energy brought by the students, which can be the difference in a tight game.

“I think it’s important that they know that it’s difficult to come out here and not get supported,” he said. “We’ll keep plugging away, and see what we can do, but if the students have ideas, let us know.”

The Rakes of Mallow, the newly formed student-run soccer support group that serves as the equivalent of the Leprechaun Legion, mobilized students earlier in the year to great success. The Irish took down then-No.8 Santa Clara in front of a nearly sold-out crowd of 2,229 on Sep. 3. Notre Dame battled the elements and emerged with a 1-0 victory.

“That Santa Clara game, we couldn’t have thanked them enough,” Waldrum said. “I think that’s one of the reasons we won — the players had goose bumps to see all the students out behind the goals, and the bagpipes, and a packed stadium. It’s that twelfth man that you need.”

Since then, attendance has declined steadily, especially among student supporters. Attendance for Notre Dame’s 3-0 shutout of Syracuse reached 820, and only 1,166 fans were on hand Sunday for a thrilling 3-2 win over Rutgers on Senior Day.

“I’m disappointed more for our kids who to come out here and play in an empty stadium,” Waldrum said. “I hope they start realizing that we’ve got one of the best teams in the country here, and we’re fun to watch.

Along with Marquette, the Irish have clinched a playoff berth and are undefeated through 7 games in conference play. Although the Irish will play four consecutive road games to close out the season, Waldrum expects a strong fan contingent present when the Irish return to host the first round of the Big East championship.

“It’s equally as hard on our players to play in front of a big crowd if they’re not used to it,” Waldrum said. “We need to see [200] or 300 students turning out regularly. Maybe they’re saving it, and realizing that we’re always good, and [thinking] ‘we’ll be there to support you in the playoffs.’ “