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ND Women’s Soccer: Waldrum preaches focus

Jack Hefferon | Thursday, August 25, 2011

It sits in a place of prominence, floating just off the ground underneath the scoreboard at Alumni Stadium. It carries memories of celebrations, confetti and claiming the elusive top spot in the country. It is a sign that reads, simply and matter-of-factly, “NCAA Champion 2010 Women’s Soccer,” and it will hover there all season, overlooking the Irish every time they run out of the tunnel, look for an open teammate or swing in a late-game corner kick.

The challenge for Irish coach Randy Waldrum, though, will be to keep his team focused on the task ahead, and not on past successes.

“Personally, I feel like we’re climbing that mountain again, and this is just another year,” Waldrum said. “We set out to get to the College Cup every year. That’s the expectation we’ve set for ourselves. Once we get there, anything can happen.”

With the trophy in their display case and the nation’s No. 1 ranking before their name, Notre Dame is a favorite to join North Carolina this year as the only other program ever to repeat as national champion. And while Waldrum might be trying to keep his players from living in the past, he does believe there are lessons to be learned from their title run that can be used this season.

“We talked about it at our very first meeting this year, that there are things we want to remember and things we want to forget,” Waldrum said. “We want to forget about winning the national championship, but we need to remember the effort that it took and how much work we put in as student-athletes to get there.”

Waldrum can also draw upon his own experience in defending a championship. After leading Notre Dame to its second NCAA championship in 2004, the Irish entered the 2005 season with the pressure of a No. 1 ranking and a potential repeat. The team faltered after a successful regular season, losing to Megan Rapinoe and eventual champion Portland in the quarterfinals.

However, Waldrum has already seen an important difference in the two teams.

“After 2004, we came in for the spring and it was like any other year. It wasn’t notched up to another level,” he said. “This year, we came in with a strong attitude to try and win back-to-back, and it showed right away. You’re not going to win just because you’re the reigning champ. You’ve got to earn it.”

That attitude was on display over the weekend, as Notre Dame opened its season with a 2-0 win over Wisconsin. That scoreline was not indicative of the gap between the teams though, as the Irish dominated play in their signature aggressive, possessing style.

“We’re at a point now where we’ve got a way we want the game to look,” Waldrum said. “Fans don’t want to see a 1-0 game where you sit back. We want to play the same attacking soccer you see at Barcelona.”

Notre Dame will need that same high level of play to continue, as they face four top-25 opponents in the next three weeks. The most difficult tests in that stretch will come on the road, as the Irish visit both No. 2 Stanford and No. 3 North Carolina. With a depleted lineup, Waldrum expects those matches to be a barometer for how his team can handle the pressure and adversity of a title defense.

“We had a couple injuries to some of our key freshmen over the summer, so we’re not as deep as I’d like to be right now,” Waldrum said. “We need to manage these games and get through the next couple of weeks. Once we get everybody back, I think we’ll be in a good position.”