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Masoud: Don’t worry too much, conference play is here

Chris Masoud | Thursday, September 15, 2011

Randy Waldrum must be pulling his hair.

Thanks to 162 victories, six NCAA College Cups and two NCAA titles at Notre Dame, he still has plenty. But not even the Irish coach can explain the frustration of a 3-3-1 start for an Irish team loaded with some of the most talented players in the nation.

Granted, most teams don’t follow up a championship season with the nation’s toughest schedule, at least by choice. All three of Notre Dame’s losses this season have come on the road at the hands of top-10 teams, and they’ve outplayed all of them for the majority of each contest.

In a loss to then-No. 3 North Carolina, the Irish edged the Tar Heels in shots, shots on goal and corner kicks earned, but fell in overtime 2-1.

In a 3-1 loss to then-No. 10 Duke, the Irish outplayed the Blue Devils in virtually every statistical category but the one that matters, yielding three goals in a 12-minute span.

Perhaps most disheartening, a 2-1 loss to then-No. 2 Stanford, the Irish took a 1-0 lead into the final 10 minutes of the match before the Cardinal mounted a comeback. Notre Dame followed up that performance with a lackluster effort the next day, earning a tie against then-No.17 Santa Clara.

It’s not talent or experience. All-American Melissa Henderson has time and again proved she’s the most talented forward in the country, averaging a goal per game. Hermann Trophy semifinalist Courtney Barg has started all but one game at the midfield position after missing most of last season due to injury. College Cup Most Outstanding Defensive Player Jessica Schuveiler leads the backfield in her third-year as a team captain.

Yet the Irish head into Friday’s Big East opener against Louisville with a .500 record to their name and no victories on the road. Maybe it’s a championship hangover, but the 2011 squad has failed to bring the same tenacity and edge it brought to the 2010 College Cup after being handed a No. 4 seed by the NCAA tournament committee.

While North Carolina and Stanford surely came into their contests motivated to beat the team that ended their seasons in the tournament last year, a preseason No. 1 ranking for Notre Dame certainly didn’t help either.

Maybe it’s the loss of a core group of seniors desperate to win a championship after being so close in 2008. Waldrum was tasked with replacing players both on the field and in the locker room.

Then again, maybe history will simply repeat itself.

Waldrum has never opened up a new year with a soft schedule, always hoping to discover his team’s flaws before they crop up in the postseason. The Irish coach has developed a program that simply doesn’t take a year off.

Notre Dame traditionally finds its stride in the Big East, having dropped a total of seven games and yielding only seven ties since 1991.

Most importantly, it’s only September. The postseason is nearly two months away, more than enough time for a coach who reassembled a team in the week-and-a-half preceding the 2010 tournament.

Maybe it’s just time to relax.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Chris Masoud at [email protected]