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ND Women’s Soccer: Notre Dame captures at-large bid to NCAAs

Observer Staff Report | Monday, November 7, 2011

It was a long couple of days between Notre Dame’s loss to Louisville on Friday and the announcement of the 64-team NCAA Championship field Monday. But now, the wait is over: They’re in.

Despite Notre Dame’s (10-7-3, 6-3-2 Big East) 2-1 loss to the Cardinals in the Big East Tournament semifinals, the selection committee gave the Irish their 19th straight NCAA berth, and a chance to defend last year’s national championship.

“It’s definitely been a challenging season for us, but we’re excited to be part of this year’s NCAA tournament,” Irish coach Randy Waldrum said in a Monday press release. “We’ve had some anxious moments the past few days waiting for the bracket to come out, and in the end, we’re pleased to have the opportunity to defend our championship on the field.”

This year’s path to the College Cup may be the rockiest in recent memory as the Irish will now go on the road to face Big Ten Champion No. 18/13 Illinois. The Illini (16-4-2, 8-2-1 Big Ten) are unbeaten in their last 11 matches.

“Illinois is an extremely talented and well-coached team,” Waldrum said. “It will be a test for us to go down there and play them at their place.”

Even if the Irish are able to get past the Illini on the road, they will still face stiff competition from their own region alone. A likely second round matchup for Notre Dame would put them against No. 2 seed Oklahoma State, whose loss in the Big 12 Championship was the only blemish on their 19-1-2 record.

But Waldrum and the Irish are focused strictly on their first match, and are thankful for the opportunity.

“I think we’re all looking forward to getting back out on the practice field tomorrow and starting to prepare for this weekend’s game,” Waldrum said.

The Irish will begin their quest for their first-ever national championship repeat when they take on Illinois on Sunday. The teams will kick off at 2 p.m.