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ND Women’s Soccer: National title defense falls short

Megan Golden | Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Just one year after winning the program’s third national championship, Notre Dame struggled through a season marred by frustration as the ball never seemed to bounce in its favor.

The Irish (10-8-3, 6-3-2 Big East) opened the season ranked as the top team in the country, but early losses quickly altered Notre Dame’s hopeful season.

“It’s one of disappointment in terms of how we finished and how we competed throughout the year,” Irish coach Randy Waldrum said. “By our standards, we’ve been so good we’ve always gone into every season thinking, ‘If we don’t make it to the College Cup Final Four, we’ve had a disappointing year.'”

Within the first week of the season, the Irish competed in the Carolina Classic in Chapel Hill, N.C., on Aug. 26-28 and fell to both No. 3 North Carolina and No. 10 Duke. Notre Dame was outscored 5-2 that weekend but still believed it was one of the country’s best teams.

The Irish picked up two wins at home before traveling to the West Coast Sept. 9 with a 3-2 record. Notre Dame lost 2-1 to No. 2 Stanford, blowing a 1-0 lead in the last 10 minutes of the game. The Irish ended the weekend road trip with a 1-1 tie at No. 17 Santa Clara.

“You’re still optimistic because you’re playing the top teams in the country, but it just seemed to kind of snowball from there,” Waldrum said.

Notre Dame’s senior leadership in forward Melissa Henderson, midfielder Courtney Barg and defender Jessica Schuveiller struggled to keep the team motivated, Waldrum said.

Barg had injured her foot just four games into the season, Henderson attempted to lead by example and Schuveiller – naturally the “voice” of this team – eventually lost reach of her teammates as the team’s losses piled up, Waldrum said.

“She was trying to make sure players were taking care of classwork and not being at places they shouldn’t be and doing the things you need to have a committed team,” he said. “Late in the year, she got to a point where she was like, ‘I’ve done all I can. I feel like I’m now not a leader but just a nagging mother.'”

Schuveiller said it was difficult for the team to match the intensity level of their opponents.

“The season consisted of frustration, and we were just not figuring out why we weren’t producing,” she said. “Anytime you win a national championship, coming in next year you have a target on your back, and you get everyone’s best game.”

While Notre Dame qualifed for the Big East tournament and the NCAA tournament, it endured a first-round exit following a 1-0 loss to Illinois in the NCAA tournament that was difficult to swallow for a senior class that had appeared in three Final Fours in as many years.

“It’s hard looking back on it,” Schuveiller said. “With five minutes left it kind of sunk in that this might be my final game.”

Waldrum said his team has learned from the season’s challenges.

“You can’t take for granted that just because we put on the shirt that says ‘Irish’ that we’re going to win,” Waldrum said. “We’ve seen some steps in the right direction this spring. I think we’ll be back to where you’re used to seeing us this year.”

Contact Megan Golden at [email protected]