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Women’s Soccer: Young team hopes to continue winning tradition

Jack Hefferon | Friday, August 17, 2012

Even with a young and unproven team, unresolved position battles, and an incredibly difficult schedule, the Irish will enter this season with the same expectation as ever – to be in the running for a national championship.

After a first-round exit in the NCAA tournament last year, Notre Dame enters into this season with plenty of concerns, chief among them the team’s inexperience.
Eighteen of the 25 players on the current roster were still in high school when Notre Dame beat Stanford for the program’s third national championship just 20 months ago. Twelve of those players are incoming freshmen, forming one of Notre Dame’s largest – and best – recruiting classes ever. Ranked as the No. 1 class in the country, there’s no question these freshmen are talented.

As such a huge portion of the team, Irish coach Randy Waldrum expects them to come in and make an immediate impact.

“We’re going to have to be playing some young players,” Waldrum said. “There’s no two ways about that. We’ve had six freshmen in the starting lineup so far in the preseason, so they’re going to gain their experience by playing.”

And while the roster may be dominated by underclassmen, the team’s experienced players will determine how quickly the team can adjust and excel. Led by its captains, senior Jazmin Hall and juniors Elizabeth Tucker and Mandy Laddish, the squad will be tested early with two high-profile tournaments. Just two weeks into its season, Notre Dame will host the adidas Invitational, facing off against No. 8 North Carolina and No. 17 Santa Clara. A week later, the Irish will travel across the country, taking on Washington and Portland in the Portland Invitational.
“Those tournaments will be a great measuring stick for where we really are,” Waldrum said. “I think it’s important for these kids to get it thrown at them early in the year, so come playoff time they’ve already got that experience under their belt.”

The early portion of the schedule may also serve to lend clarity to Notre Dame’s goalkeeping situation. The competition has been wide-open throughout the preseason, with all five Irish goalies in the hunt. And through the first few exhibition games, Waldrum said freshman Elyse Hight has been the most impressive, playing her way past the incumbent, senior Maddie Fox.
“I’m not ready yet to have one and say she’s the starter for the year,” he said. “I think that Elyse is in the lead for that, but no one has clearly separated themselves from the others. The competition is so tight that they’ve got to prove it every time they step out onto the field. They can’t afford to have any slip-ups.”

Even with a team so full of questions, Notre Dame certainly has the talent to compete with any team in the country. The Irish are the Big East coaches’ choice to win the conference, and should figure to make a strong case for inclusion in the NCAA tournament once again. Waldrum said the team’s sights are set well beyond that.

“The bar has been set here, and I think – fortunately or unfortunately – that’s what the expectation is,” Irish coach Randy Waldrum said. “I think we’ve got a chance to be really good at the end of the year. We expect to be back at the College Cup.”