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ND Women’s Soccer: Irish face Demon Deacons in NCAA tournament

Brian Hartnett | Friday, November 16, 2012

Saturday’s football game between Notre Dame and Wake Forest will not be the only matchup between the two schools with national implications this weekend. The Irish and No. 10 Demon Deacons will take to the pitch Friday, as the two teams will meet in the second round of the NCAA championship at Pressly Stadium in Gainesville, Fla.

Notre Dame (14-5-2, 8-1-1 Big East) advanced to the second round after a come-from-behind 3-1 victory over Wisconsin-Milwaukee at Alumni Stadium on Nov. 9. The Irish fell behind in the 28th minute when the Panthers converted on a penalty kick but went into halftime tied after a goal by freshman defender Katie Naughton in the 44th minute. Notre Dame took the lead on a goal by sophomore forward Lauren Bohaboy seven minutes into the second half and iced the game when freshman forward Crystal Thomas scored in the 90th minute.

Irish coach Randy Waldrum said he wasn’t thrilled with his team’s effort in its playoff opener but noted several positives from the match.

“I know I was disappointed after the game because I didn’t think we played well compared to our standards,” Waldrum said. “Having said that, we did some really good things, especially as a really young group that hadn’t really played in a playoff game before. It’s not easy come tournament time to come back when you’re down a goal because teams can bunker in and make it difficult to score.”

Waldrum said Notre Dame’s biggest problem in its last game was its slow start, which came partly as the result of a switch to a new offensive alignment for the first half. Waldrum said he plans to stay with the old alignment against Wake Forest (14-5-2, 6-3-1 ACC).

“I wasn’t happy with the way [the alignment] played against Milwaukee, so I think we’ll just keep it in our back pocket,” he said. “It’s a little bit more defensive in the starting positions, and I wanted to have it in place in case we need it against Wake. I think we’ll just go out and play our way, but, if we have to get more defensive, we’ve at least worked on it for the last couple of weeks.”

Regardless of the team’s offensive alignment, Waldrum said the Irish would need to play a sharp first half against the Deacons.

“I don’t think we can come out slow like we did with Milwaukee,” Waldrum said. “Wake’s a very explosive team, and you can find yourself down really early if you come out with a slow start. If we can come out right from the beginning and be sharp, I think we have a real good chance.”

Wake Forest comes into the matchup after a 4-0 first round victory over Georgia Southern last weekend. The Deacons lost in the semifinals of the ACC tournament but boast wins over several top-ranked conference opponents, including No. 3 Virginia, No. 13 North Carolina and No. 19 Duke.

“They’re a very talented and offensive-minded team,” Waldrum said of Wake Forest. “The one thing I feel is that they will play a good brand of soccer.”

Wake Forest features offensive weapons in junior forward Katie Stengel, a member of the United States U-20 World Cup team who leads the Deacons with nine goals, and junior forward Rachel Nuzzolese, who is second with five goals on the season. Junior goalie Audrey Bledsoe, who has trained with the Waldrum-coached United States U-23 National Team, has recorded nine shutouts on the season and boasts a 0.80 goals-against average.

Waldrum said one of the keys for Notre Dame is putting pressure on Wake Forest’s defense.

“In looking at them, the strength of the team is in midfield and certainly up front, but they are a little vulnerable, especially defensively,” he said. “I think the key for us will be if we can easily put the pressure on them, whether it’s with goal-scoring chances or maintaining possession in the midfield. That’s going to be really important because I think they can be taken out of their game plan if you put them under that kind of pressure.”

Notre Dame will look to advance to the third round of the NCAA championships when it faces Wake Forest at 4:30 p.m. on Friday at Pressly Stadium in Gainesville, Fla. The winner of the game will meet the winner of Friday’s match between No. 8 Florida and Central Florida at 1 p.m. on Sunday at Pressly Stadium.

Contact Brian Hartnett at [email protected]