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ND Women’s Soccer: Notre Dame advances to semifinals

By Brian Hartnett | Monday, November 19, 2012

After being known as the “Baby Irish” for much of the season, Notre Dame may want to adopt the nickname “comeback kids”.

The Irish rallied from a halftime deficit for the second straight week to beat No. 10 Wake Forest 2-1 on Friday and then shut out No. 8 Florida 2-0 on Sunday at Pressly Stadium in Gainesville, Fla., to advance to the quarterfinal round of the NCAA Championships.

Notre Dame (16-5-2, 8-1-1 Big East) fell behind early in Friday’s second round matchup with Wake Forest (14-6-3, 6-3-1 ACC) after Demon Deacons senior midfielder Kristen Meier chipped a shot past Irish freshman goalkeeper Elyse Hight in the 43rd minute.

Irish coach Randy Waldrum said the halftime deficit left him with an important decision to make.

“At halftime, I had to decide if it was better to wait until 10 or 20 minutes left in the game and then try to push forward or just try to tie the score right after halftime at the risk of opening ourselves up defensively,” he said. “When we got in at halftime, we just talked as a team and said, ‘Let’s go for this and let’s make this change now.'”

Waldrum’s halftime decision to move freshman midfielder Cari Roccaro to the forward position soon paid off as Roccaro scored in the 59th minute off a corner kick by freshman defender Brittany Von Rueden. Freshman forward Crystal Thomas provided the eventual game-winner 11 minutes later, scoring from 12 yards out off a pass from junior midfielder Mandy Laddish.

Waldrum said the team’s recent resiliency is simply a mark of its continuing maturity.

“I think it’s just a matter of a team that has been gaining some more experience and getting more confident in what they do,” he said. “I think we just have the mentality of ‘Let’s go for it, lay it out there and see what happens with it.’ Sometimes those moves work for you, and sometimes they don’t, but, fortunately, that was a really good move for us on Friday.”

The script was flipped when Notre Dame met the Gators (19-5-1, 11-2-0 SEC) in third round tournament action at their home stadium Sunday, as Irish junior forward Rebecca Twining scored on a header off a Von Rueden corner kick in the 20th minute to give Notre Dame the early lead. Florida threatened on several opportunities in the first half, but the Irish defense and Hight, who had four saves in the shutout, held them scoreless.

“Florida was really good with keeping the ball, but I thought we were really patient in our overall team defending,” Waldrum said. “We didn’t get caught and try to chase the ball too much. I think we set in and defended real well and took advantage of that.”

Notre Dame added to its lead in the 71st minute when sophomore forward Lauren Bohaboy intercepted a Florida pass and drove home a shot from 12 yards out.

Notre Dame became the first team to score two goals against Florida since Kentucky did it Sept. 14. Waldrum said he was proud of his team’s ability to execute on offense over the weekend.

“I think the key is that a couple of those kids have started to step it up,” Waldrum said. “We got great performances today out of [freshman forward Anna Maria] Gilbertson and Twining. Our players are playing really well at the right time, and we just need to keep it going.”

With the win, Notre Dame will return to Florida on Friday to face No. 7 Florida State. The Irish and Seminoles (19-3-0, 8-2-0 ACC) have much recent history in the NCAA Championships, as the two teams met in four consecutive tournaments from 2006 to 2009.

Florida State is paced by senior forward Tiffany McCarty, who leads the team with 15 goals, and junior goalkeeper Kelsey Wys, who holds a 0.67 goals against average.

Notre Dame will battle Florida State on Friday at 7 p.m. at the Seminole Soccer Complex in Tallahassee, Fla.

Contact Brian Hartnett at [email protected]