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ND Women’s Soccer: No longer the underdogs

Greg Hadley | Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A year after coming within one win of the College Cup, the Irish return a squad loaded with experience as they join the ACC and take aim at a third national championship under coach Randy Waldrum.

A year ago, the Irish, composed mostly of underclassmen, took the nation by surprise and upset two top-10 teams before falling 1-0 in the NCAA quarterfinals against Florida State. Waldrum thinks his team has the talent and experience to exceed expectations once again and win a conference crown, and possibly return to the Final Four for the ninth time in his tenure.

“We know [winning the ACC] will be difficult, but we’ve played really well over the years against teams like Wake Forest, Florida State [and] North Carolina, so we like where we stand,” Waldrum said. “But the biggest picture is always the [College Cup]. No matter what happens in the conference, we always want to make it back to the final four.”

So far, the early returns have been favorable, as the squad has jumped out to two wins to start the season with four goals in each victory. For Waldrum, this is an encouraging development and a sign that the Irish are taking the next step to be an elite team.

“We really struggled [offensively] last year,” Waldrum said. “We were a good defensive team but we struggled to create opportunities. So far, in the first two games and in the exhibitions, we’ve created a lot of chances offensively, which is key for us to take that next step.”

The Irish will need to take that next step in order to compete in the ACC, one of the most competitive conferences in the country.

“Unlike the Big East, in the ACC, we are going to get a top-level opponent every night,” Waldrum said. “The kids have to adjust to the fact that we have to be at our best all the time, because there are no more games where we can just show up and win. In some ways, it’s a positive because it will keep us focused.”

Waldrum is also excited about his squad’s depth. The Irish return 10 starters, including All-American sophomore midfielder Cari Roccaro and All-Big East senior midfielder Mandy Laddish. Eight freshmen added to the Irish roster made up another top-five recruiting class for Waldrum.

Some of the freshmen have already made an impact on the young season. Goalkeeper Kaela Little and forward Kaleigh Olmsted have played in both games, and Waldrum has been impressed with their poise.

“[Kaela] exudes confidence for the rest of the team and communicates very well down field,” Waldrum said. “[Kaleigh] is a player that I thought was going to be a very good college player and she’s panning out for us very nicely.”

Leading the incoming class is midfielder Morgan Andrews, who was named the Gatorade National Player of the Year for women’s soccer her junior and senior years of high school.
“Morgan is going to be huge for us,” Waldrum said. “I see her being a really big key to what we’re doing offensively. She’s such a creative player and she has such great vision. She’s going to be great. Really the entire freshman class will have a big impact, I think.”

The Irish look to continue their hot start on Friday against Oakland in the Notre Dame adidas Invitational at Alumni Stadium at 7:30 p.m.

Contact Greg Hadley at [email protected]