Aug. 20, 2010
NOTRE DAME, Ind. -- Notre Dame junior forward and Hermann Trophy candidate Melissa Henderson (Garland, Texas/Berkner) scored an unassisted goal with 11:18 remaining, lifting the fourth-ranked Fighting Irish to a hard-fought 1-0 win over rising Big Ten Conference power Minnesota on a hot Friday night at Alumni Stadium in the season opener for both teams. With the victory, Notre Dame improves to 20-2-1 all-time in season openers, with a 13-1-1 mark at home and a 10-1-1 record in the 12-year tenure of head coach Randy Waldrum.
Henderson's goal tipped the scales in Notre Dame's favor after a well-played, evenly-matched contest that, at times, took on the feel of an NCAA tournament game. The teams each took 15 shots, with the Fighting Irish doubling up the Golden Gophers in shots on goal, 8-4. Minnesota won the corner kick battle, 9-5 (with eight of those coming in the first half), while Notre Dame was whistled for 11 of the 16 fouls on the night.
Senior goalkeeper Nikki Weiss (Redding, Conn./Immaculate) earned the shutout between the pipes for the Fighting Irish (1-0), making three saves and also benefitting from a team save by sophomore defender Jazmin Hall (Highland Village, Texas/Marcus). Meanwhile, Minnesota netminder Cat Parkhill turned aside seven shots in the contest for the visitors (0-1).
"I was pleased with the amount of fight and intensity we showed tonight," Waldrum said. "It definitely wasn't our best overall performance, and we gave away a lot of chances, particularly with the number of corner kicks they took. But we also had our share of opportunities and Melissa did a fine job of cashing it her look in the second half. It's always good to get started on the right foot, especially against a team as talented as Minnesota, and we're going to have another strong opponent on our hands on Sunday when Milwaukee gets to town."
Notre Dame and Minnesota were meeting for the first time since the 2008 NCAA tournament, when the Fighting Irish edged out the Golden Gophers by the same 1-0 score in overtime on a frigid November evening. While the weather on Friday might have been quite different than that night two years ago, the level of play, including the defensive muscle exhibited by both teams was virtually identical. It also seems to have become a recurring theme in this abbreviated series, which Notre Dame now leads 2-1, with all three games being played in South Bend and all three being decided by 1-0 margins.
After Minnesota earned a pair of early corner kicks and had a header by Kylie Kallman drift over the crossbar, the Fighting Irish got their first looks from the flag, with senior midfielder Rose Augustin (Silver Lake, Ohio/Walsh Jesuit) giving Notre Dame its first good chance on a service to freshman midfielder Mandy Laddish (Lee's Summit, Mo./Lee's Summit) at the top of the penalty area. Laddish made a nifty move to keep possession and create space, but her right-footed laser just sailed high of the target (11:32).
Less than five minutes later, Augustin was at it again, this time sending a free kick to the edge of the box, where Henderson delivered a through-ball to freshman midfielder Elizabeth Tucker (Jacksonville, Fla./Bishop Kenny), who was in the express lane toward goal. However, the rookie's left-footed shot from eight yards out was swallowed up by Parkhill on a dive to her right.
Minnesota's best chance of the first half (and, as it turned out, for the entire game) came in the 22nd minute, when Tamara Strahota got loose and volleyed a corner kick by Katie Bethke towards the left post. While Weiss got hung up in traffic near the six-yard box, Hall stood fast like a military sentry at her post and re-directed Strahota's scoring try out of harm's way.
The Notre Dame faithful thought they had reason to cheer a goal with less than 12 minutes to go in the period, as Henderson turned past her defender at the top right of the box and whistled a seed that rippled the outside of the net, fooling many into believing she'd found pay dirt. As it turned out, it would be at almost that exact same time in the second half (approximately 11:30 to go) when the Fighting Irish striker would convert her gamewinner.
Notre Dame almost got on the board in the opening moments of the second half, as Augustin delivered a pinpoint service from the left flank that sailed all the way to an almost-unmarked Henderson on the right edge of the six-yard box. However, her point-blank shot was stopped with a reflex save by Parkhill, and Henderson's rebound attempt was smothered and cleared by the Gophers' defense.
Meanwhile, the Fighting Irish defense was doing well to keep Minnesota's offensive chances to a minimum, cleaning up its mistakes of the first half and allowing five shots in the first 35 minutes of the second half, with all coming from distance or tough angles. At the same time, Notre Dame continued to rachet up its offensive pressure, and the Fighting Irish were finally able to bust through in the 79th minute.
A slick succession of passes by Notre Dame in the offensive third worked the ball across the top of the penalty box, before Henderson ended up with possession near the penalty spot. She then put on a fancy dribbling display with her back to goal, turning to her left and then back to right and uncorking a low left-footed blast that beat Parkhill inside the far left post.
After the score, Notre Dame did well to keep possession and work the clock, but the Golden Gophers did get a pair of looks on frame in the closing 10 minutes. Yet, Weiss was equal to the task on both chances by Strahota and Shari Eckstrom, sealing the Fighting Irish victory.
Notre Dame returns to action at 2:30 p.m. (ET) Sunday against Wisconsin-Milwaukee at Alumni Stadium. Season and single-game tickets for the 2010 Notre Dame soccer campaign are available by contacting the Murnane Family Ticket Office by phone (574-631-7356) or in person (Gate 9 in the new Rosenthal Atrium at Purcell Pavilion) weekdays from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (ET). Fans also can purchase tickets on-line through the tickets page of the official Notre Dame athletics web site (www.UND.com/tickets) or by visiting the ticket windows at Alumni Stadium on game day.
For more information on the Notre Dame women's soccer program, join the Fighting Irish women's soccer news Twitter page (www.twitter.com/NDsoccernews) or sign up for the Irish ALERT text-messaging system through the sidebar on the women's soccer page at UND.com.
POST-GAME NOTES: In addition to improving its sensational record on opening night (20-2-1 overall, 13-1-1 at home, 10-1-1 in the Waldrum era), Notre Dame also has outscored its opponents, 60-8 in season openers during Waldrum's tenure (1999-present) ... Friday marked the fifth consecutive season-opening shutout for the Fighting Irish, following wins over Iowa State in 2006 (9-0), Michigan in 2008 (7-0), Wisconsin in 2009 (3-0) and Minnesota in 2010 (1-0), as well as a scoreless draw with Michigan in 2007 ... Notre Dame now is unbeaten in its last 11 season openers, all in this century -- the last time the Fighting Irish lost on opening night was Waldrum's debut game on Sept. 3, 1999, when Notre Dame fell in double-overtime to top-ranked North Carolina, 3-2 at old Alumni Field ... Minnesota was the fourth consecutive Big Ten school to serve as Notre Dame's season-opening opponent ... the Fighting Irish picked up their eighth consecutive win over a Big Ten opponent, a streak that began following a 2-1 loss to 14th-ranked Penn State on Sept. 23, 2007, also at old Alumni Field ... Notre Dame improves to 167-4-2 (.971) all-time at home against unranked opponents (according to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll) ... the Fighting Irish rise to 391-10-15 (.958) all-time when holding their opponents to 0-1 goals in a game ... Notre Dame now is 24-0 all-time when Henderson scores a goal, with a 28-0 mark when she tallies a point.