Oct. 23, 2009
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Sophomore forward Melissa Henderson (Garland, Texas/Berkner) returned from a two-game injury hiatus with a second-half goal, and junior forward Erica Iantorno (Hinsdale, Ill./Hinsdale) added an insurance tally with less than 20 minutes to play, lifting No. 6/7 Notre Dame to a 2-0 BIG EAST Conference win over Villanova on Friday night before a crowd of 1,103 fans at a rainy and wind-swept Alumni Stadium.
With the victory, the Fighting Irish locked up their fifth consecutive BIG EAST National Division title, as well as their 12th BIG EAST regular-season crown in 15 seasons as a conference member (eight of the 12 are divisional championships, while the other four were overall regular-season titles).
In addition, Notre Dame recorded its fifth consecutive win and lengthened its current unbeaten streak to 11 games (10-0-1), while tacking on another game to its NCAA Division I-record 62-game unbeaten streak (59-0-3) against conference foes.
Junior midfielder Rose Augustin (Silver Lake, Ohio/Walsh Jesuit) registered her team-leading fifth assist of the season on Henderson's goal, while junior defender Julie Scheidler (Indianapolis, Ind./Bishop Chatard) earned her second assist this year, setting up Iantorno's marker.
Junior goalkeeper Nikki Weiss (Redding, Conn./Immaculate) continued her solid play between the pipes down the stretch, making five saves to collect her fifth solo shutout of the season. Weiss also got some support from her back line, which cleared a pair of Villanova shots off the goal line in the second half to help Notre Dame notch its 11th clean sheet of the year, and eighth in the past 11 games.
Wildcat netminder Molly Williams recorded six saves, but saw her career-long scoreless streak in goal snapped at 451:49 when Henderson struck pay dirt.
The Fighting Irish (13-3-1, 9-0-1 BIG EAST) ended up with a 24-13 edge in total shots, including a slim 8-7 advantage in shots on goal. The teams each attempted four corner kicks, and fouls were similarly almost dead even (11-9 ND).
"I'm very proud of our team for the way they have fought and persevered, not just tonight with the less-than-ideal weather, but throughout this season with the injuries and adversity we've had to overcome," Notre Dame head coach Randy Waldrum said. "This team has never quit and never surrendered, and a lot of the credit for that focus goes to our captains (seniors Courtney Rosen and Michele Weissenhofer, and sophomore Jessica Schuveiller) and our upperclassmen. Villanova made us battle very hard for the win tonight, but we were able to accomplish the first of our goals by winning the BIG EAST National Division title. Now it's time to go back to work and get ready for an excellent Georgetown team on Sunday night on national television, and we hope to have a huge crowd out at Alumni Stadium to cheer us on for Senior Night."
Strategy would play a bigger role than usual in Friday's game with Villanova, thanks in large part to a day's worth of rain that drained well off the new Alumni Stadium pitch, but turned it into a slick track. What's more, a steady 20-mile-per-hour wind blew in from the southwest and challenged both teams to adapt their styles with fewer lofted balls and more direct passing. Consequently, the first 15 minutes of play didn't see much in the way of offensive threats from either side, but that was a testament to the stout defenses on display as much as the inclement weather.
Playing with the wind at its back in the first half, Notre Dame had the game's first good scoring opportunity in the 18th minute, as junior forward Taylor Knaack (Arlington, Texas/Martin) ran on to a ball on the right side of the penalty area and had a good 1-on-1 matchup with Williams, but the reigning BIG EAST Offensive Player of the Year sent her six-yard shot from an acute angle high and wide of the right post.
Less than two minutes later, Augustin tried to ride the jet stream, gathering in a Villanova clearing attempt in the right channel and firing a 30-yard laser than twisted wide right and rippled into the side-netting, briefly sending up a cheer from the hardy Fighting Irish faithful.
Henderson came off the bench midway through the first half and wound up making her presence felt in the final five minutes of the period. Her best look came on an overlapping run down the right flank, when she pivoted just before the end line and sent a cross through the goal mouth, where junior forward Lauren Fowlkes (Lee's Summit, Mo./St. Teresa's Academy) found herself unmarked at the back post. However, her left-footed shot from eight yards away was denied on a brilliant reflex save by Williams.
Meanwhile, Villanova (10-3-5, 3-4-3) caused Notre Dame hearts to skip a beat with a little more than a minute to play in the first half, when Grace Hawkins' 22-yard shot from the right channel knuckled in the wind and flirted with the goal frame before skimming the top of the crossbar and going harmlessly out of play.
As it turned out, Hawkins' shot might just have tipped off the Fighting Irish to the possibilities of playing into the breeze in the second half. Notre Dame cranked up the offensive pressure, registering four shots and a corner kick in the opening five minutes before finally finding the combination that unlocked the rock-solid Wildcat defense.
Augustin started the sequence by settling a ball at the edge of the offensive third, then slipping a through-ball to Henderson racing into the penalty area. The second-year Fighting Irish striker took one touch and blasted a left-footed shot from 10 yards out past Williams and into the far right side-netting at 53:20 for her team-leading eighth goal of the year.
Not content with a one-goal lead, Notre Dame kept Villanova on its heels, squeezing off five more shots in the ensuing 10 minutes, including a pair on frame that Williams did well to stop. The Wildcats did manage a blocked shot and corner kick to alleviate some of the stress on their goalkeeper, but it wouldn't be enough.
Weissenhofer sent a service from the left side that Fowlkes rang hard off the crossbar before collecting the rebound and shoveling it out to Scheidler steaming down the right side. The Fighting Irish defender cut smartly towards the edge of the box, then delivered a sharp cross of her own that homed in on Iantorno at the near post, and she made no mistake with a snap header low into the right corner of the net (70:40).
Some observers contend a 2-0 lead is the most dangerous lead in soccer, and Villanova certainly held Notre Dame's feet to the fire during the closing quarter hour, logging seven of its eight second-half shots (and all five shots on goal) in the final 15 minutes. However, Weiss was equal to the task with three saves, including a sliding stop on Amy Greco's short-range shot with less than 30 seconds to play. Scheidler and Schuveiller also lent a helping hand, clearing shots by Hawkins and Heidi Sabatura off the line in a 25-second span down the stretch.
Notre Dame will close out the 2009 regular season on Sunday with a 6 p.m. (ET) contest against BIG EAST rival Georgetown (ranked 22nd by Soccer America) at Alumni Stadium. The game will be televised to a national cable audience on Fox Soccer Channel as the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) National Game of the Week, but will air on a tape-delayed basis on Tuesday (Oct. 27) ay 8 p.m. (ET). Tickets for this, and all remaining Fighting Irish soccer games (including any potential postseason contests), are available through the Notre Dame Athletics Ticket Office (574-631-7356), by going on-line to www.UND.com/tickets, or by visiting the Alumni Stadium ticket windows on game day.
POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame is 16-1-0 all-time against Villanova, including a 9-0 record at home, where it has outscored the Wildcats, 40-2 since the series began when the Fighting Irish joined the BIG EAST in 1995 ... since opening the season with a 3-3-0 record, Notre Dame is unbeaten in its last 11 games (10-0-1) and also has posted a 25-4 scoring margin during its current streak, with eight shutouts (five by Weiss) in that run ... what's more, since falling to the nation's current top-ranked team, Stanford (2-0) on Sept. 13, Notre Dame has led or been tied for all but a total of 16:38 in the 1010:41 of game action during its present streak (1:18 at Cincinnati on Sept. 25; 15:20 at West Virginia on Oct. 2) ... the Fighting Irish are not only unbeaten in an NCAA Division I-record 62 consecutive conference matches (59-0-3), but also extend their unbeaten streak at home against BIG EAST teams to 92 matches (91-0-1) since Connecticut's 5-4 overtime win on Oct. 6, 1995, at old Alumni Field ... since joining the BIG EAST in 1995, Notre Dame is 132-8-5 (.928) all-time in regular-season conference matches, 32-2-1 (.929) in BIG EAST Championship play, and holds a 697-85 scoring edge against conference foes in that 15-season span ... the Fighting Irish move to 162-4-2 (.970) all-time at home against unranked teams (according to the NSCAA poll) ... other miscellaneous trends for Notre Dame: 311-0-1 all-time when taking a 2-0 lead in a game (288-0 since a 3-3 tie with Vanderbilt in Cincinnati on Sept. 15, 1991), and 393-9-16 (.959) when holding the opposition to 0-1 goals ... Weiss has allowed only one goal in her last 573:08 of action, dating back to the Sept. 11 game at Santa Clara (SCU's Jordan Angeli scored at 23:52; Weiss didn't play in the second half of that game) ... the Notre Dame defense has allowed just one goal in the past 601:50 overall, going back to the Oct. 2 overtime victory at West Virginia (WVU's Blake Miller scored at 48:51) ... as if that weren't enough, the Fighting Irish have allowed only one goal in the past 665:11 (seven-game span) at its new home, Alumni Stadium, with the lone score coming on Oct. 16 by Connecticut's Linda Ruutu at 66:17 ... during the current seven-game home winning streak, Notre Dame has won by a combined score of 20-1 ... Henderson's goal was her fifth gamewinner of the season and 10th of her career; it also was her 25th goal in 42 career games, and it lifts Notre Dame's record to 19-0 all-time when she scores a goal and 21-0 all-time when she tallies a point ... Augustin continues her season-long evolution as a playmaker deluxe with her team-leading fifth assist; she had a total of three assists in her first two seasons (53 games) at Notre Dame ... Iantorno has scored all three of her goals this season in the past three Fighting Irish games ... Fowlkes registered a career-high seven shots, including three on goal ... Notre Dame already has been assured of both a first-round bye and a quarterfinal home game in the upcoming BIG EAST Championship -- the Fighting Irish will play the winner of the first-round matchup between the National Division #5 team (currently Villanova) and the American Division #4 team (currently West Virginia) in a BIG EAST quarterfinal contest on Sunday, Nov. 1 at Alumni Stadium (kickoff time TBA); it should be noted that the BIG EAST tourney brackets are far from finalized, as three points separate third-fifth place in the American Division (South Florida 17 pts, Connecticut 16 pts, WVU 15 pts) and fourth-fifth place in the National Division (DePaul 15 pts, Villanova 12 pts), with the latter two facing off Sunday afternoon in Chicago ... prior to Sunday night's game vs. Georgetown, Notre Dame will recognize its eight seniors (seven players and manager Matt Moran) in a pre-game ceremony ... among the Fighting Irish supporters in the stands on Friday night was former Notre Dame All-America defender and veteran U.S. National Team member Kate (Sobrero) Markgraf.