Nov. 4, 2011
Adriana Leon (Maple, Ontario/The Country Day School) scored in the 72nd minute, and Notre Dame had the tying goal disallowed and hit both the goalpost and crossbar, all in the final 10 minutes, but was not able to complete a valiant second-half comeback, falling to Louisville, 2-1 in the semifinals of the BIG EAST Conference Championship on Friday afternoon at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium in Morgantown, W.Va.
Senior forward/tri-captain Melissa Henderson (Garland, Texas/Berkner) had the assist on Leon's goal, extending her point-scoring streak to five matches, as the Fighting Irish (10-7-3) battled almost all the way back to reach the conference final after trailing by two goals less than 11 minutes into the contest.
Notre Dame outshot the Cardinals, 19-11, including an 8-6 edge in shots on goal. The margins were even greater in the second half, when the Fighting Irish held a 12-5 total shot advantage, and a 5-2 spread in shots on goal. Notre Dame also earned a season-high 11 corner kicks on the day, finishing with an 11-3 edge from the flag (including five of six in the second half).
Junior goalkeeper Maddie Fox (San Jose, Calif./Leigh) registered four saves in the match, while her Louisville counterpart Chloe Kiefer made seven stops. The Cardinals got a goal and assist from Kaitie McDonald, with her 11th-minute score standing up as the match-winner.
"It's something that's been an issue for us all year long and it came up again today -- the inability to put a full 90 minutes together," Notre Dame head coach Randy Waldrum said. "We didn't come out focused and credit Louisville for doing exactly what they needed to do to capitalize on our lack of focus. We kept battling and had our chances, but at the end of the day, the breaks didn't go our way and the hole we dug was just too deep. Now we will begin training and preparing for the NCAA tournament and a brand new opportunity for us to move ahead and take our season back in a positive direction."
Louisville (12-5-3) wasted little time in getting on the scoreboard, taking the lead on its first extended possession of the match. Winning a throw-in on the left side, McDonald's toss to the left side of the box was set along via a flick header by Jordan Pawlik, with Christine Exeter trapping the ball 12 yards out in the area. She then turned and drove a shot off the underside of the crossbar at the 2:27 mark.
Notre Dame nearly equalized two minutes later, as sophomore forward Mandy Laddish (Lee's Summit, Mo./Lee's Summit) worked a give-and-go with Henderson on the left side, before Henderson slipped a through-ball to senior midfielder/tri-captain Jessica Schuveiller (Plano, Texas/Plano West) on an angled run through the box. However, Kiefer read the play well and came off her line to knock the ball away before Schuveiller could get a clean play on it.
After two Fighting Irish corner kicks went astray, Louisville doubled its lead off a corner of its own. Jennifer Jones took the attempt from the right side, which sailed all the way across the face of goal, where McDonald was parked at the left edge of the six-yard box. She went high and nodded down a sharp header that bounced on the hard-packed turf in front of the goal and over a leaping Fox under the bar (10:36).
Notre Dame had a strong chance in the 22nd minute, as Henderson trapped a ball in the left channel, drove towards the center and then snapped a precision through-ball to Laddish on an angled run in the area. Laddish then shook free of her defender by cutting back over her left shoulder, but her right-footed shot from 12 yards out went right to Kiefer's waiting arms.
Three minutes later, Laddish set up another golden opportunity with a left-side cross that pulled Kiefer off her line. The Louisville netminder was able to punch the ball out toward the top right corner of the box, but also found herself out of position. Yet, both sophomore midfielder Elizabeth Tucker (Jacksonville, Fla./Bishop Kenny) and senior midfielder/tri-captain Courtney Barg (Plano, Texas/Plano West) weren't able to get loose for a good look at the open net, with Barg's final try blocked out of danger.
The second half saw the pitch tilted even further in Notre Dame's direction. In the 47th minute, Henderson trapped a ball at the top of the box, turned to her left and ripped a low shot that Kiefer stopped.
Less than five minutes after that, Schuveiller chopped a ball free in the center circle and set sail on an extended run down the heart of the Louisville defense. At the top of the area, she fired a dipping shot into a brisk wind that handcuffed Kiefer, who spilled the rebound near the left post, but neither Henderson or Leon could latch on to the loose ball.
In the 71st minute, Laddish played a right-side corner kick that was blocked back out to her and she re-loaded with a pass to senior defender Molly Campbell (Mission Hills, Kan./St. Teresa's Academy) at the top right corner of the box. Campbell then wound up for a 22-yard shot that curled towards the upper left corner of the net, only to be parried away on a leaping save by Kiefer.
After knocking on the door for more than an hour, the Fighting Irish finally broke through at the 71:40 mark. Henderson gathered in a loose ball near the penalty spot and toe-poked a pass out to Leon near the top of the area. The Canadian striker didn't hesitate in unleashing a thunderbolt from 20 yards out that sizzled into the back of the net almost before Kiefer could react.
Less than two minutes after that, Notre Dame nearly drew level, as Laddish served a delicate chip from the right channel into the heart of the penalty box. Henderson was parked just outside the six and re-directed the chip with a flying volley that barely whistled wide of the right post.
Henderson continued to bedevil the Louisville defense with her runs down the flank and up the middle. In the 76th minute, she collected a pass 15 yards out on the left side of the box and turned to go towards goal, but was hauled down, drawing howls of protest for a penalty kick from the Fighting Irish fans in the crowd.
The match then took another controversial turn with 8:30 remaining. Notre Dame earned a free kick just outside the top left corner of the box, about 25 yards from goal. Schuveiller teed up a shot that curled through the Cardinals' defense and caromed hard off the right post, with freshman defender Taylor Schneider (Southlake, Texas/Carroll Senior) crashing hard on the back side and alertly poking home the rebound from six yards out past Kiefer and two Louisville defenders stationed on the posts. However, the near-side assistant referee flagged Schneider for offside, wiping out the score.
Schneider then came agonizingly close to tying the score once again, this time with five minutes to play. The rookie gathered in a ball in the right channel and quickly fired a rising shot that beat Kiefer, but couldn't overcome the crossbar, clanging hard off the woodwork before being swept away by the Louisville defense.
The Notre Dame players and coaches now will await the announcement of the 64-team field for the 2011 NCAA Women's Soccer Championship, with the full bracket to be released at 4:30 p.m. (ET) live on the official NCAA Championships web site (www.ncaa.com).
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POST MATCH NOTES: Six of Notre Dame's seven losses have come by one goal (five on the road or at neutral sites), plus three road draws, with this being the seventh time the Fighting Irish have come oh-so-close to a win or tie before a remarkable series of bad breaks occurred in the final 15 minutes of regulation or overtime -- Aug. 26 at #3 North Carolina (hit crossbar with 5:00 left in regulation, lose 2-1 in OT); Sept. 9 at #2 Stanford (two goals allowed in final 9:20, including winner with 2:23 left, lose 2-1); Sept. 22 at South Florida (tying goal allowed with 3:39 left, tie 1-1); Sept. 25 at #14/15 Marquette (winning goal scored 18 seconds into OT, lose 3-2); Oct. 9 at Rutgers (three point-blank shots on goal in first OT, all stopped on diving GK saves, tie 0-0); Oct. 14 vs. Georgetown (two own-goals allowed, the second with 13:54 left, lose 3-2); Nov. 4 vs. Louisville (tying goal by ND disallowed with 8:30 left, plus goalpost and crossbar hit in final 10 minutes, lost 2-1) ... Notre Dame falls to 13-2 all-time in the BIG EAST Championship semifinals, with both losses coming by 2-1 scores (the other was in 2003 vs. Boston College in Piscataway, N.J.) ... the Fighting Irish also drop to 36-4-1 all-time in the BIG EAST tournament, with three of those four being one-goal losses, all by identical 2-1 scores (the other being vs. Connecticut in the 2004 final) ... Notre Dame's previous season high for corner kicks was 10 against Providence in a 3-0 Fighting Irish win on Oct. 2 at Alumni Stadium ... on the heels of receiving the BIG EAST Fair Play Award at the conference awards banquet on Thursday, the Fighting Irish tied a season low with three fouls (also set in a 3-1 victory over Villanova on Oct. 16 at Alumni Stadium) ... Leon scored her career-high sixth goal of the season, and first since that Oct. 2 win over Providence ... Henderson now has a BIG EAST-leading 44 points this season (18G-8A), one shy of her career high set last year ... in addition to her current five-match point-scoring streak, Henderson also has tabulated points in eight of her last 10 matches ... Notre Dame is 53-4-3 all-time when Henderson registers a point, with all four losses (#2 Stanford, #14/15 Marquette, Georgetown) and one of the draws (#17/18 Santa Clara) coming this season.