Dec. 4, 2009
COLLEGE STATION, Texas - On cold night more reminiscent of South Bend, Indiana than College Station, Texas, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish women's soccer season came to an end with a 1-0 loss to North Carolina in the 2009 NCAA College Cup semifinal game in front of 8,026 fans at the Aggie Soccer Stadium on the campus of Texas A&M University.
In the latest chapter of women's college soccer's biggest rivalry, a valiant defensive effort that included six saves by Irish goalkeeper Nikki Weiss (Redding, Conn./Immaculate) was not enough to negate a North Carolina offense that earned the game's only breakthrough with just under eight minutes remaining, as Casey Nogueira scored from two-yards out after she received a low through ball from Lucy Bronze. Six of the teams' last seven contests have now been decided by one goal.
"We just want to congratulate North Carolina on their win and wish them all the best in the championship game," said Irish head coach Randy Waldrum. "I told the girls after the game how proud I was of them for this year and for getting to this point. It's never easy when you lose but we've had a fantastic year and I'm really proud of this group."
North Carolina outshot the Irish by a 26-8 margin, including a nine to one edge in shots on target. UNC also earned 10 corner kicks to Notre Dame's two. Ashlyn Harris made one save in the Tar Heel net.
Just 30 seconds into the contest, Nogueira stood over a free kick from just outside the Irish box and sent her subsequent shot over the wall of Irish defenders and just over the cross bar as well.
The Irish then had their best scoring chance of the half in the sixth minute when Melissa Henderson (Garland, Texas/Berkner) beat two Tar Heel defenders and sent a through ball to the far side of the box that an on-rushing Rose Augustin (Silver Lake, Ohio/Walsh Jesuit) hit a low drive just wide of the far post with UNC goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris sprinting off her line to apply pressure.
In the 20th minute, UNC's Tobin Heath hit a shot from 30-yards out that struck the cross bar. The ensuing rebound was then fired at the Irish goal by Jessica McDonald, but Weiss smothered the shot to keep the game tied at 0-0.
UNC applied more pressure in the 28th minute when Meghan Klingenberg and Courtney Jones got consecutive shots off in the Irish box that were cleared off the line by Molly Campbell (Mission Hills, Kan./St. Teresa's Acad.) and Jessica Schuveiller (Plano, Texas/Plano West), respectively.
North Carolina earned the majority of the possession in the beginning stages of the second half. Included in the UNC offensive chances was a header that flew just wide of Weiss' net by Amber Brooks and a dangerous ball into the box that was cleared out for a corner kick with a crafty header from Notre Dame's Haley Ford (Midland, Texas/Midland).
The Irish then had a good spell of possession midway into the second half that culminated in a shot off the cross bar by Augustin, who volleyed the shot off the outside right of her foot from the left side of the box, 12-yards out from the UNC net in the 67th minute.
With 30-minutes remaining, the game began to open up, creating more chances for both sides. Weiss was forced to make one of her best saves of the contest in the 68th minute, when she dove to her left to snag a low line-drive shot by Alyssa Rich. Michele Weissenhofer (Naperville, Ill./Neuqua Valley) reached a Henderson through ball at the top of the box, cut back against the defense and let fly a shot that flashed just wide of Harris' left post in the 71st minute. Weissenhofer is part of an Irish senior class that posted a 91-11-4 record while making four College Cup appearances and two trips to the NCAA Championship match.
Nogueira then scored what proved to be the game's decisive strike at 82:02.
With three minutes left, Knaack combined with Iantorno for a half chance that ended in a goal kick for the Tar Heels. Then, with ten seconds left, Henderson played a ball up for a streaking Weissenhofer, but a last-ditch sliding effort by Rachel Givan negated the tying chance for the Irish.
"It's been one of the most rewarding years I've had at Notre Dame, and that's including the national championship of 2004," concluded Waldrum. "This team really has come so far. If you'd have asked anyone who saw us play Carolina in the first two weeks of the year, no one would have guessed we'd be back here. It's taken a lot of hard work. This staff has done a great job of keeping the team focused and believing they could get back. A lot of the credit goes to the players for believing that we were good enough to get back. Even though it's a disappointing night, it's been a really rewarding year."
In Friday's other semifinal match, Stanford earned a 2-1 overtime win over the Bruins of UCLA, the Cardinal and Tar Heels will meet in the NCAA Championship match on Sunday, Dec. 6 at 1:00 p.m. (EST).
Postgame Notes: Courtney Barg was named a 2009 MAC Hermann Trophy semifinalist, one of 15 players to earn the distinction ... Barg was also named a first team All-American by the NSCAA, while Lauren Fowlkes earned third team All-American honors for the Irish ... Friday night's game marked the third-largest crowd to witness a game inside the Aggie Soccer Stadium ... the six saves for Weiss were one shy of tying her career high mark of seven ... the Irish senior class finished their careers with a 91-11-4 record while making four College Cup appearances and two trips to the NCAA Championship match.