March 31, 2010
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - The Notre Dame women's soccer team built much of its success last season around a stout defense that recorded 16 shutouts and yielded just five goals during the final 15 matches of the campaign, which culminated with a 21-4-1 record, the program's 11th BIG EAST Conference title, and its fourth consecutive appearance in the NCAA Women's College Cup (and fifth in six seasons).
With nine of 11 starters returning next fall, the Fighting Irish have a veteran lineup in place to make another run to the top of the college soccer mountain. However, all successful championship chases begin with a solid defense, and through the first two matches of the 2010 spring season, it would appear Notre Dame has the pieces to make that strong foundation a reality.
The Fighting Irish opened their spring schedule on March 24, taking on the Chicago Red Stars of Women's Professional Soccer (WPS) at old Alumni Field. In a match that featured spirited play on both sides, Notre Dame held fast against its professional counterpart, controlling the run of play for good portions of the evening. Rising junior forward (and two-time all-BIG EAST selection) Melissa Henderson (Garland, Texas/Berkner) put together several dazzling offensive runs against the veteran Red Stars' defense -- which included former Fighting Irish All-American and current U.S. National Team defender Kate (Sobrero) Markgraf -- and ended up ringing both the left and right posts on separate attacks in the second half. In addition, rising senior forward Taylor Knaack (Arlington, Texas/Martin) got loose in the Chicago end in the first half and had an excellent try on frame that just curled wide into the side netting.
In the end, the Red Stars managed to break through for the only goal of the match, as midfielder Julianne Sitch converted a cross from Brazilian international Cristiane early in the second half for the 1-0 victory -- unofficial final statistics had the team each firing four shots on goal. Joining Markgraf in the starting lineup for the victorious Chicago side was recent Notre Dame standout Michele Weissenhofer ('10), who was selected by the Red Stars in the fourth round (33rd overall pick) of January's WPS Draft in Philadelphia. Both Markgraf and Weissenhofer subsequently made the opening day roster for Chicago, which kicks off its regular season April 11 at defending WPS champion Sky Blue FC in Piscataway, N.J.
Notre Dame then hit the highway for its only road match of the 2010 spring docket, squaring off with Michigan State on March 27 at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind. That contest was played as part of a charity benefit for Camp Watcha-Wanna-Do (http://www.campwatchawannado.com), a week-long summer camp for children with cancer, with the day-long, four-game event featuring games between some of the top college programs in the Midwest.
The matchup between the Fighting Irish and Spartans was the marquee contest of the afternoon, with the teams meeting for the second consecutive spring (they haven't met in the fall since Notre Dame's 1-0 win over MSU in the second round of the 2008 NCAA Championship at old Alumni Field). Once again, the Fighting Irish defense sparkled, led by rising sophomore goalkeeper Maddie Fox (San Jose, Calif./Leigh), who got the starting nod between the pipes and came up with a pair of brilliant saves on 1-v-1 opportunities by the Spartans. In addition, Notre Dame continued to knock on the woodwork at the offensive end, hitting two more posts, but at the final whistle, the teams wound up in a 0-0 draw.
"We've seen some encouraging signs at both ends of the field in our first two spring matches," Fighting Irish head coach Randy Waldrum said. "This has been a good opportunity to get some quality time for our younger players and see what they can do in game situations. At the same time, we want to continue to build that cohesiveness and chemistry that will be so important in the fall. There are certainly areas we can improve on, and that's what we'll be looking at during the remainder of our spring season."
After taking the Easter weekend off, Notre Dame will return to action at 1 p.m. (ET) April 11 when it plays host to Purdue at old Alumni Field. The Fighting Irish then will welcome Iowa to town at 1 p.m. (ET) April 17, also at old Alumni Field, before closing their spring schedule at 5 p.m. (ET) April 23 against the Mexican National Team at the new Alumni Stadium, which officially will be dedicated that weekend.