July 15, 2013
EDITOR'S NOTE: During the month of July, UND.com and Fighting Irish Digital Media are featuring a multimedia series entitled "Irish in the ACC," giving Notre Dame fans a sneak peek at some of what they can expect in the coming days, weeks and years as a member of the ACC through the eyes of each of the various Fighting Irish sports that will compete in the conference. Today, we take a look at the Notre Dame men's and women's soccer teams, who have historically been among the nation's elite programs and now will see their stock rise even higher as they enter the gauntlet of ACC competition.
by Chris Masters (Associate Athletic Media Relations Director) and Sean Carroll (Assistant Athletic Media Relations Director)
The Atlantic Coast Conference is one of the nation's largest leagues, now with 15 members covering eight different states. So it speaks volumes about the power of the ACC in the college soccer world when you realize that, even setting aside Notre Dame's long tradition of success on the pitch on both the men's and women's sides, one could just about throw a dart at a map of the conference and hit a school that has won a national championship or competed for an NCAA title in either men's or women's soccer (or both).
When it comes to the nation's best women's soccer conference, the conversation begins and ends with the ACC. Even before adding in Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Syracuse, no other league in the country can come close to the ACC's 21 national championships, 28 NCAA title game appearances and 39 NCAA Women's College Cup berths. What makes those figures even more startling is that they aren't the work of just one or two programs, instead featuring contributions from seven of the other 12 ACC schools, including five different conference teams (Boston College, Duke, Florida State, North Carolina and Wake Forest) that have advanced to the College Cup in the past three seasons alone, highlighted by the 2011 event that saw three of the four semifinalists (Duke, Florida State, Wake Forest) come from the ACC.
Now, add Notre Dame's sparkling pedigree to the ACC mix, a resume that includes three NCAA titles, eight trips to the national championship game and 12 appearances in the College Cup, and you have created a juggernaut conference the likes of which have not been seen since the NCAA first recognized women's soccer as a championship sport in 1982.
Notre Dame is coming off a 16-6-2 season in 2012 that saw it advance to the NCAA Championship quarterfinals for the 15th time in program history, all since 1994. The Fighting Irish, who return 10 starters and 21 of 24 players this fall, are led by 15th-year head coach Randy Waldrum, a two-time national Coach of the Year and current manager of the United States Under-23 Women's National Team. He ranks fourth among active Division I coaches with 386 wins and is one of only two skippers in NCAA Division I history (and one of just seven in any sport in the 126-year history of Notre Dame athletics) to lead his team to multiple national championships, piloting the Fighting Irish to the title in 2004 and 2010.
In fact, the only program in the nation that meets or exceeds the accomplishments of the Fighting Irish is that of storied powerhouse North Carolina. The Tar Heels have won 22 national championships (21 NCAA, 1 AIAW), starting with their runs through the women's college soccer world (albeit with far less than parity than today's landscape) for the better part of the 1980s and 1990s and continuing through this past season, when UNC defeated Penn State in the 31st edition of the NCAA Women's College Cup final, 4-1 in San Diego.
Yet, UNC is not alone in carrying the ACC banner on the national stage. Florida State has five College Cup appearances under its belt, including a spot in the 2007 NCAA title game (when the Seminoles fell 2-0 to Southern California). Duke has twice battled all the way to the national championship contest, coming just shy of the crown in 1992 and more recently in 2011 (a 1-0 loss to Stanford), while North Carolina State likewise has a pair of College Cup showings to its credit (the 1988 final and 1989 semifinals). Boston College (2010) and Wake Forest (2011) advanced to college soccer's final weekend for the first time in recent seasons, while Virginia (1991) also previously reached that level.
The level of depth and parity both inside and outside the ACC was on display just last season, starting with the conference race itself, with Florida State winning the title at 8-1, followed by a four-way tie for second place at 6-3-1 between Maryland, Wake Forest, North Carolina and Virginia (who were seeded in that order for the conference tournament). As it turned out, fifth-seeded UVa ended up taking the ACC Championship title, defeating Maryland in the final after previously ousting top-seeded FSU and third-seeded UNC in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively.
The ACC then sent eight teams to the 2012 NCAA Championship, with six earning national seeds in their bracket quadrants -- Florida State (1), North Carolina and Virginia (2), Duke and Wake Forest (3), and Maryland (4). In addition to eventual champion UNC and College Cup participant FSU, Duke reached the quarterfinals and Virginia advanced to the third round of the tournament. What's more, all eight of the ACC's postseason qualifiers were either ranked or receiving votes in the year-end National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) poll.
Notre Dame is quite familiar with most of the other 14 ACC members, all but Clemson (which it will face for the first time on Oct. 27 in Clemson, S.C.) and Georgia Tech (which does not offer the sport). Through the years, the Fighting Irish have posted a combined 59-23-4 (.709) record against the rest of the conference (42-18-1, .697 in the Waldrum era) with winning or .500 series records against all but two of them (UNC and Virginia, the latter series being 0-1 all-time).
The Fighting Irish also have extensive experience when it comes to playing ACC teams in the NCAA Championship, going 9-9 all-time against other conference teams in the postseason, most recently in 2012 when they defeated Wake Forest in the second round (2-1 in Gainesville, Fla.) and lost at Florida State in the quarterfinals (1-0).
Aside from their prior league matchups with Boston College (10-1 all-time), Miami (6-0), Pittsburgh (10-0-1), Syracuse (9-0) and Virginia Tech (1-0) when those schools were in the BIG EAST, the Fighting Irish have played North Carolina more than any other ACC school, with a modest 5-14-2 record against the Tar Heels. UNC also is Notre Dame's most common opponent in the postseason, with the two programs squaring off 10 times in the NCAA Championship (including five in a row from 2006-10), spotlighted by eight meetings at the Women's College Cup and five national championship match encounters.
In a statistical oddity, Notre Dame has a winning record (4-2) in Chapel Hill, but has yet to defeat North Carolina in South Bend (0-3-1). Still, Notre Dame's four wins over UNC on its home pitch (Fetzer Field) are more than any other Tar Heel opponent in NCAA history, highlighted by a 4-1 win in the third round of the 2010 NCAA Championship when the Fighting Irish handed UNC its largest defeat (overall and in the NCAA tournament) and scored the most goals of any Tar Heel opponent in the NCAA era (since 1982).
Coincidentally, Notre Dame will open its inaugural 13-match ACC slate in the Carolina Triangle, visiting North Carolina State on Sept. 12 before heading to UNC on Sept. 15. The Fighting Irish then kick off their first ACC home schedule the following week when fellow league newcomer Syracuse comes to Alumni Stadium (7 p.m. ET on Sept. 19).
There is no doubt the ACC is one of the premier men's soccer leagues in the country. Conference teams have claimed five of the last eight NCAA titles and current ACC members have combined to win 15 national championships. The conference has placed at least one team in the College Cup each of the last 12 seasons and an ACC team has appeared in the championship game on 22 occasions.
Twelve of the ACC's 15 schools sponsor men's soccer, while Florida State, Georgia Tech and Miami do not have varsity men's soccer programs.
A monumental moment for the Notre Dame program occurred on ACC soil in 2006 when the Irish knocked off defending national champion Maryland in overtime, 1-0, in College Park to advance to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Championship for the first time. Joseph Lapira deposited the game winner in the 107th minute and he would go on to win the M.A.C. Hermann Trophy later that season. Unfortunately, the Irish saw their unprecedented run come to an end at ACC foe Virginia. The Cavaliers won the back-and-forth affair, 3-2.
Another ACC program prevented Notre Dame from reaching the College Cup the following season when eventual national champion Wake Forest clipped the Irish in overtime, 1-0, during the NCAA quarterfinals in Winston Salem, N.C. Since falling to the Demon Deacons in the 2007 postseason, Notre Dame is 3-0-1 against the ACC, including wins over Duke (1-0) and Clemson (2-1) last season. That mark improves to 10-0-1 when factoring in Pittsburgh and Syracuse.
Fittingly enough, the Notre Dame men's soccer team will open ACC competition against the one conference opponent the program has never faced - North Carolina. The Fighting Irish will play host to the Tar Heels on Sept. 8 at Alumni Stadium and that will mark the school's first official ACC contest in any sport.
Besides Chapel Hill (North Carolina), the only other ACC city the Irish have yet to visit is Raleigh, N.C., but the team will check that trip off the list with a venture to North Carolina State on Oct. 19.
Six ACC members have yet to play a match at Notre Dame. Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia all will visit South Bend for the first time this season. That will leave Clemson, North Carolina State and Wake Forest as the only ACC schools that have never played at Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish and their fans at Alumni Stadium will be eagerly awaiting visits from all of these programs in the years to come.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Our Irish in the ACC series continues Wednesday with a look at the Notre Dame baseball and softball programs.