NOTRE DAME, Ind. - A picture perfect summer day as the backdrop for what can often be one of the most important days of a season is a great way to open any campaign. For the University of Notre Dame women's soccer team, the weather held up its end of the bargain on Wednesday, letting the Fighting Irish get to work on the field in the team's first two training sessions of fall camp.
After officially reporting to campus on Tuesday afternoon, and with initial move-in, meetings and other responsibilities taken care of, Wednesday was all about Notre Dame and first-year head coach Theresa Romagnolo taking the pitch in preparation for the 2014 soccer season. The Fighting Irish held a pair of training sessions on the ND Practice Field, officially getting the new competitive year underway.
"I'm really excited because of the talent that we have to work with," Romagnolo said. "For us it's going to be about figuring out the pieces that fit together and getting the right people on the field. Right now it's so early, we are evaluating and getting to take a look at everybody."
Wednesday's training sessions were the initial opportunity for the 2014 Notre Dame team, which includes 11 freshmen, to collectively compete on the field together and begin season preparations. The leadership of the Fighting Irish upperclassmen, Romagnolo felt, was one of the keys to a smooth opening day of practice, with the veteran players helping acclimate the newcomers to the speed and execution of the college game.
"We've got a great returning core, and the freshmen are going to slowly find their way into the team," she said. "There are some very good players here, so we have a lot to work with.
"That's the idea, that you have your leaders out on the field who are constantly directing and organizing things," Romagnolo added. "Your coaches are almost out there (on the field), and we saw quite a bit of that on day one. Right now, even missing two of our captains in Cari Roccaro and Katie Naughton, to see many of the returners step into that vocal, leadership role was exciting for me."
With Roccaro and Naughton continuing to play with the United States Under-20 National Team for the duration of the month at the 2014 FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in Canada, there is even more of an opportunity for other Notre Dame players to work into the fold during preseason practice. A major focus almost immediately once fall camp begins for a given coaching staff is how best to utilize the early preparation time to gauge and evaluate team personnel.
"The chance for others to get an opportunity is huge, and the way we look at it, every spot is kind of up for grabs," Romagnolo said. "It's a new year and with 33 players, you have to look at everyone, take them under consideration at the positions they play. I think it's refreshing to come out on the field and see who has worked out this summer, who is prepared and ready, all while watching the development during the preseason to see where the pieces are starting to fit together."
Notre Dame will close the rest of the short week with two-a-days on the ND Practice Field before shifting its focus to the first exhibition game of the fall against Illinois State on Monday at 3 p.m. (ET) at Alumni Stadium. The remainder of the first week, along with getting everyone up to game speed and shape, will also involve specific strategy installation.
"Number one (for the rest of the week) is continuing to evaluate where everyone on the team is currently at," Romagnolo said. "Number two, is already getting into our system of play and making sure we understand defensive responsibilities, how we want to press together as a team. Offensively, the type of movement and runs we are looking for off the ball.
"The preseason is so short, and that's the craziest thing being a fall sport is that you go right into your season," she added. "There is not really much time, and you're not messing around, going into teaching right away while incorporating games and competition within the teaching."
NOTRE DAME SLATED 16th IN THE NSCAA PRESEASON TOP 25
Notre Dame checked in at the number 16 slot of the preseason National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA)/Continental Tire Division I Women's Soccer rankings that were unveiled on Wednesday.
The Fighting Irish, who closed the 2013 season ranked 14th in the final NSCAA poll, were one of eight Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) teams included in the preseason top 25, with spots two (Florida State), three (Virginia), four (North Carolina) and five (Virginia Tech) occupied by ACC squads. A total of nine 2014 Notre Dame opponents were either ranked in the top 25 or receiving votes in the NSCAA preseason poll.
ROCCARO A REPEAT CHOICE ON THE MAC HERMANN TROPHY WATCH LIST
For the second consecutive season, junior tri-captain Cari Roccaro (East Islip, N.Y./East Islip) was tabbed to the Missouri Athletic Club (MAC) Hermann Trophy Watch List, which was also announced on Wednesday. Roccaro was one of 35 players across the country named to the 2014 MAC Hermann Trophy Watch List, with a total of seven players representing the ACC.
Three Notre Dame players have claimed the Hermann Trophy since 1996, as Cindy Daws took home the first such honor that season. Anne Makinen (2000) and Kerri Hanks (2006 and 2008) have also earned the award representing the Fighting Irish. Hanks remains one of just four players nationally to ever win the award multiple times in an individual career.
To purchase a season pass or single-match tickets for the 2014 Notre Dame women's soccer season, call the Murnane Family Athletics Ticket Office at (574) 631-7356, visit the official Notre Dame athletics ticketing web site, UND.com/tickets or stop by the Murnane Family Athletics Ticket Office windows during normal business hours (9 a.m.-5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday). Tickets also can be purchased at Alumni Stadium on match days.
For more information on the Fighting Irish women's soccer program, follow Notre Dame on Twitter (@NDsoccernews or @NDSoccer), like the Fighting Irish on Facebook (facebook.com/NDWomenSoccer) or sign up for the Irish ALERT text-messaging system through the "Fan Center" pulldown menu on the main page at UND.com.
-- Tony Jones, Media Relations Assistant