Aug 15, 2013
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Around this time of year, when one of thinks of pests, he or she is likely envisioning mosquitoes or some other bothersome flying insect. However, when it comes to the soccer pitch, Notre Dame junior forward Karin Simonian (Westbury, N.Y./W.T. Clarke) is the kind of pest everyone loves to see, including her coaches and teammates.
Simonian (pronounced sih-MOE-knee-UN) buzzed over, around and through the Xavier defense on Wednesday, tying for match-high honors with six shots and handing out two assists in Notre Dame's 5-1 exhibition win over the Musketeers at the Notre Dame Practice Field. When she wasn't shooting or creating scoring chances for her teammates, Simonian was constantly harassing XU defenders and causing numerous turnovers, making the afternoon anything but pleasant for the visitors from Cincinnati.
"I was just trying to pressure them as much as possible, whether it comes from taking shots, creating on the dribble or checking back on defense," she said. "Unfortunately, I had a few of my shots blocked, but I had some good looks and as a unit, we created some solid chances. That's one thing that the coaches have really been stressing for me to do -- keep attacking and being a threat."
"Karin had an outstanding game against Xavier," Notre Dame head coach Randy Waldrum said. "She was making things happen out there, playing smartly off the ball, and doing all the things we asked of her."
Simonian was one of the nation's top young players when she came to Notre Dame in 2011, following a highly successful career with Long Island's powerful Albertson SC club program. However, unbeknownst to most people, she was playing in a great deal of pain in both legs, an ailment that went undiagnosed for the balance of her club career.
It wasn't until weeks after Simonian's arrival at Notre Dame that she realized there was something more at play than just a simple muscle strain or a bone bruise. As it turned out, she had compartment syndrome, a potential limb or life-threatening condition that occurs when there isn't enough blood to supply oxygen and nutrients to the muscles and nerves due to raised pressure (possibly brought on by a previous injury). In an ironic twist, the Fighting Irish medical staff was familiar with the syndrome because former All-America forward and 2010 Honda Sports Award recipient Melissa Henderson was diagnosed with a similar malady at the end of her freshman year.
"It was so frustrating because I knew I was hurting, but I didn't know why and we couldn't seem to figure it out," Simonian said. "I thought I was doing all the right things, working out, eating well, and my body just wasn't responding, so I wasn't able to play up to the level I know I'm capable of. That's when we finally got it figured out and it was such a relief."
"Karin had a really difficult freshman year," Waldrum said. "The injury and subsequent surgery set her back six weeks, and it was a really difficult time for her to get through."
Following corrective surgery early in the 2011 season that caused her to miss the first six matches of her rookie year, Simonian made it back on the pitch for 13 contests the rest of the way. She then played in nearly every match last year, starting nine of 23 contests while picking up a goal and three assists. Still, she knew she wasn't close to 100 percent, and it would take more than a year after her surgery for Simonian to regain her former fitness level and feel fully confident that the pain in her legs wouldn't return.
It was around that same time in the spring of 2013 that Waldrum approached Simonian about moving from her normal attacking midfield spot up to the forward line. It was a bit unusual for someone who was known for her creativity and possession skills in the middle third, but she embraced the challenge and became a key contributor during the spring season. Most notably, she scored the opening goal in Notre Dame's 4-3 exhibition win over the Mexico Under-20 National Team at Alumni Stadium, one of four shots (three on goal) she had against one of the world's better youth national teams.
Simonian then returned home for the summer and suited up for the Long Island Fury, an amateur club in the Women's Premier Soccer League (WPSL). Playing for Paul Riley, her former club coach with Albertson SC and the 2011 Women's Professional Soccer (WPS) Coach of the Year with the Philadelphia Independence, Simonian blossomed on the front line, scoring 11 goals in nine matches, including a pair of hat tricks, while helping the Fury finish second in the WPSL Tri-State Division and earning Simonian a place on the WPSL All-East Conference Second Team.
"Karin has made such great strides since she got here," Waldrum said. "She made a tremendous effort to work on her nutrition and her fitness level after her surgery and has truly transformed herself as a player. She had a great spring for us, her best time playing in the Irish jersey. Since the spring, Karin has begun to do the things we know she is capable of doing. She is so creative with the ball and so skillful, and she just needed to understand how to refuel herself and work on her levels of fitness. She looks really good this preseason and will have a very successful year, I'm sure."
That progress appears to have carried over to preseason training, as Simonian has been a blur on the pitch throughout Notre Dame's two-a-day practices, not to mention Wednesday's exhibition. Yet, she knows a lot remains in front of her team at this stage in the season.
"Practices have been really intense so far, probably more so than at any point in my three years," Simonian said. "I don't know if that's because of our move to the ACC, our depth on this year's team, or what, but you can definitely tell the energy level is very high. At the same time, we're getting so much tighter as a group and that can only help us because we're going to face some tough challenges this season, both inside and outside the ACC."
Notre Dame has traditionally fared well in exhibitions during the Waldrum era, going 12-3-3 overall (7-0-2 at home) against college opponents since the Fighting Irish head coach took over in 1999, going unbeaten in its last five outings (4-0-1) since a 2010 loss to Virginia (4-1 in Maple City, Mich.) ... Notre Dame also tends to have a great deal of offensive success in the preseason, averaging 2.72 goals per match in college exhibitions under Waldrum ... had it been a regular-season contest, Simonian's two assists against Xavier would have been a career high -- she's had one assist on four occasions, the last on Sept. 30, 2012, in a 4-0 win at Connecticut ... both Simonian's two helpers and sophomore forward Anna Maria Gilbertson's two goals marked the first time a Fighting Irish player pulled off either feat in the preseason in almost exactly two years (Aug. 12, 2011), when Henderson had four goals and two assists in a 7-5 win over Virginia in Maple City, Mich. ... junior forward Lauren Bohaboy also continued her exhibition success, notching a point for the third consecutive preseason outing with her goal and assist against Xavier -- she had single goals in both contests last year against Virginia and Baylor ... there were a pair of new faces on the Notre Dame sideline for the Xavier match, as assistant coach Corey Holton made her debut in Fighting Irish colors, and recently-hired coordinator of soccer operations Lexi Dakin was helping to film the contest ... Thursday saw Notre Dame practice twice, although both workouts were shorter in duration (approximately 75 minutes), with the team's U.S. Under-20 National Team players returning to action after being away for more than a week at U-20 camp in California (Aug. 4-11); the returning group included freshman midfielder Morgan Andrews and goalkeeper Kaela Little, who took part in their first practices at the college level on Thursday ... among the visitors to Thursday's practices were crews from Fighting Irish Digital Media and South Bend's Fox 28 television, who were on hand to tape interviews for stories that will air later this week or early next week.
Notre Dame's second and final exhibition is set for 1 p.m. (ET) Saturday, when the Fighting Irish play host to 13th-ranked Baylor at the Notre Dame Practice Field (east of Eck Baseball Stadium). Admission is free to the general public, with fans asked to park in the Gold Lot adjacent to Eck Stadium and follow the service road behind the left-field wall to the practice field entrance.
Notre Dame then opens the 2013 regular season with a five-match homestand, starting at 5:30 p.m. (ET) Aug. 23 against Illinois at Alumni Stadium.
Ticket packages for the 2013 Notre Dame women's soccer season may be purchased through the University's Murnane Family Athletics Ticket Office by calling (574) 631-7356 or visiting the ticket windows at Gate 9 of Purcell Pavilion weekdays from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. (ET). Tickets also can be ordered on-line 24 hours a day with a major credit card through the official Notre Dame athletics ticketing web site, UND.com/tickets. Groups wishing to attend Fighting Irish soccer matches also can receive a discounted ticket rate -- contact Rita Baxter in the Murnane Family Athletics Ticket Office to learn more.
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.
-- Chris Masters, Associate Athletic Media Relations Director