Aug. 18, 2011
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first in an ongoing series on UND.com, spotlighting the 2011 Notre Dame fall sports season with both written and video previews. Today, we take a look at the defending national champion Fighting Irish women's soccer team that returns 18 veterans and seven starters in a quest to become just the second school in NCAA Division I history to earn back-to-back titles.
As he intently prowls the practice field at Notre Dame, 13th-year head coach Randy Waldrum has been here before. He knows what it takes to bring the Fighting Irish to the top of the college soccer world, having led the program to national championships in 2004 and 2010. He also knows what lies ahead for a team coming off an NCAA title, and it's that wisdom that he's eager to share with his charges.
With the Fighting Irish gathered in their meeting room at Alumni Stadium, just mere steps from a wall freshly decorated with a photo of Notre Dame's 2010 national champions, Waldrum reverts a bit from from the casual, breezy Southern accent that has become so familiar to his players, staff, members of the Notre Dame community and fans around the country. Yet, the message remains crystal clear, even if it comes in a colloquial wrapper better suited for an episode of "The Sopranos":
To be sure, the 2010 season was a magical and historic one for the Fighting Irish, who were perched on the precipice after an uncharacteristic early exit from the BIG EAST Championship. Saddled with a No. 4 seed in their quadrant of the NCAA tournament, Notre Dame then came out and became the first fourth-seeded team in the nearly three-decade history of the Championship to hoist the hardware, picking off four seeded teams (including two No. 1 seeds) during their 21-2-2 run to the title.
There are parts of last season Waldrum doesn't want his team to forget, such as the joy and elation of winning the national championship, or the pain and frustration that preceded that postseason journey, most notably the loss to Connecticut in the BIG EAST quarterfinals. However, that's where the memories end for Notre Dame, as Waldrum realizes that 2011 is a new season with new challenges for the Fighting Irish, including the most significant one of all -- becoming just the second team in NCAA Division I history to win back-to-back national championships.
"The challenge probably for us, and for me, is to make sure that we will continue to stretch our players even farther, because championships have got to be won, and because there are parts of last year that you want them to come in and forget," Waldrum said. "We can't walk in here thinking everything is okay because we won the championship last year. But, then there is a side of you that wants them to remember some of the things that we went through to get there. So, the balance in preseason is going to be how much you continue to talk about the past versus moving forward, because that's not going to win us a thing this year."
Among the critical aspects for any team, particularly one that annually competes for titles, are leadership, chemistry and a tradition of success. Notre Dame rarely longs to find those attributes on its roster, yet this season could be especially unique. The three team captains for 2011 -- seniors Courtney Barg, Melissa Henderson and Jessica Schuveiller -- not only bring a long history of leadership to the table, but together they also have experienced tremendous success throughout their careers, dating as far back as age 10, when all three were teammates in the younger age brackets of the Dallas Texans club program (and later with Sting Dallas) prior to arriving in South Bend.
Friends for more than a decade, this Texas trio understands what it means to achieve greatness, and now they know what it takes to lead their Fighting Irish teammates there. As the backbone of the 2011 Fighting Irish, both on the field (Henderson is a forward, Barg a midfielder and Schuveiller a center back) and in the locker room, these three players have their eyes set on helping Notre Dame shape a new legacy in the already-storied history of Fighting Irish women's soccer.
"We pushed our players a lot more this spring than we had after the spring of '04, and that's probably the biggest difference," Waldrum said. "The other difference is that we heard it on the plane ride home from winning the championship last year. I don't remember in '04 hearing the players talk about repeating again until we got back into the season. I can remember the flight home from last year's championship, walking to the back of the plane and listening to Barg and Schuveiller and Henderson talk about the (championship) game we had just finished playing hours ago, but then also talking about how they wanted to be the first team here at Notre Dame to repeat in women's soccer. So that was refreshing and that was different. Yes, they were still celebrating (at the time), but they were already thinking about next year. That's carried over throughout the spring and summer, that genuine excitement about coming back and trying to defend this title."
The three senior captains won't be alone in sharing the mantle of responsibility that comes with being the reigning champion, as the Fighting Irish return 18 monogram winners, including seven starters from last year's squad. What's more, Notre Dame has a strong seven-player incoming class that is highlighted by five freshmen appearing among the top 60 in the nation by Top Drawer Soccer in its February 2011 rankings. Those two elements could give the Fighting Irish one of its deeper teams in recent years, with all the tools in place to keep the NCAA trophy in South Bend this season.
"With this (incoming) class, all seven of them are going to compete to come here, play a lot of minutes right away, and push the starting players that we have," Waldrum said. "Paper doesn't win you games, but on paper, this team could be deeper than last year's team once we get everyone healthy. It doesn't guarantee that we're going to do the same thing, but I think it's going to be a little bit deeper in talent than what we had last year. Now we just have to fit the parts together and find a way of figuring out that chemistry of which ones are the best ones to be playing with each other. It also gives us a chance to go back to what we've been doing in the past, getting a team that we can play on Friday, and turn around and maybe starting a few new faces on Sunday, and keep our team a little fresher as we get deeper into the season."
While paper might not win any games for Waldrum or his charges, it's an ideal way to evaluate potential contributions. With that in mind, here's a position-by-position breakdown of the 2011 Fighting Irish:
With all of those accolades in her trophy case, not to mention a growing buzz in the soccer community about her future as a member of the U.S. National Team, it's hard to believe the ceiling could get any higher for Henderson. However, ask her coach and it's more than possible ... it's probable.
"I'm expecting great things," Waldrum said. "She's got the ability to score 25 goals for you in a year. In the past, Mel's sometimes been her own worst enemy in that she's so humble and she wants to deflect things to others. Last year, she started to get her over the hump, and finally for the first time, she realized during the NCAA tournament how important it was to the team that she be good and that she take on some of that responsibility. You're never going to change her in terms of how humble and gracious she is -- that's just her personality -- but in terms of her getting a little more bite to her game and realizing her teammates supported her being more aggressive, I think she really grew in that area.
"Getting a chance to be at the Hermann (Trophy presentation), winning the Honda, being at the ESPYs, all these things are building in her confidence of her," Waldrum added. "She would never say it, but maybe inside she's realizing that `maybe I am a little better than I always thought I was.' Now she seems a little more focused on reaching that full national team and she seems more goal-oriented. Physically looking at her, this is the best she's looked since she's come in (to preseason camp), so I'm really looking for a big year from her."
While Henderson is certain to draw a great deal of attention from Notre Dame opponents this season, those foes would do well not to overlook the rest of the Fighting Irish front line. Sophomore Adriana Leon (4G-2A) got off to a late start last season due to a preseason injury, but she made a lasting impression with one of her final left-footed kicks, scoring the winning goal against Stanford in the national championship match off Henderson's precision assist in the 63rd minute.
A rising star in the Canadian youth soccer system, Leon has spent time with the Canada U-20 National Team and brings a mix of flair and creativity on the ball with a toughness and competitive streak that were sharpened in her earlier days as a midget hockey player in Ontario. Now with a year of college experience under her belt, Leon offers a viable alternative attacking threat for Notre Dame and someone who will punish those who make the mistake of leaving her unmarked in the final third.
"With our young freshmen, we don't try and `over-coach' them in their first year," Waldrum said. "We try and let them play and coach out of what we see them do, instead of trying to overload them with too much instruction because we don't want to take that creativity away, especially with a player like Adriana. If we have done that, she would never have scored that goal in the final, nor would she have had the overall performance she did in the final. I think she will grow a bit more this year, understanding more tactically in terms of her movements and how we want her to run. She has a great intensity level and brings a competiveness and fight to training every single day. That's the way she was brought up -- it's all about winning. You can't have enough players with that mentality. Last year, you could see that it took her awhile to settle in, coming to an American college, coming to a new coach and coming to a new system. I feel like she has handled it pretty well, but I feel like we will still see a much better Adriana this year."
As Leon makes the transition from youthful frisky colt to maturing veteran, another freshman joins the Notre Dame stable this fall with a chance to create her own strong first impression. Lauren Bohaboy was an offensive phenomenon during her career at Santa Margarita (Calif.) Catholic High School, scoring a combined 177 points (79 goals and 19 assists) in her final two prep seasons, including a school-record 51 goals and 10 assists last year. As a standout with the powerhouse So Cal Blues club program, Bohaboy added another 131 goals and 150 assists, tallying at least 30 goals and 40 assists each season.
Thus, it was no surprise she was chosen as the 2011 Gatorade High School Player of the Year in California and was a two-time NSCAA California High School Player of the Year, while earning two NSCAA High School All-America honors (2010 and 2011) and three All-America citations from ESPN/RISE Magazine (2009-11). It's also little shock to hear that Bohaboy's new coach thinks she'll fit very nicely at the college level.
"I have seen Lauren play great games and poor games, but in all of those games, she finds a way to put the ball in the net," Waldrum said. "I am hoping she can continue to do that, bringing that part of her game to this level. I think she will take a tremendous amount of pressure off of Mel and Adriana. She is physically different then those two, so it will give us a great blend (of playing styles), but we think she will score a lot of goals for us. She has that natural ability to find herself in good spots, and that's hard to coach. She just has that sixth sense of where the ball is going to bounce or how its going to sneak through -- you can't really teach that, and a player sometimes just has to have the ability to sniff that out. I think Lauren will come in and do great things right away, and physically, she already looks really good."
Part of Notre Dame's success in recent seasons has come from its versatility, with players able to fill other roles outside their primary positions. That trait is expected to continue in 2011, as senior Molly Campbell, sophomore Elizabeth Tucker and freshman Karin Simonian all could move up from the midfield, although Campbell may have found a home on the Fighting Irish backline after contributing mightily in that spot during last year's NCAA tournament. Senior Ellen Jantsch and junior Lindsay Brown also have prior experience as forwards, and will look to provide added veteran leadership in the attacking third this season.
Last year was a textbook case of Barg's value. Coming off a 2009 season in which she earned All-America and BIG EAST Midfielder-of-the-Year honors, much was expected from the Plano, Texas, native. However, a preseason injury shelved Barg for the first two months of the campaign and left her with a difficult choice in mid-October -- come back and play through the pain, or continue to rehabilitate and preserve the year of eligibility.
After much soul-searching, she elected to return to action, and it was a decision that ultimately played a major role in Notre Dame's run to its third national championship. Barg played in 11 of the final 12 matches for the Fighting Irish, starting 10 times and recording 779 minutes of action with one assist to her credit. She also started all six of Notre Dame's matches in the NCAA Championship and was named to the College Cup All-Tournament Team after her possession and distribution skills were critical to Fighting Irish fortunes in their 1-0 wins over Ohio State and Stanford in the national semifinals and title match.
"I've said all along that Courtney is the best midfielder in the country," Waldrum said. "She brings so many different qualities to the team. It's really important to have her because she is a game changer and the quarterback of this team. She can speed the game up and slow the game down. She is the one player that brings this calming effect to the team. She goes into a game like Carolina or Oklahoma State (in the NCAA tournament) that are going one hundred miles an hour, and she is that one player that can slow the game down. Then, if it gets too slow, she can speed it up. She just pulls all the strings for us, so it's really important for her to be healthy for us this year."
While Barg provides a calm touch on the ball and steady veteran playmaking, sophomore Mandy Laddish is the rising star in the Fighting Irish midfield. A versatile player who has seen time at both the attacking and holding midfield positions, both with Notre Dame and the U.S. Under-17 and Under-20 national teams, Laddish started all 25 matches for the Fighting Irish last season, becoming the 26th rookie in program history to crack the lineup for every contest. She also ranked fourth among all Notre Dame field players (tops among freshmen) with 2,158 minutes played.
An aggressive, athletic player with power from either foot, Laddish tallied two goals and one assist last year, totals that were lessened only because she was asked to fill Barg's holding midfield role for much of the season. It was a position that the Lee's Summit, Mo., product wasn't entirely familiar with, but by the end of the 2010 campaign, she had blended so seamlessly into the part that Waldrum and his staff hesitated to move her out of what had become her comfort zone when Barg returned to action.
In the end, that move paid off, as Laddish returned to more of an attacking spot in the midfield and scored one of the year's biggest goals, netting the match-winner in the 83rd minute of the 1-0 national semifinal win over Ohio State. Laddish would go on to make the NCAA College Cup All-Tournament Team, in addition to collecting Soccer America first-team Freshman All-America honors and NSCAA third-team all-region laurels.
"From the moment Mandy got her, she started to grow, probably due to playing with the U-17s and gaining confidence with them," Waldrum said. "She is the one player that grew so much last year. We threw her into the holding midfielder spot and asked her to wear the hat of quarterbacking this team, which is not an easy task for anyone, let alone a freshman. Then, when we moved her into the attack late in the year, we saw that she had the ability to run at players and create problems with speed. When I went into assist with the U-20 camp (this summer), she was one of the top players there, based on her performance. She's a clear, solid benchmark player for that team, and then in the future for our full national team, too. Mandy is playing with a lot of confidence and she has really raised her game throughout the last year."
While Laddish was one of the Notre Dame rookies that came into 2010 with a great deal of attention, Elizabeth Tucker slipped quietly under the radar and proved to be arguably the most pleasant surprise of the Fighting Irish championship season. The Jacksonville, Fla., resident had not been ranked among the top 100 in the nation by most recruiting services coming out of high school and the club circuit. In fact, she didn't even play prep soccer, instead earning numerous high school letters (and state titles) in cross country, track and basketball.
As it turns out, that running background has been a tremendous bonus for Tucker, whose fitness levels and work ethic remain off the charts and allowed her to compete in all 25 matches last season, starting 22 times and playing 1,837 minutes (second among Fighting Irish rookies). That constant motor, along with a remarkable knack for finishing in the attacking third, led Tucker to finish third on the team in scoring with 21 points (9G-3A) and second on the squad with five match-winning goals, most notably the twin daggers she fired at No. 6 Oklahoma State in the 2-0 NCAA quarterfinal win. She also was a third-team all-BIG EAST selection and a member of the BIG EAST All-Rookie Team, efficiently laying the groundwork for even greater things in coming seasons.
"Tucker has made her living on being that player that is non-stop action and relentless," Waldrum said. "You can't take a break or you will lose her because she moves so much, and if you have the ball, she won't get off of you. She far exceeded our expectations as a freshman with her scoring ability, which we really needed last year. If she can continue having that kind of year regularly, she really will be a great stable contributor for this program over the next three years. She's just such a great kid on and off the field, and I can't say enough good things about her. She is kind of like Adriana, and even Mandy to an extent, where they played a lot as a young player and they made a lot of mistakes and some mistakes we got punished for and some we didn't. But what they do in a positive sense far outweighs the learning curve of staying sharp and focused defensively for all 90 minutes. As Tucker grows with that a little bit, becoming more composed at both ends, and making better decisions with her passing and choices on defense, the sky is the limit for her here."
The blue-collar brigade has been among the staples for Notre Dame throughout the Waldrum era, with the Fighting Irish featuring numerous players who relied on perfecting the little things necessary to ensure overall team success. They might not always garner the attention of others, and their names might not always been on the tips of experts' tongues, but the value of players like Kimberly Carpenter ('04), Ashley Jones ('08) and Annie Schefter ('06) are what makes Notre Dame special.
That brings us to 2011, and perhaps the next installment of this hard-working supporting cast. Freshman Karin Simonian draws comparisons to Carpenter in some circles, mainly due to their diminutive size (Carpenter was 4-10, Simonian is 5-2). However, unlike Carpenter, Simonian brings a great deal of physicality to the table, not to mention an intriguing blend of pace, vision and creativity. The Westbury, N.Y., native also plays at a higher level than her age would indicate, as evidenced by her long tenure with the Albertson SC club program and the Long Island Fury of the Women's Premier Soccer League (WPSL), both of whom are directed by Paul Riley, the 2010 WPS Coach of the Year with the Philadelphia Independence.
A three-time NSCAA Youth All-America selection, Simonian played three seasons of high school soccer (grades 8-10) before switching over to club play full-time. In her final prep season, she potted 25 goals and added three assists, offering a hint of things to come. Since then, she's also been invited to participate in training camps with the United States U-15 and U-17 national teams.
"Karin will be different because, right off the bat, she will be prepared to play," Waldrum said. "She is one of the most skillful players in our incoming class. She's quick, dynamic and explosive, which is a bit different than what we have in the midfield right now. I think she's also going to be one of the fans' favorites because she is creative, has a little flair to her game and she is a competitor in much the same way that Adriana (Leon) plays. Karin is highly competitive and she doesn't realize that she is that small because she plays so big."
Three other Fighting Irish veterans could factor in the midfield equation this season. Besides the versatile Jantsch (who scored two goals in 12 matches last season, including the clincher in the third round of the NCAA Championship at North Carolina), senior Brynn Gerstle has made remarkable strides in her development. Last year, she played in a career-high nine matches (88 minutes) and has shown a powerful leg that could be a significant weapon on set pieces. Sophomore Rebecca Twining also could be poised to rise up through the midfield rotation, having appeared in nine contests during an injury-plagued rookie season.
Start with the simple fact that Schuveiller is now in her third season as a team captain at Notre Dame. No player in the 24-year history of Fighting Irish women's soccer has ever served as a three-year team captain prior to Schuveiller's selection last spring. It's a prime example of the kind of respect she has earned from her teammates during her career, but that only scratches the surface.
Schuveiller has been a mainstay in the Notre Dame lineup from the moment she arrived on campus, starting all 78 Fighting Irish matches to date while leading her team to 68 wins and 49 shutouts. She began her career in 2008 by learning under All-America center back Carrie Dew (who went on to win a WPS title with FC Gold Pride in 2010), translating those lessons into her own success in the form of the 2010 NCAA College Cup Most Outstanding Defensive Player award, not to mention second-team all-region and second-team all-BIG EAST citations last year.
A gritty, physical presence who is rarely out of position, Schuveiller is as reliable a defender as any in the entire country. What's more, she relishes playing in the most pressure-packed situations, often raising her level of play to meet the intensity of the moment. She's also developed into a dangerous offensive threat and an opportunistic goal scorer, with all four goals in her career having been match-winners (most recently the decider midway through the first half of the NCAA third-round win at North Carolina).
"Jess brings so much," Waldrum said. "She's a tremendous worker and a leader for us, but she's also kind of an ironman for us. Most people don't realize how injured she was during last year's NCAA tournament, wearing that knee brace and playing those last few rounds with an MCL sprain -- there are a lot of players that are out for games with that kind of injury. She's just a tough kid and a warrior, two things that are clear to everyone, but she's also a very smart and talented soccer player. A lot of people don't truly appreciate her skill. Now, she's started to develop the ability to come forward out of the back line, and when she does, she's really lethal. Overall, Jess just `gets it' and sees the game in a position that's really key for us to have someone who can communicate things. She sees things almost with a coach's eye and she's going to be vital for our success on the backline."
While Schuveiller is a lock to hold down one of the center back positions, her tag-team partner on defense is still to be determined. Senior Molly Campbell made an early and emphatic statement about her ability to fill that role after she moved there just before last year's NCAA Championship. At the time, some considered it a risky move by Waldrum and his staff, as Campbell was not only playing an unfamiliar position on the biggest of stages, but she was replacing an All-American in Lauren Fowlkes, who slid up to the forward line.
Yet, the tactical change paid off brilliantly on both ends, as Fowlkes had nine points (3G-3A) in the tournament, while Campbell meshed perfectly with Schuveiller to provide an almost-impenetrable back wall for the Fighting Irish, who allowed just one goal and recorded five shutouts in six NCAA postseason contests.
Campbell has made herself one of Notre Dame's most valuable contributors because much like Fowlkes, she can play virtually any position on the field. In fact, during her first three seasons with the Fighting Irish, Campbell has seen action in 71 matches and starting 49 times, jumping into the lineup as a forward, attacking midfielder, holding midfielder, outside back and center back. Add in her exceptional fitness level, high soccer IQ, and a calm and focused demeanor and you have an athlete who can take the field any time, anywhere, and come out ahead.
"In some ways, I feel bad for her because we've moved her everywhere during her career," Waldrum said. "In fairness to her, for her four years, we never settled on a spot for her. On the flip side, you need players like Molly, a utility kid that can plug holes for you when the injuries start to happen. Some kids can't do that, but Molly has the personality for it. She doesn't say anything to anybody and nothing rattles her. I think that's why she was able to step in for us in the NCAAs. She has been key for us because she can step into so many different places for us. She's athletic, good enough with the ball, one of our most fit kids, can cover a lot of ground for you, whether she's in the back, in the midfield or if she's playing up front."
Two freshmen also could challenge for the other starting center back position. Taylor Schneider enjoyed a remarkable summer with invitations to train with United States U-18 and U-20 national teams, and will look to carry that success over to the college level. A athletic back with a mature understanding of defensive positioning and good speed, Schneider also could emerge as an offensive threat, something she was able to do often out of central defense or the midfield at Southlake (Texas) Carroll Senior High School, where she collected 23 goals and 19 assists in her prep career.
"Taylor is a little bit more of a runner, someone who is very efficient and played on a highly-competitive club team (the Dallas Texans)," Waldrum said. "I'm hoping now that she has been called back into two (national team) camps this summer that she is coming in with confidence. She is smart and a future center back for us for years to come. She can also play in the defensive midfield spot if we needed her in a pinch."
Meanwhile, Sammy Scofield matured rapidly at the club level in the Chicagoland area with high-powered Eclipse Select, but took that growth to new heights this past summer as a starting center back with the WPSL's Chicago Red Stars. Scofield not only helped the Red Stars to 11 wins (including eight shutouts) and a berth in the league title match, but she also was named to the 2011 WPSL All-Championship Team, the only player to make the squad without a minute of college experience to her credit.
Having already faced a wealth of talented players, both college and professional, Scofield's learning curve is sure to be shallower than those of her classmates. Mixing poise on the ball, physicality and a strong presence in the air, she will be difficult to keep out of the lineup and is expected to see significant playing time as a freshman, whether it be as a center back or somewhere else on the field.
"Sammy is probably not as tall as Carrie Dew, but plays a similar composed game to the way Dew did," Waldrum said. "She's very calm and reads the game well. She also can play midfield and I've even seen her play up front for her club team, so in a worst case scenario, if we really needed it, we might take a look at her up there if we feel like we didn't have the depth that we needed.
"We are deep in the back right now, but I think Sammy and Taylor both will compete to step on to the field right away," Waldrum added. "The key will be where will that be. It's a good problem to have. The good thing about it is that these players that we have been recruiting the past seven to eight years are very interchangeable, which is something that attracts us to those types of kids."
At the outside back positions, sophomore Kecia Morway and junior Jazmin Hall have the most experience. Morway played in all 25 matches as a rookie last season, starting 19 times, including all six NCAA Championship contests at the left back spot. She also ranked third among Notre Dame freshmen with 1,722 minutes played and was a Soccer America Second-Team Freshman All-America selection. An ideal fit for the Fighting Irish 4-3-3 system with her ability to not only defend well on the wings, but push forward into the attacking third as well and serve crosses into the area with pace and purpose.
Hall has been a part-time starter at outside back in her first two seasons, earning 14 nods among her 41 career appearances. Another speedy defender with a strong leg and good ballhandling skills, Hall will look to take on a larger role with the Fighting Irish this season after missing portions of her first two years with injuries.
"We knew when we recruited Kecia that she was going to play a lot, but we didn't know how much during her freshman year because we had Jazmin coming back on the left and Julie (Scheidler) on the right and Molly (Campbell) at outside back as well," Waldrum said. "The one thing we liked most about Kecia in the recruiting process is she is comfortable on the left side and how good she is at acting out of the back, and you know our system it's vital for our outside backs to get forward. She probably got forward more then any other player on our team. The one thing to worry about is defensively if she is strong enough and disciplined enough to pick when to go and when to stay and she got better as the year went on. Certainly that was critical for us because Jaz went through a season when, most people don't realize, she was injured on and off pretty much the whole year. I don't think we would have won the championship without Kecia, because Jaz wouldn't have been ready for the long minutes that we would have needed from her late in the year.
"The key for us this preseason is how Jaz is physically coming in," Waldrum added. "If she is ready to go, the good thing is Kecia can play on the right side. So you can just play Jaz on the left and Kecia on the right because Kecia is good with her right foot as well. I'm hoping that would be the scenario because then you have two kids who normally play outside back and like to attack."
Senior Ellen Bartindale could see time at any of the back line positions after seeing time in 22 matches during her career to date. In 2009, she had a major impact on Notre Dame's late-season run to the College Cup, starting six times when injuries cut into her team's defensive depth. Gerstle and Jantsch also have the size and veteran experience to fill reserve roles in the Fighting Irish defensive third this fall.
However, with the strength of the Notre Dame defense in recent years, the team's keepers have sometimes taken on the lonely appearance of the famed Maytag repairman, and that's a reputation that Waldrum would very much like to keep intact. Still, there's almost always a match or two during the season when the Fighting Irish will have to depend on their goalkeeper to pull out a victory, a result that could mean the difference between a national championship and just another solid season.
A technically-gifted shot stopper with good instincts and quick reflexes, Fox has an advantage in that she is conscious of the demands, both on and off the field, that come with being a goalkeeper at the college level. It's a base of knowledge that could serve her well as she evolves into an upperclass defensive leader.
"I have always been one of those coaches that feel the best players should be on the field, and if they're young, they're young," Waldrum said. "It's kind of the old dilemma about getting a job -- `how do you get experience if you don't give me the job and how do I get the job if you don't give me that experience?' On paper, that's what Maddie has over the freshmen. Having been here a couple of years, she knows what it's like to manage her time, and she knows what it's like to balance academics and athletics. If you look back a couple of years, Maddie has not gotten a lot of actual game experience, so she's not miles ahead in that department, by any means. I've always believed she's a really good shot stopper for us, especially quickness and things down low. Where she really needs some development are high balls and crosses, which are the things that keepers in the women's game need the most help and work on. Nikki (Weiss) wasn't great at that until her junior or senior year even as tall as she was. It's just a difficult part for keepers are high balls."
Fox will be challenged for the starting job by two talented rookies. Sarah Voigt has been a member of the United States U-18 National Team pool for the past three years, and was the top-ranked goalkeeper in the nation among the freshman class of 2011. The Middleburg, Fla., resident also has championship-level experience, leading her high school side to three state semifinals berths in her four prep seasons, including a Florida Class 2A title in 2009. For her high school career, Voigt piled up a school-record 50 shutouts and also set a school standard by giving up just nine goals as a sophomore in 2008-09.
A tall netminder with good range, assertiveness in the penalty area and high-quality clearance abilities, Voigt honed her skills this past summer in WPSL play with Florida Sol FC (alongside future Fighting Irish teammate Elizabeth Tucker), and also joined Tucker on the U.S. Youth Soccer (USYS) ODP U-19 All-Star Team that toured Germany in July.
"Sarah probably the more complete keeper right now, just with her overall game," Waldrum said. "One of the things that's very impressive about Sarah is that she plays the ball very well with her feet. That's one thing we never did enough of with Nikki (Weiss) was to play through her. If we got into trouble, we would kick it out of bounds instead of playing it back to Nikki because it wasn't an area we were totally comfortable in. With Sarah, we're comfortable playing back because she's really good with her feet, so that will be something a little bit different in that we haven't had a keeper like that in a while."
The wild card in this year's Notre Dame goalkeeper derby could be rookie Jennifer Jasper. A promising prospect on the club circuit in recent years, Jasper earned the Golden Glove as the top netminder at the 2010 USYS U-16 Nationals, allowing just one goal in four matches while leading Fort Worth, Texas-based Solar SC to the U-16 national championship. She also spent time as an all-state field hockey goalie at Trinity Valley School in Fort Worth, stringing together 10 consecutive shutouts at one stretch and further sharpening her netminder skills.
With a `full speed ahead, damn the torpedoes' mentality between the pipes, Jasper is easily the most aggressive goalkeeper on the Fighting Irish roster this season. It's this kind of fearless attitude that will serve her well in the college game, and perhaps elevate her into the conversation for playing time early in her career.
"Like Sarah, I think Jen is a bit better on high crosses than Maddie," Waldrum said. "We're also going to find that Jen is the tough kid out of the group , the one that's going to say `screw it, I'm going for it, and if that means putting my head in the middle of the feet that are swinging at the ball, if that means crashing through a crowd, so be it.' I think she has that toughness that the other two may not have."