Aug 18, 2013
NOTRE DAME, Ind. -- It seems like such a simple concept -- hold on to the ball and you control the game. Yet, it's not always that easy, especially in sports such as soccer.
That's why Notre Dame head coach Randy Waldrum had reason to be pleased after watching the film of his 10th-ranked Fighting Irish defeated No. 13 Baylor, 2-0 in an exhibition match Saturday afternoon at the Notre Dame Practice Field.
For the past few seasons, the Fighting Irish coaching staff has used a unique statistical analysis software that tracks possession time, number of passes completed and other key metrics during the course of a match. It's a valuable tool for a possession-oriented team like Notre Dame, and it clearly illustrated the success the Fighting Irish had against Baylor, maintaining possession for 63 percent of the time on Saturday, while holding the Lady Bears to just three strings of four consecutive completed passes for the entire match.
"That possession percentage is quite high for any game, but against a team like Baylor that plays such a direct and disruptive style, that's a really good number," Waldrum said. "What also pleased me a great deal was that we were able to limit their touches in our defensive end. Some of that is due to their directness, but a lot of also has to do with our ability to possess the ball.
"Overall, I thought we handled their style, both in terms of the directness and the physicality, pretty well," he added. "We're creating chances at the offensive end, and probably could have scored five goals, with some near-misses by Lauren (Bohaboy) and Crystal (Thomas) at the end of the first half, and then their `keeper made a great save on a shot by Anna Maria (Gilbertson) in the second half. This was the second game in a row we created some quality chances, and I'm happy about that because it was an area where we really struggled at times last year."
One of the other challenges facing Notre Dame on Saturday was integrating its five U.S. Under-20 National Team players -- Thomas, sophomores Katie Naughton and Cari Roccaro, and freshmen Morgan Andrews and Kaela Little -- back into the fold after a week-long stint (Aug. 4-11) at the U-20 National Team camp in California. The quintet had not played in the exhibition opener against Xavier on Wednesday, and had just two days of training under their belts before four of the five (all but Thomas) took the pitch as part of the Fighting Irish starting lineup against Baylor.
For their limited practice time, Waldrum thought the returning players performed well in their first action of 2013 (and in the case of Andrews and Little, the first of their college careers).
"They all came back enthused and their presence immediately raised our team's intensity, and I think it showed in the level we played at against Baylor compared to earlier in the week against Xavier," he said. "Katie, in particular, looked very strong, and I really believe that when it's all said and done, she has the chance to be one of the very best center backs to ever come out of here, right up there with Jen Grubb, Kelly Lindsey, Carrie Dew and Jess Schuveiller.
"Cari is one of the best players in the country, no matter where she plays on the field and she just confirmed that for us against Baylor with her ability to play with quality both at center back and in the midfield," he continued. "I was really happy with Kaela, too. Other than one or two distribution errors, which are easy to clean up, she had a real calming effect for us in the back. She's vocal, she comes off her line smartly and she's able to play the ball well with her feet which makes her a real factor on the back line.
"Morgan had a fine game for us as well," Waldrum concluded. "Once she gets settled and used to our attack a little more, she will be special. And Crystal gained so much experience playing in those U-20 camps and that's only continued to help her in terms of her confidence."
With his team's two exhibitions in the books and the regular season opener against Illinois looming on Friday, Waldrum still will have a couple of important decisions to make before the 2013 campaign gets underway.
"The biggest question for us is where we play Cari," he said. "If we have Sammy (Scofield) playing with the intensity she showed against Baylor and Taylor (Schneider) giving us the kind of minutes she did on the outside, it only helps us as a team and allows us the flexibility to move Cari up into the midfield like we did in the second half on Saturday. Right now, we need some little things to fall into place, but it's all about consistency and maintaining that high level of play for 90 minutes.
"Another pleasant surprise for us this preseason was how seamless Elizabeth (Tucker) made the transition to left back," Waldrum added. "We threw her out there during one of the periods against Xavier, didn't even forewarn her or coach her on the position, and she took off and played great. She's so intelligent and wants to be perfect at everything she does, and I think she has a chance to really step in and fill a position we were pretty thin at coming into the fall."
Three other freshmen who looked strong in the preseason were forward Kaleigh Olmsted, and midfielders Rilka Noel and Cindy Pineda. While the trio will likely start the year as reserves, it was evident to all who attended the exhibitions that they will contribute in some form for the Fighting Irish in 2013.
"They all just need more experience, but they're going to just continue to get better," Waldrum said. "It's all about adjusting to the physicality, the pace and the overall higher level of play in the college game, but each of them improved in the games above what they showed in practice and that's a positive sign moving forward."
YU LOST FOR SEASON
Notre Dame didn't wrap up the preseason entirely unscathed, as the Fighting Irish learned freshman midfielder Sandra Yu (Strongsville, Ohio/Walsh Jesuit) will miss the 2013 season with a left knee injury suffered in the first half of Saturday's exhibition against Baylor. Yu, who registered an assist in the preseason opener against Xavier, came on as a substitute in the 23rd minute and was on the pitch less than 30 seconds before her knee buckled while she was attempting to avoid a tackle. The team's sports medicine staff, including athletic trainer Tony Sutton and physician Dr. Kevin McAward, determined Yu suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the knee, an injury that will require surgery in the coming weeks and approximately 6-9 months of rehabilitation.
"We're so disappointed for Sandra," Waldrum said. "She was coming off some injuries late in her club career, and then this happened 30 seconds after she came on against Baylor. It's hard to see the positives, but she will still have four complete years of eligibility, so that's a little glimmer of hope in this. At this point, we just want her to know we're here for her. She has the best possible medical care waiting to take care of her and get her back on the field healthy and ready to go as soon as possible."
Notre Dame is unbeaten in its last six exhibition matches (5-0-1), dating back to a 2010 loss to Virginia (4-1 in Maple City, Mich.) ... the Fighting Irish are 13-3-3 (8-0-2 at home) against college opponents in preseason matches since Waldrum came to Notre Dame in 1999 ... the Fighting Irish are averaging 2.55 goals per match in exhibition play during the Waldrum era ... Saturday's shutout was the first for Notre Dame in a preseason contest since last year's opener vs. Virginia (2-0 at the Notre Dame Practice Field) ... Scofield returned this fall with two career goals on her resume, both coming early last season against ranked West Coast Conference opponents (#24 Santa Clara and #18 Portland), but she matched her career output by scoring goals in both exhibitions this year ... Karin Simonian had four assists in her first two seasons at Notre Dame, but dished out three helpers in the two exhibitions this fall ... while Saturday's match marked the unofficial college debuts for Andrews and Little, it also was the first college exhibition for Roccaro, who missed the majority of the preseason, plus the first seven matches last year while helping the United States win the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup title in Japan (Mandy Laddish was one of her teammates on that victorious American side) ... Waldrum gave the Fighting Irish the day off on Sunday before they return to the training ground Monday to begin preparations for the season opener against Illinois.
Notre Dame kicks off its 26th season of varsity competition at 5:30 p.m. (ET) Friday when it welcomes Illinois to Alumni Stadium. It will be the first of a five-match homestand for the Fighting Irish (their longest since 2006), and the first meeting between Notre Dame and Illinois since the first round of the 2011 NCAA Championship, when the Fighting Illini ended the Fighting Irish reign as national champions with a 1-0 victory in Champaign, Ill.
Illinois played just one exhibition match this fall, dropping a 3-0 decision to No. 8 Virginia on Aug. 16 in Maple City, Mich. The Fighting Illini, who return seven starters from last year's squad that advanced to the second round of the NCAA Championship, are receiving votes in the preseason National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) poll and were picked to finish third in the Big Ten Conference this year behind defending national runner-up Penn State and Michigan.
Season 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