Head coach Randy Waldrum begins his 15th season at Notre Dame this weekend, having led the Fighting Irish to two national championships, five title-match berths and eight NCAA Women's College Cups during his tenure under the Golden Dome.
Aug 19, 2013
Ask anyone who has found themselves in an unfamiliar place and they'll likely tell you that GPS is one of the great technological advances in history. Not only can GPS tell you where you are on the planet at any particular moment, but it can tell you the local time and the prevailing weather conditions.
In addition, GPS is enormously helpful when it comes to providing directions. Certainly, we've come a long way from the stacks of maps in the glove compartment, with today's GPS able to give us a direct route between two locations, not to mention steer us around traffic problems and find a good restaurant or scenic point of interest along the way.
However, perhaps the greatest feature of GPS when it comes to maps and directions is that it provides options -- several different routes that you can take to get to the same destination. If you want to get there quickly, then the highway is probably your best bet. If a leisurely drive is more your speed, then feel free to follow the winding road through the countryside. Whatever your choice, GPS will devise a path to get you there.
In many ways, Notre Dame head coach Randy Waldrum could find himself like a human GPS in 2013, with numerous options at his disposal as he looks at his roster for the coming season. The Fighting Irish bring back 20 veterans, including 10 starters, from last year's club that went 16-6-2 and advanced to the NCAA Championship quarterfinals for the 15th time in program history, and the eighth time in the past nine years. Collectively, this returning group accounts for nearly all of Notre Dame's offensive production last season (146 of a possible 147 points, including all 46 goals), along with virtually every single save, every shutout and every minute played in goal a year ago.
"You can't say enough about the value of game experience, and many of our players got some high-level experience last year, especially in the NCAA tournament," Waldrum said. "We really started to gel in the second half of the season and it showed when we beat (No. 10) Wake Forest and (No. 8) Florida in the NCAAs, and then came within about a half hour of winning at (No. 7) Florida State and going to the College Cup. Now, it's up to us to take that experience and build on it this year."
The veterans won't be alone in helping raise Notre Dame's game to another level. The Fighting Irish also welcome a group of eight freshmen that is ranked as the third-best incoming class in the nation by Top Drawer Soccer, led by numerous players with significant international experience and trophy cases chock full of top honors in their respective states and nationwide.
"We've got another outstanding class coming in behind last year's freshmen who made up the No. 1 class in the nation," Waldrum said. "However, we're going to be matching up with teams who have similar levels of talent coming in and it's up to our older players to help mentor the freshmen and show them how to raise their game and make that smooth transition from club and high school soccer to the college level."
Notre Dame will have another challenge to deal with this year, as the Fighting Irish enter the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), which is widely considered to be the nation's toughest league. In fact, not only does the ACC boast one-half of last year's College Cup field (including reigning national champion North Carolina), but it also had 11 teams appear in the top 25 of last year's final RPI rankings.
"The ACC is certainly going to be a test from top to bottom," Waldrum said. "There are no off nights in this league, which you couldn't always say when we were in the BIG EAST. I think it'll help keep us sharp and focused throughout the season and that can only help us when we get later in the year and closer to the playoffs."
Now you're beginning to get a feel for the kind of choices Waldrum and his staff will be faced with during the next few months. Yet, as the 15th-year Notre Dame head coach looks at what could like ahead in 2013, the faintest hint of a smile creeps across his face, knowing that there are numerous routes to take from preseason training that will have his team arriving at its ultimate goal of playing in the NCAA Women's College Cup in December.
"We're going to be young, that's for sure, but we also have a lot of talent up and down the roster," Waldrum said. "The challenge for us, as it is every year, will be to get the right combinations on the field that can put us in the best possible position to succeed."
Depth and versatility will be among the hallmarks of the 2013 Fighting Irish, and several players should be able to fill multiple roles this year. The competition for a place in the lineup will be fierce throughout the preseason, with camp expected to be one of the toughest and most intense since Waldrum arrived in 1999.
Here's a position-by-position look at some of the leading contenders to fill prime spots in the Notre Dame rotation this season:
Back in the 16th century, an English writer named John Heywood came up with numerous familiar proverbs and epigrams. From "haste makes waste" and "beggars can't be choosers," to "out of sight, out of mind" and "Rome wasn't built in a day," Heywood's witticisms are still regularly quoted in conversations worldwide.
Chances are Heywood didn't have the Notre Dame women's soccer team in mind when he came up with "many hands make light work," but when it comes to the Fighting Irish goal-scoring production, it may not be far off to paraphrase Heywood and say "many feet make light work."
For years, Notre Dame featured a running list of high-volume scorers, a veritable who's-who of women's college soccer greats from Jenny Streiffer and Jenny Heft to Katie Thorlakson and Kerri Hanks, and more recently with Melissa Henderson. However, with Henderson's graduation after the 2011 season, the Fighting Irish turned to a more balanced approach to find their goal-scoring punch, particularly along the front line, as eight different players who saw time at forward last season tallied at least one goal.
All eight of those players are back in Notre Dame uniforms this fall, although some of them could be seeing more time at other positions. In addition, the Fighting Irish will introduce some younger players to their attacking line in an effort to spice up their offensive production and put opposing defenses on their heels.
"Finding some consistent goal scoring is probably going to be one of our main questions going into the preseason," Waldrum said. "In the past, we had the kind of players that you could always count on for a goal or two, no matter what direction the game was going. Last year, I didn't think we had that kind of consistency -- we would have someone go off and score in three or four straight games and then she'd go cold for the next three or four in a row. It's important that we get back to having those kinds of reliable threats in front of goal and that's something we'll be stressing throughout the year."
Junior Lauren Bohaboy is one of the veterans among Notre Dame's forward corps, having appeared in all 45 Fighting Irish matches (starting 33 times) during her first two seasons. A prolific striker throughout her prep career in southern California, Bohaboy has shown flashes of promise in her tenure at Notre Dame, collecting 13 goals and seven assists to date, including a career-high seven goals (four match-winners) and four assists last season. Her most notable score a year ago came in the NCAA Championship third-round win at No. 8 Florida, when she netted a key insurance goal for the Fighting Irish in the 71st minute, effectively ending the Gators' comeback chances.
A member of the 2011 BIG EAST All-Rookie Team, Bohaboy brings a strong 5-foot-8 frame and a solid fundamental skill set to the Notre Dame front line. She also has a scorer's mentality, as evidenced by her 131 career goals with the powerful So Cal Blues club program, and shown a creativity in the attacking third, with the ability to set up her teammates for prime scoring chances.
"Lauren is continuing to develop her game and become a key part of our forward line," Waldrum said. "She got off to a bit of a slow start last year, but came on in the final two months, especially in the NCAA tournament and of course, she had the big goal at Florida to close out that win. We're hoping that she can be even more aggressive and push even more towards goal this year and be that direct attacking threat that we're looking for."
Another player who carried a great deal of the offensive load for Notre Dame last year was sophomore Crystal Thomas. The diminutive striker from Elgin, Ill., appeared in all 24 matches last year (starting 19 times), and collected a team-high 10 goals and 22 points last season, becoming the first Fighting Irish rookie since Henderson in 2008 to pile up double-digit goals and the first freshman since Hanks in 2005 to lead Notre Dame in goals. Thomas also found a way to contribute on the biggest stages, highlighted by her match-winning goal in the 71st minute of a 2-1 Fighting Irish victory over No. 10 Wake Forest in the second round of the NCAA Championship.
Thomas is a dynamic player with a compact style, showing the ability to move well in tight quarters. She also has solid field vision and an outstanding work ethic, which led to her making both the All-BIG EAST Second Team and the All-BIG EAST Rookie Team. In addition, she has been a regular invitee to United States Under-20 Women's National Team camps since the end of last season, proving that her performance as a freshman has opened eyes not only on campus, but around the country as well.
"Crystal is a gritty, feisty player that absolutely makes those around her better," Waldrum said. "She's a bulldog out there, someone who never gives up on a play, and she's a true `soccer junkie' who is never satisfied and is always working hard to improve her game. We'd like to see her expand her scoring range even more this year, and I think the fact she's been brought into several U-20 camps this summer is only going to boost her confidence even further heading into the season."
If Bohaboy provides the fundamentals and Thomas brings the grit, then Anna Maria Gilbertson lends the flair to the Fighting Irish attack. The sophomore from Davis, Calif., was one of Notre Dame's top reserves during her first collegiate season, playing in 23 matches while scoring five goals and adding one assist to rank among the top five on the team in both categories.
Gilbertson has perhaps the most lethal combination of offensive skills among the Fighting Irish forwards, blending strong on-ball abilities with a powerful shot from distance. She also brings a great deal of pace to the front line and is not afraid to take on defenders in the final third.
"Anna Maria is an exciting player and someone who has the potential to break out for us this year," Waldrum said. "She's still learning some of the nuances at the college level, but she sees the offensive side of things so well, maybe one or two moves ahead, and as she brings that all together with the rest of her game, the sky's really the limit for her."
For a forward, there's nothing like seeing the ball disappear into the back of the net, and junior Karin Simonian is another Notre Dame player who could enjoy that feeling quite often in 2013. After missing a large portion of her rookie season due to leg surgery, the Westbury, N.Y., native started to show glimpses of returning to the form that made her one of the nation's top prep and club prospects just a couple of short seasons ago.
Last year, Simonian appeared in 23 matches, starting nine times, and registered a goal and three assists while splitting time between the forward and midfield lines. During the spring 2013 season, she continued her growth, most notably scoring the opening goal in Notre Dame's 4-3 exhibition win over the Mexico Under-20 National Team at Alumni Stadium. Then, Simonian erupted over the summer while playing for the Long Island Fury in the Women's Premier Soccer League (WPSL), potting 11 goals, including a pair of hat tricks, in just nine matches while ranking among the league leaders in goals and points.
Although standing just 5-foot-2, Simonian plays well above her size, with a cannon shot from distance and a crafty playmaking ability that makes her valuable and versatile. It also presents a challenge for Waldrum as to where she fits into the Fighting Irish rotation.
"Karin is coming off easily her best spring since coming to Notre Dame," the Fighting Irish head coach said. "She's going to challenge for significant time and the question for us is going to be how best we can use her as it relates to where others are on the field. More than likely, she'll see the bulk of her time at forward, but we'll allow her to roam a bit in front where she can best use her creativity and skills as a playmaker and goal scorer."
Speed is a key commodity for any attacking unit and the Fighting Irish may have found some of that pace in the form of freshman Kaleigh Olmsted. Hailing from The Woodlands, Texas, and a graduate of both The Woodlands High School and the high-powered Challenge SC club program, Olmsted has an instinctive nose for goal with the knack for creating opportunities off the dribble, as shown by her 31 goals and 23 assists in just two seasons at the high school level.
"As is the case with most freshmen, it's hard to know exactly what you're going to get in that first year," Waldrum said. "Kaleigh has a lot of the qualities that make for an ideal striker, from her pace to her ability with the ball. A lot will depend on how quickly she adapts to the college game, but she's someone who could also be part of our rotation this year.
"It's going to be a little bit of an experiment for us at forward," Waldrum added. "There's a possibility we might bring someone up from the midfield, something we tried last year when we had both Cari Roccaro and Elizabeth Tucker playing forward at times early on. We could see the same thing with a veteran like Mandy Laddish, or if she continues to make some improvements, a younger player like Mary Schwappach will find her way into that mix as well."
While Waldrum and his staff might have one or two sleepless nights trying to pin down who his forward line will be, the Fighting Irish coaches will have a far more enjoyable, if not equally challenging, task in trying to determine who ends up starting at the three midfield positions this season. In fact, trying to label the Notre Dame midfield corps as "deep" would be like calling the Grand Canyon a crack in the sidewalk -- it really doesn't quite do it justice.
Perhaps no player on this year's Fighting Irish roster gives Waldrum more options than sophomore Cari Roccaro. The East Islip, N.Y., product is arguably one of the most versatile players in the country, having seen time at all three field positions and making an impact everywhere she played while earning third-team All-America honors from the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) and being selected as the Soccer America National Freshman of the Year, not to mention a first-team all-BIG EAST choice and the conference's Rookie of the Year.
Put Roccaro at forward and she scored six goals on just 21 shots on frame. Plug her in at center back and she anchors a defense that posted eight shutouts when she was on the pitch and held its last eight opponents to a combined four goals. Place her in the midfield and she's the heartbeat for a Fighting Irish offense, leading by example every minute she plays.
In fact, one needs simply to look at Notre Dame's record with and without Roccaro in the lineup to understand her importance. She missed the first seven matches of last season while helping the U.S. win the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup title, and the Fighting Irish struggled to find their footing with a 3-3-1 record and a 10-7 aggregate score. After she returned from Japan, Notre Dame went 13-3-1 the rest of the way, outscoring its opponents 36-11 in that span.
Roccaro certainly is as gifted as any player in the nation, with the strength, savvy and skills to be a critical piece of Notre Dame's possession game. Yet, what sets her apart is her tactical ability, her maturity and poise that have been hardened through her successes on the international level, that make her invaluable.
"One of our biggest challenges this year is to not only get the best 11 players on the field, but to put them in the best position to be successful," Waldrum said. "Cari is a perfect example of that because she can be so valuable in any number of roles on the field. She's already a leader on this team and someone who makes others around her better. She's playing center back for the U-20s, and maybe that's going to be where she fits best for us, but depending on how our offense is looking, it might be a situation where she's more important up front. It's a question we're going to look at early on, and the answers we find could very well affect the lineup at other positions as the season goes on."
Roccaro was not the only Fighting Irish player to contribute to last year's American victory at the U-20 World Cup. Senior Mandy Laddish brought experience and leadership to the U.S. squad, along with her clever playmaking abilities and creativity in the attacking third. Like Roccaro, she played a major role in Notre Dame's turnaround during the final two months of last season, earning second-team all-BIG EAST and all-region accolades while posting one goal and four assists in 17 starts.
As one of two returning veterans who served as a captain last year, Laddish also is among just a handful of players remaining from the Fighting Irish team that won the national championship in 2010. Thus, with two major titles under her belt in the past three seasons, it's understandable that the Lee's Summit, Mo., native will be an important leader for Notre Dame during the coming season.
"Mandy has that championship pedigree both here and internationally, and that's something you just can't replicate," Waldrum said. "It will be very important for her to show our younger players what it means to carry yourself at that high level every single day, whether it be during a game or in practice. There's a standard that is set by championship teams -- Mandy knows what that is and we're counting on her to help set the tone for us early on."
The other returning veteran who was a captain in 2012 is another senior, Elizabeth Tucker. The Jacksonville, Fla., resident, brings a calm, focused, businesslike demeanor to the pitch, always ready to work and always ready to do whatever is asked of her. She comes into her final season as Notre Dame's active leader in goals (15) and assists (11), as well as matches played (70) and started (65), and like Laddish, she has the experience of winning a national title with the Fighting Irish in 2010.
One of the team's fittest players since the day she arrived on campus, Tucker is a constant blur on the pitch, flying around the ball and trying to create controlled chaos wherever she goes. She also has the ability to play at either the midfield or forward positions, and is as strong in the classroom as she is in competition, maintaining a perfect 4.0 grade-point average and earning first-team Academic All-America honors last year.
"No matter the day, no matter the conditions, you always know you're going to get the best effort from Elizabeth every time out," Waldrum said. "She's got that nonstop motor, that ability to keep moving, pressing and attacking, and that's the kind of thing that can really wear on an opponent. As she's done in her first three years, I expect that she'll be a key contributor for us this year in a number of different roles, both on the field and in the locker room."
Within the Notre Dame lineup, one of the most important positions is the holding midfield spot, serving as the connective tissue between the Fighting Irish defense and offense. Sophomore Glory Williams stepped into that role early on in her rookie year and seemed entirely well-suited for that job. The Dallas native wound up appearing in 21 matches and starting 17 times as a freshman, posting a goal and an assist, while ranking third among all Notre Dame newcomers in minutes played (1,457).
Williams offers an intriguing blend of power and touch, with the ability to switch the field seamlessly on a single strike of her left foot or drop a long-range pass on a dime to a streaking attacker. She also is one of the stronger players on the Fighting Irish roster and is not easily moved off the ball, something that has proven to be invaluable in orchestrating the team's transition game.
"Like many of our freshmen last year, Glory gained a lot of experience and it's served her well," Waldrum said. "The holding midfield spot is a tough one for any player, particularly a younger one, but I thought she did a nice job handling it. As she continues to develop, her strength on the ball and understanding of that position is going to add a lot in terms of our depth in the midfield."
No position is better represented among this year's Fighting Irish freshman class than the midfield, and leading the way is the reigning Gatorade Female High School Athlete of the Year, and the two-time Gatorade Girls Soccer High School Player of the Year, Morgan Andrews. As the consensus No. 1 player in the nation for the incoming class of 2013, Andrews has an impressive resume in tow, having already served as captain of the U.S. Under-17 Women's National Team (during the 2012 CONCACAF U-17 Championships and FIFA U-17 World Cup), while also earning invitations to train at both the U-20 and U-23 levels in the past year.
An exceptionally-gifted player who has seen time primarily as an attacking midfielder, the Milford, N.H., native piled up a staggering 114 goals and 53 assists during her prep career. She strikes a powerful ball, making her a dangerous weapon on set pieces, and her playmaking skills are well beyond her years.
"Morgan is one of the better players to come out of the U.S. youth national team system in a long time," Waldrum said. "She has so much potential and it's going to be exciting to see her develop during these next four years. As a freshman, the biggest thing we're going to be looking for is how she adapts to the college game and going up many, many more highly-skilled players than she may have seen previously. If she can make that transition smoothly and maintain her confidence in herself and her abilities, it's going to be very hard to keep her out of the lineup."
Three other freshmen could challenge for significant playing time in the midfield for Notre Dame this season. Cindy Pineda is one of the rising stars in Mexico's youth national team program, mixing offensive flair and creativity with a winning pedigree, having played her club soccer with the powerful Sockers FC Chicago program. The Bolingbook, Ill., product also was a standout on the high school scene in suburban Chicago, most notably logging 21 goals and 11 assists for Plainfield East High School in 2010-11.
Meanwhile, Sandra Yu is the quintessential playmaking midfielder, registering 53 goals and 50 assists during her prep career. A two-time Gatorade High School Player of the Year in the state of Ohio, Yu also has played alongside several of her Notre Dame teammates, including Roccaro and Andrews, at U.S. Soccer youth national team camps. However, Yu will be sidelined for the 2013 season after suffering a knee injury in Notre Dame's Aug. 17 exhibition win over Baylor.
A native of West Bloomfield, Mich., and part of the strong Michigan Hawks club, Rilka Noel has speed and a go-for-broke style that could find their way into the Fighting Irish lineup this season. Like many of her new college teammates, Noel also has gone through the U.S. Soccer system and will bring that experience to the college level this fall.
"The midfield is going to be interesting for us this year," Waldrum said. "There are so many gifted players in the mix, with such a variety of talents, that not even the veterans can look around and assume their jobs are safe. It's going to be a strong, deep group and the competition at that position will be one of the really exciting aspects of preseason training."
Mention just about any moment from his first 14 seasons at Notre Dame, and chances are that Waldrum can give you nearly every possible detail you could ever want to know. The Fighting Irish head coach doesn't miss a trick and so when he says that his defensive unit might just be one of the best in his tenure under the Golden Dome, chances are you can take that assessment to the bank.
One of the reasons why Waldrum is so high on his defense this year is sophomore Katie Naughton. The Elk Grove Village, Ill., resident stepped in at center back from day one and proved to be the immoveable object on Notre Dame's retaining line, starting all 23 matches she played in and ranking second on the team (tops among freshmen) with 2,109 minutes of action. She also scored three goals (including the equalizer in a 3-1 NCAA Championship first-round win over Milwaukee), and was a second-team all-region and third-team all-BIG EAST choice in addition to making her way onto the BIG EAST All-Rookie Team last year.
At 5-foot-10, Naughton is an imposing presence in the air on set pieces at both ends of the pitch. In addition, she is rarely flustered, remaining calm and composed on the ball while embracing the challenge of taking on some of the nation's elite strikers. Thus, it was no surprise that she was not only called into the U.S. U-20 National Team camp in the spring, but has emerged as one of the American starting center backs (alongside Roccaro) with an eye on creating a daunting defensive unit when the United States begins qualification for the 2014 U-20 World Cup in January.
"Katie is such a rock for us back there," Waldrum said. "She's athletic, mature, understands her role and she doesn't make mistakes. Then on top of that, you add in the experience she's gotten with the U-20s and she's got to be in the conversation as one of the top young center backs in the country this season."
For much of last season, Naughton was paired with Sammy Scofield on the Notre Dame back line, and the tandem achieved extremely positive results, anchoring a Fighting Irish defense that came into its own during the second half of the season. Notre Dame finished with 10 shutouts and a 0.73 goals-against average, and it was the Fighting Irish back line that proved to be critical in shutting down high-powered top-10 opponents like Wake Forest and Florida in the second and third rounds of the NCAA Championship.
Scofield has been one of the constants for the Notre Dame defense during the past two seasons, appearing in all 45 matches and starting 36 times over that span. A strong, tough and aggressive player who led the team in minutes played last year (2,168), Scofield has never backed away from a challenge and has developed into a target on the offensive end as well, scoring the match-winning goal in last year's victory over No. 24 Santa Clara, followed by the tying score in a 1-1 draw at No. 19 Portland one week later.
A native of Geneva, Ill., Scofield could be asked to take on a new role this season, one of team leader on a roster still largely filled with underclassmen. Her growth and maturity on the back line may also go a long way in determining how other positions are filled for the Fighting Irish in 2013.
"Sammy has the experience and she and Katie fit well together last year," Waldrum said. "Then again, Katie and Cari (Roccaro) have also played together quite a bit with the U-20s and we could see those two out there. It's a nice problem to have, with three talented center backs, and it's one of those questions we hope to clear up during camp."
The outside back positions have a similar number of young challengers, starting with junior Taylor Schneider. The Southlake, Texas, resident has spent time at both defensive line spots, as well as in the holding midfielder role, and that versatility, along with her toughness makes her an important asset. She played in all 24 matches last year and started 15 times, picking up her first career point with the secondary assist on Bohaboy's golden goal in the second overtime of the regular season finale at DePaul.
Speaking of assists, Brittany Von Rueden was more than willing to lend a helping hand last season, leading the Fighting Irish with seven assists during her rookie campaign. Not a bad debut for the 5-foot-11 native of Mequon, Wis., who came to Notre Dame as a center back, but quickly made the transition to the right side and flourished, thanks to a deadly accurate service from the flanks and a physical style of play that makes her difficult to stop.
Senior Rebecca Twining has done everything but take the tickets for the Fighting Irish during her first three seasons, mainly spending time at the forward and midfield spots. She turned in her best performances last year, appearing in 23 matches (starting 13 times) and collecting three goals and three assists, including a spectacular diving header goal in the 20th minute that proved to be the match-winner in Notre Dame's NCAA Championship third-round win at No. 8 Florida.
Yet, during the spring of 2013, Twining tried her hand at another position, working at left back and finding she had a knack for the role. As a technically-sound player with solid possession skills, not to mention good pace on the wings and a strong service, the Houston, Texas, product has the chance to step into the lineup and lend a veteran voice to an already-stout back line.
"Taylor and Brittany probably have more experience in a defensive role than Rebecca," Waldrum said. "However, I think Rebecca did a solid job embracing the new challenge of trying out that left back spot during the spring and if (sophomore) Stephanie Campo can also come in and be ready to contribute, they really give us some added options as we move forward."
When the discussion turns to goalkeeping, the debate in coaching circles centers around two schools of thought -- athleticism versus size. For Notre Dame, it's not really a debate, as the Fighting Irish have both options to choose from this season.
Standing six feet tall, sophomore Elyse Hight is the team's tallest player, and she used that size to full advantage last season, playing in 17 matches and starting 16 times while leading Notre Dame with a 0.63 goals-against average, an .851 save percentage (fifth-best for a single season in school history) and 5.1 shutouts, not to mention a 10-5-1 record.
The Edmond, Okla., native can cover a significant amount of ground within the penalty area and manages the game very well, along with expertly handling crosses and other long-range services. In addition, she is not rattled by pressure situations, having turned in her top performances under the brightest lights, including a season-high nine saves in the double-overtime draw before a sellout crowd at Portland, as well as a shutout on the road at No. 8 Florida in the third round of the NCAA Championship.
"Elyse missed some time both in the fall and this past spring with an injury, but she's fully recovered from that," Waldrum said. "She also looks to have done all the things physically that we've asked of her during the offseason and between that and her performance as a freshman, I'd say she's probably the frontrunner for our goalkeeper spot going into the preseason."
Yet, while Hight has the inside track to start the year as Notre Dame's goalkeeper, she may likely be pushed by another Oklahoma product in freshman Kaela Little. An athletic, fundamentally-strong netminder who has become a regular in U.S. U-20 National Team camps this summer, Little was stellar between the pipes at Tulsa's Bishop Kelley High School, rolling up 32 shutouts and allowing just 23 goals in 51 career prep matches while leading her high school to three consecutive Oklahoma state titles and a 40-1-1 record in those final three seasons.
"Kaela is going to bring something completely different to the table for us in terms of our goalkeeping," Waldrum said. "She's very good with her feet and is able to distribute the ball well out of the back, and that's something that will be important with our possession game. I'm excited to see what we might see from her this season."
In addition to Hight and Little, Notre Dame will have added experience and depth at the goalkeeper position with the return of juniors Sarah Voigt and Jennifer Jasper. Voigt has appeared in 18 matches during her first two seasons, starting 13 times and posting a 1.23 career GAA with 3.2 shutouts and an 8-4-1 record. Meanwhile, Jasper has seen limited action in her college career, playing a total of 14 minutes in two matches to date.
Notre Dame traditionally has played a very challenging schedule, beefing up the non-conference slate to compensate for a BIG EAST schedule that most would admit had its share of both sharks and minnows.
Waldrum also has used his schedule as a way to learn more about how the Fighting Irish are developing, particularly when it comes to facing unique styles of play that the team could face later on in the postseason.
The 2013 campaign will be unique as Notre Dame joins the ACC and a conference docket that is easily the strongest of any in college soccer. It's caused Waldrum to take another look at his non-conference schedule, which not only features fewer matches, but also limits the number of powerhouses the Fighting Irish can see in that time.
"We know that the ACC is going to be extremely tough and there won't be a single night off from the first match in early September all the way to the conference tournament in November," Waldrum said. "To add in our usual share of strong non-conference games would be almost suicidal on our part. That being said, we do need to be prepared before we get into ACC play, so we tried to get a better mix of teams that will both challenge us and allow us to evaluate where we are after the first few weeks when we start up in conference."
One of the appealing features of Notre Dame's 2013 schedule is the abundance of home matches, as the Fighting Irish will appear on the Alumni Stadium pitch 11 times, including all five outings in the non-conference season.
Notre Dame opens with a pair of Big Ten Conference opponents on the first weekend of the season, welcoming both Illinois (Aug. 23) and Northwestern (Aug. 25) to town.
The following weekend (Aug. 30-Sept. 1), the Fighting Irish will play host to the 21st edition of the Notre Dame adidas Invitational, with UCLA, former BIG EAST rival Marquette and defending Summit League champion Oakland (now part of the Horizon League) joining the fray this year. Notre Dame will take on Oakland and UCLA during the tournament, with the perennial Pac-12 power Bruins making their first visit to South Bend since the 1997 NCAA Championship quarterfinals (a match won by the Fighting Irish, 8-0, thanks in part to a goal and assist from future U.S. Women's National Team midfielder Shannon Boxx).
After closing out the non-conference season with a single match against Detroit (Sept. 8), Notre Dame makes its official debut as an ACC member by stepping right into the lion's den with an opening weekend trip to the Research Triangle, taking on North Carolina State (Sept. 12) and North Carolina (Sept. 15).
The Fighting Irish kick off their home ACC slate on Sept. 19 by welcome another conference newcomer, Syracuse, to Alumni Stadium. That contest begins a four-match homestand for Notre Dame, as Maryland, Pittsburgh and Wake Forest will follow during the next two weeks.
The month of October cranks up in earnest for the Fighting Irish with a three-match road swing to Miami (Oct. 6), Virginia (Oct. 10) and Virginia Tech (Oct. 13), with the visit to UVa being Notre Dame's first in 24 years.
The Fighting Irish wrap up their inaugural ACC regular season with two split-week (Sunday-Thursday) pairings, as they play host to Duke and Boston College before ending with visits to Clemson and Florida State.
The ACC Championship starts with quarterfinal matches on campus Nov. 3, with the tournament semifinals and final set for Nov. 8 and 10 at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C.
The NCAA Championship gets underway Nov. 15, with the first four rounds played at campus sites. The 2013 NCAA Women's College Cup returns to WakeMed Soccer Park Dec. 6 & 8, the first time the tournament's final weekend will be played in Cary, N.C., since 2010, when Notre Dame won its third national championship.
-- Chris Masters, Associate Athletic Media Relations Director