Aug. 27, 2003
If paying your dues and overcoming adversity are prerequisites for success, then the Notre Dame women's soccer team could be due for a blockbuster season in 2003.
One year removed from a 2002 season that saw several key players combine to miss 64 games due to injury, fifth-year Irish head coach Randy Waldrum and his veteran squad are eager to get back in the national-title mix - after making a late run in '02 that included a spot in the NCAA round of 16 and a final 13-8 record.
Notre Dame returns 12 of its top 13 players from the 2003 roster - with the key loss being four-year starter and ace defensive midfielder Ashley Dryer - while also welcoming a freshman class that has been rated fifth in the nation by Soccer America.
Six seniors lead the way as the veteran core, with those players including forwards Amanda Guertin and Amy Warner, midfielder Kim Carpenter and Randi Scheller, central defender Melissa Tancredi and fifth-year player Vanessa Pruzinsky, who was sidelined for all but two games in 2002 and could be used in '03 at central or outside back, or even defensive midfield.
Other top returners include All-American defender and Canadian World Cup team member Candace Chapman (set to return to right back in her junior season), sophomore goalkeeper Erika Bohn and sophomore midfielder Annie Schefter, who missed all of the 2002 season due to an anterior cruciate ligament knee injury.
Others with significant starting experience include junior defender Gudrun Gunnarsdottir (limited to seven games in 2002 due to injury), her versatile classmate Mary Boland and sophomore forward Katie Thorlakson.
The highly-touted freshman class is led by midfielder Jen Buczkowski and central defender Christie Shaner (rated 6th and 22nd, respectively, on SA's list of top incoming recruits), with a third prep All-American also joining the fold in midfielder Lizzie Reed.
For Waldrum and the Irish, the goals in 2003 remain simple: build for the postseason through a series of regular-season challenges; maximize the team's many offensive weapons by seeing a big boost in overall goalscoring (the 46 goals in 2002 were the lowest total in the program's history); return to the days of a stifling defense that regularly allows 0-1 goals per game; and find the right combinations from amidst a very deep roster - all while remaining healthy, particularly at key positions.
"We have some great building blocks to work with this season because of the strong senior class and the incoming group - that gives us the type of depth where as many as 20 players might be in the mix for a starting role," says Waldrum.
"Our seniors have developed great interplay with one another and their leadership will be crucial to this season. And people will be excited with this freshman class. They are extremely competitive as a group and will be ready to step in right off the bat."
Notre Dame's experience starts up front with Guertin and Warner, who have combined for 116 starts while appearing in 127 total games with the Irish. The dynamic duo - nicknamed "Fire and Ice" in reference to Warner's speed-driven attack and Guertin's calm finishing skills - already own the sixth-highest combined goal total (64) among classmates in the program's history, with their 24 combined game-winning goals already fourth-most. Both were named to the preseason first team all-BIG EAST squad and could become the league's first front-running teammates since 1998 to earn first-team honors.
"There's no reason that Guertin and Warner should not emerge as one of the top forward tandems in all of college soccer," says Waldrum. "They have turned in big scoring spurts but also have delivered in big-game situations. If they can put it all together for the better part of this season ... watch out."
Guertin (Grapevine, Texas) - a subtle threat known for her technical ability and play with her back to the goal - led the Irish in scoring with 33 points in '02, becoming just the second Notre Dame player ever to pace the team in goals (11, including seven on pinpoint corner kicks) and assists (11). Her scoring binges have included team records for overall (10 games) and postseason (7) goalscoring streaks while her 95 career points (37G-21A) are 40 shy of that Irish top-10 list (her 15 gamewinners are four behind of Jenny Heft's record).
"'Gerty' had a great spring playing both sides of the ball and showed she can force the action instead of letting it come to her," says Waldrum of Guertin, whose highest goal total has been 15 during her sophomore season.
"One of the key things for her - and all our attacking players - is to be more efficient with scoring chances, because there's no doubt she can get 20-25 goals with her great skills and composure around the box."
Warner (Albuquerque, N.M.) has totaled 27 career goals (nine gamewinners) and 13 assists in 60 games played, with her first year slowed by an ACL injury. The second-year team co-captain (sharing those duties with Pruzinsky) also has scored in bunches, including a pair of hat tricks, but like Guertin has failed to produce a true breakout season (with a career-high 10 goals in 2000).
"You can't say enough about Amy and the potential she has to be a dominant scorer," says Waldrum. "She's such a hard worker on both sides of the ball and gets so many opportunities - it's just a matter of her realizing how dangerous her speed is and becoming more efficient at converting her chances."
Thorlakson (Langley, B.C.) showed improved interplay with Guertin and Warner in the second half of '02, after a full-time shift to forward. The 5-foot-3 fireplug could turn in a strong season, following another tour of duty with the Canadian Under-19 National Team.
"Katie took a while to fit into our system but then started to show what great potential she has," says Waldrum of Notre Dame's fourth-leading scorer in '02, when she registered all four of her goals and two of three assists over the final nine games.
"She is a physical player who is very hard to knock off the ball, to go along with creative distribution and field vision. One minute she can beat you with her powerful body but she also has the touch to spring teammates off the first pass."
Sophomore Maggie Manning (Lake Oswego, Ore.) likely will focus at forward in '03 after also playing at midfield in '02, when she appeared in 18 games. "Maggie came on strong at the end of last season and in the spring, making probably the biggest strides of anyone on the team," says Waldrum of the former Oregon player of the year. "She has the ball skills and ability to create scoring chances and now has turned the corner by adjusting to the speed of the game."
A pair of fleet-footed freshmen - Becky Tweneboah (North Lauderdale, Fla.) and Molly Iarocci (Carefree, Ariz.) - provide a noticeable boost to the options up front.
Tweneboah starred for the powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas High School program and the elite Boca Blaze club, also running track on the state-champion 4x400 relay team.
"Becky can spark the offense because of her ability to break free and get behind the defense," says Waldrum. "She needs to learn our system that relies on regular defending from the forwards, but she's got the skills to push for a starting spot."
Iarocci was named the Gatorade player of the year for Arizona after a stellar career at Xavier Prep, also gaining valuable experience with the Sereno Eagles club team. "Molly adds athleticism and pace to our attack and is a very hardworking player who could develop into an important contributor," says Waldrum.
Notre Dame's system of three central-based midfielders could be tweaked, reverting back to having just one of the central midfielders stationed in a defensive role. That formation also was used in the first year of the Waldrum era ('99) before the Irish placed two midfielders in the recessed role beginning in 2000, allowing eventual player of the year Anne Makinen to play in more of a freelancing, attacking position.
"With our system of three central midfielders, we need two of those players to show a high work rate and become better goalscoring threats," says Waldrum. "Of course, we are much deeper in the midfield and might use more of a rotation for specific situations."
Scheller (Kutztown, Pa.) - who could be slowed in '03 due to nagging groin and hip injuries - has served in offensive and defensive midfielder roles while totaling 17 goals and 15 assists in 66 career games (46 starts). The former Pennsylvania player of the year and prep All-American has yet to be fully recognized for her skills and value to the team, in the shadows of more well-known teammates while playing with nagging injuries (she enters '03 having played in 66 of 67 games). The midfield sparkplug packs plenty of talent into her 5-3 frame, with excellent touch, an assortment of moves, a surprisingly strong shot, and the ability to quickly change the point of attack and serve the long ball.
"Randi played all of last season with a groin injury - but she's one of the toughest and most courageous kids you'll ever meet and she did an amazing job," says Waldrum of Scheller, who earned second team all-BIG EAST honors in '02 while totaling seven goals and one assist.
"It will be interesting where Randi plays this season. Last spring we experimented with one midfielder in the defensive role and she was great in that position, with her playmaking and ability to spray the ball around the field. But we may put her up higher because she's so good at scoring and finding people with her distribution. If so, we'll need her to have a lot more mobility and help convert more scoring chances."
Carpenter (Webster, N.Y.) steadily has emerged as a key member of the midfield, also drawing some starts at right back in 2002. "Kim has made the biggest strides of any player on the team during the past four years, has become a great leader and always can be counted on to do whatever the team needs," says Waldrum.
"Kim is comfortable handling things under pressure but now she will be looking for more consistency on the offensive end. We need her to be more of a threat by making runs, distributing the ball and simply scoring more - and she definitely is up to that task."
Schefter (Yakima, Wash.) could provide a boost to the midfield after missing all of the '02 season (plus the Under-19 World Championship) due to her ACL injury. The prep All-American and former Washington player of the year returned in fine fashion during the '03 spring season, filling a variety of roles including an MVP-like performance in the 3-1 win over the Mexican National Team (when she scored while starting in place of the injured Tancredi at central defense).
"Annie was very eager during her rehab and played a big part in our spring, with great ability on the ball, a high confidence level and good leadership qualities," says Waldrum of Schefter, an emerging Academic All-America candidate after posting a 3.67 GPA as a freshman.
"She also could help increase our scoring out of the midfield, after scoring 47 goals in her senior season. Annie just has a great future and you could see big things from her this season."
Junior Mary Boland (Hudson, Ohio) - one of Schefter's former teammates from the U.S. under-19 program (she also is an Academic All-America candidate, with a 3.87 GPA) - played several roles in her first two seasons, including attacking and defensive midfield, forward and outside back. A tireless runner and prototypical set-piece threat due to her height (5-9) and heading ability, Boland's versatility could be crucial in '03.
"Mary has that mobility and running ability that we look for in our forwards, in addition to a 'go-for-the-goal' mentality," says Waldrum. "She's also been a very tough defensive midfielder and solid outside back due to her 1-on-1 skills and ability to attack down the flanks. Mary likely will play midfield or forward and has the chance to crack the starting 11."
The midfield could have a definite Illinois flair, with the three former club and ODP teammates - Buczkowski, Jill Krivacek and Kim Lorenzen - likely to fill key roles, after combining to lead the Illinois ODP team to the 2003 national title.
Buczkowski (Elk Grove, Ill.) - rated by Soccer America as the nation's sixth-best incoming freshman - focused on training with the U.S. Under-19 National Team program as a senior. A three-year All-American and the Gatorade player of the year for Illinois, she totaled 69 goals and 52 assists in three prep seasons and is a top candidate for the U.S. squad that will play in the 2004 Under-19 World Championship.
"Jen is simply a genuine soccer player whose game could take off," says Waldrum. "She is so composed on the ball and can change the tempo due to the calming affect she has on the rest of the team. Jen also has tremendous technical ability and distribution and has shown the versatility to play anywhere. I fully expect her to come in with the poise of a veteran and compete for a starting spot, most likely in the midfield."
The 5-10 Krivacek (Geneva, Ill.) - who set a Rosary High School record with 78 goals - could slot into a defensive midfielder role, due to her size, strength and ability in the air to go along with good mobility and strong skills on the ball.
"Our system suits Jill's style of play and she could be a great recessed midfielder, distributing and playmaking from that spot while also being very strong in the air. She brings a lot to the table, with deceptive quickness, a disciplined approach and the added bonus as a proven scorer and target player," says Waldrum.
While Krivacek's role is fairly set, Lorenzen (Naperville, Ill.) could emerge anywhere in the midfield, at outside back or even forward - with her experiences on high school, club, state and regional ODP teams (plus various national camps) providing many samples of the various positions.
"Kim is an emerging player who can make huge strides on the college level," says Waldrum. "She has played as a flank midfielder and central defender, so she could make the transition to outside back due to her fitness level, great ability on the ball and a competitive streak that won't let her get intimidated. Kim has to adjust to the speed of the college game but she's just a tremendous all-around athlete and should be fun to watch."
Reed (Franklin Lakes, N.J.) is yet another newcomer who could be used anywhere in the midfield or at outside back. The prep All-American totaled 126 career goals at Ramapo Regional High School and has been in various national-team player pools, also leading the New Jersey ODP team to the 2003 national title game (where it lost to an Illinois squad that included three of her future Notre Dame teammates).
"Lizzie has the athleticism and competitiveness to handle the workload at outside back, but she also has great understanding of soccer tactics, playmaking skills and scoring punch that make her a great option in the midfield. She just has a tremendous upside for the college game and will keep getting better and better."
Sophomore Jenny Walz (Bloomington, Ill.) provided a midfield spark in 2002 but enters '03 sidelined by an ACL injury suffered in the spring, with the chance to return by midseason. "Jenny gives the midfield a shot in the arm with her athleticism and workrate and was making some overall strides before her injury," says Waldrum.
The midfield options also include junior Sarah Halpenny (Glendale, Calif.) - the former transfer from UC-Irvine who played a reserve role with the Irish in '02 - and freshman Claire Gallerano (Dallas, Texas), who combined with current Notre Dame teammate Kari Kennedy in helping lead the Dallas Texans to the 2003 USYSA under-18 national title.
"Sarah has some good skills for our system but needs to make strides in finding a part of the game where she can make the best impact," says Waldrum. "Claire also could find her niche, as a defensive midfielder. She has some 'bite' to her game and could play a role if she rounds out her game as more of an offensive threat."
Pruzinsky (Trumbull, Conn.) - who started at central defense for parts of the 2000 season and all of '01 - returned from her ankle surgery by playing at outside back in the '03 spring season. But some uncertainty still remains for the full-time return to the form that garnered 2002 preseason BIG EAST defensive player-of-the-year honors and had her in the running for a spot on the U.S. Under-21 National Team.
"We're fortunate to have more options at central defense and that frees Vanessa to play other positions," says Waldrum of the versatile player who was a prep All-American as a forward.
"Vanessa played outside back earlier in her career and she was more comfortable playing there last spring, making mostly vertical runs instead of cutting side-to-side. But her best position might be in that defensive midfielder role, because of her ability in the air, strong distribution and field presence, to go along with her strength and power to win '50-50' balls."
Waldrum has called Pruzinsky "the most focused and on-task player - in everything she does - that I've been around in nearly 25 years of coaching," due to a work ethic and dedication that "are second to none."
That work ethic certainly has applied to the classroom, with Pruzinsky becoming just the third chemical engineering major (and first since 1974) ever to graduate from Notre Dame with a 4.0 cumulative GPA. She also could join former basketball great Bob Arnzen ('69) as the only Notre Dame student-athletes ever to be a three-time Academic All-American and will be a candidate for various national awards, including the Rhodes Scholarship and NCAA Woman of the Year.
Chapman (Ajax, Ont.) continues to climb in stature among international soccer circles, as one of the youngest starters on the Canadian National Team (she was slated to miss a handful of Notre Dame's 2003 games before returning from the World Cup). Picked to repeat as BIG EAST defensive player of the year, Chapman likely will return full-time to the right outside back position where she played as a freshman in 2001 (also appearing at central back, left back, midfield and forward in her sophomore season).
"Candace truly has developed into an elite outside back, after playing forward earlier in her career," says Waldrum of Chapman, whose all-around impact included six goals and seven assists in her first two seasons.
"She can change the game in the defensive or attacking third and sometimes it looks like she's playing on another level. Candace's ability to quickly shift speeds and elude opponents is unmatched but she also has made big strides in her marking and defensive anticipation - and she's always a threat to jump into the attack and seemingly score at will."
Tancredi (Ancaster, Ont.) enters a pivotal season, firmly entrenched at central defense after starting her career at forward. A devastating presence due to her size (5-9), speed, power and competitiveness, the feisty Canadian also is a serious threat on the offensive end due to her rushes up the middle and tremendous ability in the air (five of her eight goals with the Irish have come on headers, including all four in '02). Tancredi - who can apply for a fifth year of eligibility after missing all of the 2000 season with an ACL injury - was named offensive MVP of the '02 Maryland Classic before making the midseason switch to defense.
"Last season we played Purdue without Tancredi and lost 3-1. But she played when we faced them again in the NCAAs and the games were like night and day, she totally shut them down," says Waldrum.
"People who faced us last year will tell you that Melissa has the potential to be one of the nation's top central defenders. Nobody is going to outrun her, she has the all-around skills to match up with a variety of forwards and is unstoppable in the air, dominating in the heading duels. She has to continue improving her technical ability but we're very excited to see how Melissa's season unfolds."
Gunnarsdottir (Seltjarnames, Iceland) - a.k.a. "Gunna" - was limited to seven games in '02, due to foot and ankle injuries. A central defender with the Icelandic National Team who has marked the world's top forwards, the 5-foot-9 Gunnarsdottir could be key to Notre Dame's defensive success.
"Gunna may not be as physical as some but she rarely gets beat 1-on-1, reads the game very well and gives us a unique look in the back due to the combination of her height, speed and international experience," says Waldrum.
"She is a very intelligent player whose impact on the game is more subtle, anticipating a pass or making a timely toe-poke. There's no question we're a much better team when she is healthy and out there making plays."
The 5-8 Shaner (Ambler, Pa.) is a top candidate at central defense, where she could combine with Tancredi to form a devastating 1-2 punch. The prep All-American was on pace to play alongside Schefter with the U.S. in the 2002 Under-19 World Championship (both were derailed by injuries) but responded with a stellar final season of her pre-college career, capped by a spot in the 2003 national semifinals with her FC Parkwood Bucks club team. She also pursued a unique senior project in Brazil, staying with a family in Rio and compiling a photo-journal of the famous Fluminense men's soccer team during the spring '03.
"Christie is one of those special players with great all-around skills, tremendous understanding of the game, tenacious competitiveness and strong leadership - the complete package to make an immediate impact," says Waldrum of Shaner, who made an early commitment to the Irish in the spring of 2002.
"Defensively, she is very strong in the air, thrives in 1-on-1 tackling situations and can provide crisp distribution from the back. But she also has the clever playmaking and creative footwork to excel at attacking midfielder, which is where she played later in her high school career.
Kennedy (Plano, Texas) could emerge at one of the outside back spots, after playing a lead role on the nationally-ranked Plano West High School and Dallas Texans teams (the 2003 USYSA under-18 national champs).
"Kari played in a system with her club that is very similar to the one we use at Notre Dame," says Waldrum, who previously coached various college and club teams in his native Texas.
"She is a tireless worker and has the basic skills to be an outside back for us - but she will be looking to make some adjustments in her physical play and the attacking part of her game."
Junior Kate Tulisiak (Medina, Ohio) and sophomore Miranda Ford (Portola Valley, Calif.) add experience at outside back, each drawing a handful of starts early in the '02 season.
"Kate and Miranda can continue helping us in the defensive third but the competition at outside back is steeper," says Waldrum. "Kate has shown some bright spots and needs more consistency while Miranda also had some good moments but still is adjusting to the college game."
Sophomore Amber McMillin (West Harrington, Ind.) rounds out the defense, after limited action in '02 as a defender and forward. "Amber's a great team player who is comfortable with her role. She has a limited playing background but is very eager to contribute any way she can," says Waldrum.
The six-foot Bohn (Brookfield, Conn.) should show marked improvement, after playing nearly 90 percent of the minutes in 2002 while facing the challenge of being the first freshman to start in the nets for Notre Dame since '93. The physically-gifted goalkeeper finished strong in '02 (eight goals allowed in final seven games, one on a PK) before allowing just two goals in five spring games.
Bohn's overall '02 season included a 1.28 goals-against average, four solo shutouts (four shared) and 14 games with 0-1 goals allowed - highlighted by a strong effort versus eventual NCAA champ Portland (1-0 loss), an all-tournament performance at the Maryland Classic and possibly her best game of the year in the NCAA third-round loss at top-ranked Stanford (1-0).
"Erika is on her way to maintaining this program's legacy of great goalkeeper play. Last spring she reported in tremendous shape and many days our players could not get anything by her - she was that dominant," says Waldrum of Bohn, yet another Academic All-America candidate with her 3.67 cumulative GPA.
"Erika is more comfortable this season and just needs greater consistency by not letting the simple stuff get past her. She has a great combination of size, athleticism and range to go along with strong play in the air and agility off the line, plus improving distribution. We're very excited to see what Erika can do this season."
Freshman Nikki Westfall (Waterville, Ohio) will be looking to gain valuable experience after a noteworthy career at Wayne High School in which she posted an 0.88 career GAA. "This will be a learning year for Nikki and she will see strides in her distribution and coverage of crosses," says Waldrum. "But she's a very quick 'keeper who has performed in big games, and we will need her to play at a high level."