Aug. 26, 2004
By Pete LaFleur
ATHENS, Greece - One year ago today, former Notre Dame soccer midfielder Shannon Boxx never had taken the field with the U.S. Women's National Team. Six days later, she scored in her debut during a World Cup warmup game versus Costa Rica, went on to become the first player ever to score in her first three games with the national team and was an all-tournament selection at the 2003 Women's World Cup. And on Thursday, her unbelievable first 12 months with Team USA were capped by a 2-1 overtime win over Brazil - as Boxx and Kate (Sobrero) MarkgrafSobrerocontinued to lead the U.S. defensive charge while becoming the second and third gold-medal winners at the 2004 Olympic Games with ties to Notre Dame.
Prior to the Games in Athens, just two Olympic gold medalists have owned ties to Notre Dame: basketball players Vince Boryla (1948, in London) and Adrian Dantley (1976, in Montreal), with Boryla having transferred to the University of Denver prior to his Olympic participation. But in the last 10 days alone, three with Notre Dame ties - Boxx, Sobrero Markgraf and women's fencing sabre Mariel Zagunis - have reached the summit as Olympic gold medalists (a fourth, basketball player Ruth Riley, likely will join that list this weekend).
Sobrero (then a senior), Boxx (a junior) and Riley (a freshman) all were on the Notre Dame campus during the 1997-98 academic year while Zagunis currently is en route from Athens to South Bend and is just the second incoming/returning Notre Dame student-athlete ever to win an Olympic medal. The only previous time that the Notre Dame student-athlete population featured an Olympic medalist came during the World War I era, as August "Gus" Desch returned to the Northern Indiana campus after claiming the bronze in the 400-meter race at the 1920 games in Antwerp.
The 1997-98 school year that featured future Olympians Sobrero, Boxx and Riley strolling the Notre Dame campus came on the heels of Notre Dame's breakthrough appearance in the 1997 NCAA women's basketball Final Four. But just a few months later, the Irish women's soccer team fashioned a season that remains one of the most dominant in NCAA history - with a 135-9 final scoring edge for a team that was ranked No. 2 all season and was on a collision course to face top-ranked North Carolina in the 1997 NCAA title game (a fluke 2-1 loss to UConn ended ND's 23-1-1 season in the NCAA semifinals, with the Irish earlier playing to a 1-1 tie vs. UNC in '97).
Sobrero played on a 1997 back line alongside standout Kelly Lindsey and four-year All-American Jen Grubb (with future national teamer LaKeysia Beene in the goal) while Boxx was part of a midfield unit that included two other eventual four-year All-Americans in Holly Manthei and Anne Makinen.
Seven years later, Sobrero and Boxx are back on the same team and are part of the historic gold-medal squad.
In addition to the five gold medalists mentioned above, seven other former Notre Dame student-athletes have combined to win nine Olympic silver/bronze medals, with the most coming in track and field: Desch (bronze in the 400 meters; 1920 in Antwerp); Tom Lieb (bronze in discus; 1924 in Paris); Canadian three-time medalist Alex Wilson (bronze in the 1,600 meters at Amsterdam in '28; then silver in the 800 and bronze in the 400 at Los Angeles in '32); Jim Delaney (silver in shot put; 1948 in London); and Rick Wohlhuter (bronze in 800 meters; '76 in Montreal). Others include Vaggo's silver in the '84 epee and Sobrero (silver at Sydney in 2000).
Sobrero Markgraf joins Wilson as the only competitors with Notre Dame ties ever to win multiple Olympic medals. If she returns for the 2008 Games, she could match Wilson's total of three Olympics medals (Boxx, Zagunis and Riley also could be back in the Olympic picture in '08).
Notre Dame's all-time Olympic "medal count" now includes five golds, four silvers and five bronzes.
Desch held the distinction of being the only "active" Notre Dame student-athlete ever to compete in the Olympics, with swimmer Christal Bouvron joining that short list earlier this week when she competed for her native Singapore in the 200-meter butterfly.
Lieb also was a star lineman during the glory days of the Knute Rockne-coached Notre Dame football teams while Wilson later returned to his alma mater (Notre Dame) as a highly-regarded track and field coach. Wohlhuter also received the Sullivan Award as the nation's top amateur athlete while Sobrero and former Notre Dame teammates Shannon Boxx (U.S.) and Monica Gonzalez (Mexico) currently are in the running to help their teams claim a medal finish in women's soccer.
Boxx - widely considered the world's top defensive midfielder - continued her stellar play in the gold-medal showdown, engaging in a fierce midfield battle while exhibiting her strength in the air and in "50-50" battles. The versatile Sobrero Markgraf - a six-year starter with the U.S. who played on teams that won the 1999 World Cup, took the silver at the 2000 Olympics and placed third at the '03 World Cup - also logged all 120 minutes while again playing alongside veteran Joy Fawcett at the central defender spots (she also played at left back earlier in the Olympics).
Boxx and Sobrero Markgraf were key cogs in a United States defense that allowed just four goals in six Olympic games (spanning 600 minutes, including 30 minutes of overtime in each of the last two games). Boxx played every minute in five games and all but the final 23 in a 1-1 tie versus Australia while Sobrero Markgraf logged all 600 minutes and pushed her career "cap" total (games played) to 128.
The U.S. defense was under siege for much of the gold-medal game at Karaiskaki Stadium, as Brazil came out with a greater physical presence (compared to its earlier 2-0 loss to the U.S.) to complement its tremendous speed and playmaking flair. Many of the Brazilian players are products of the semi-professional clubs that the current Notre Dame team faced during its recent Brazilian training tour, with the playing style (and gamemanship) exhibited by the Brazilian side surely reminding many Irish players of their recent battles in South America's soccer hotbed.
Brazil finished with an 18-10 edge in total shots (9-4 in shots on goal) while the game featured just six corner kicks (three for each time). The quick-moving Brazilian frontrunners were whistled off-side six times, with the physical game yielding a virtual split among the 47 fouls (24 by the U.S., with Brazil drawing the only two yellows).
The game served as the final world championship for five U.S. veteran leaders - forward Mia Hamm, midfielders Julie Foudy and Kristine Lilly, and defenders Fawcett and Brandi Chastain.
"If we had lost, I couldn't look [those five veterans] in the eyes," said Markgraf. "The captains were thanking us in the locker room afterward, and I thought it was us who should be thanking them for all that they've given over the last 17 years.
"They talked about how the leadership is being handed over to the younger players and that it was in good hands. I thought `I can't imagine a team not being led by you guys.'"
With the team earning the gold medal, U.S. Soccer has announced plans to stage a 10-game Fan Celebration Tour for the U.S. Women's National Team and their fans that will kick off Sept. 25 versus Iceland at Frontier Field in Rochester, N.Y. That game will have several connections to Notre Dame, as current senior defender Gudrun Gunnarsdottir could play versus the U.S. (she is a top player for the Icelandic squad) while the Rochester area is the hometown of forward Abby Wambach (who scored Thursday's decisive goal) and her former high school teammate Kimberly Carpenter (a midfielder with the Irish from 2000-03).
The tour marks one last chance for fans of the U.S. Women's National Team to see retiring players Fawcett, Foudy and Hamm on the international soccer stage. The remaining dates and venues on the tour will be released in the near future (consult ussoccer.com).
The decisive goal came during the second overtime (112th minute), with eight minutes left to play. Kristine Lilly drove a leftside corner kick into the heart of the penalty area and Wambach elevated above Monica (one of Brazil's many "one-name" stars) before snapping a header from the right side.
The 12-yard strike carried to the right of goalkeeper Andreia and Juliana made a futile attempt to head the ball off the line, with the ball bouncing off her head and into the topnetting for Wambach's fourth goal of the Olympics and her 18th in 24 games during 2004.
The U.S. managed to overcome waves of Brazilian attacks in the first half and opened the scoring minutes before halftime. Chastain intercepted a pass near the center circle and sent a quick pass ahead to midfielder Lindsay Tarpley, who turned and dribbled down the center of the field before ripping a 22-yard shot inside the left post (39th minute).
Brazil nearly scored the game's first goal in the 27th minute, on a two-player breakaway that was thwarted by a backtracking Boxx who snared the final pass and cleared it from danger.
Brazil kept pressing in the second half and tied the game in the 73rd minute, thanks to Christine's tremendous run into the left side of the box. Christine beat a pair of U.S. defenders and played a low cross from close range. Scurry was hugging the near post and batted the ball with her left hand - but Pretinha was filling the middle and tapped in the rebound for the equalizer.
The Brazilians then hit the left post twice in the final minutes of the second half, with Markgraf patiently clearing the second rebound out of the goal area.
ADDITIONAL POSTGAME QUOTES, PROVIDED BY U.S. SOCCER
APRIL HEINRICHS, HEAD COACH
On the emotion of the victory - "We are just elated. We had a belief and a unity within this team that made the difference. A belief not only in those players on the field, but in every player on the team, both on and off the bench, that we had the ability to do whatever it would take to win this competition.
"Brazil was a phenomenal team and Marta is certainly not only one of the best players in the world, but one of the best player's the women's game has ever seen. For us to beat them a second time in this tournament, and score four goals on them when no one else in the tournament could score one, and to have beaten them three times overall this year, is a tremendous accomplishment.
On the overall team fortitude and resiliency in overtime, late leads - "The thing we talked about all year long was that we have found ourselves behind in some games and it was important for us to find it within ourselves the ability to come from behind. We showed we could come from behind this year, and in the semifinals against Germany when we gave up the late goal and some people might have thought the pressure would intensify, we never hesitated or doubted our ability to bounce back. We had the same feeling tonight against Brazil. When they scored to tie the game and were applying some pressure, we were OK and knew we were going to get another one back. That is the belief this team had in themselves."
On her feelings after winning her first world championship as a coach - "Personally, I'm thrilled. I couldn't be happier. I couldn't be happier for the veterans and for them to go out on top, which is the way it should be. It is just so appropriate. I'm happy about the contribution of the young players, and they have said all along that 'We are ready,' and they showed that the future is very bright for our next generation of players.
"I don't want to say 'I can't believe it,' because it is not that 'I can't believe it,' but we have come so close a couple of times. So it is just very wonderful to be able to celebrate this knowing we accomplished what we set out to do."
KRISTINE LILLY, MIDFIELDER - "It is just amazing, we push every single game and we've done it in the semis and the finals. And it just shows what we are made of: big hearts."
JULIE FOUDY, MIDFIELDER
On how she played through her ankle injury - "I just hear everyone on the sidelines cheering. We are such a team and that is what I love about these guys. There was never a doubt in our minds that we could pull this off. Even as dead tired as we were, we pulled it out. It's unbelievable, this group."
JOY FAWCETT, DEFENDER
On the emotional win - "This is a great family and I'm so proud of everyone. We couldn't have done it without every single person. Everyone gave everything and that is what we needed."
On whether trying to win in the final go around was a burden - "Heck, yeah. It was a burden. But we all carried well and we all carried it together and that is how we won."
MIA HAMM, FORWARD
On her teammates and their legacy - "This team never gave up and every single player made a difference. These guys deserve it. They always put the game first. They always thought about leaving a legacy and leaving a better place for all the young girls that are in the stands. These girls deserve it and I am so proud to be on this team. I'm just one person. America should be proud of this team. We are going to enjoy it."
ABBY WAMBACH, FORWARD
Trying to describe the emotions of her winning goal - "No words. This is for them. It is for these players going through their last world championship: Brandi Chastain, Kristine Lilly, Joy Fawcett, Julie Foudy, Briana Scurry, Mia Hamm ... all these players that have done so much for this team. This is for them."
BRANDI CHASTAIN, DEFENDER
On her emotions and the realization of their expectations - "What we talked about was the confidence we have in each other. The supreme belief that we will win no matter what. It gets rough out there but this team is not about quitting. It is about moving forward and being progressive and loving each other and doing anything to make our team successful. This is a team people should be proud of."
On what it means to her personally - "For me personally, both of my parents died recently, and I think it is about family, like Joy said. And when you can share it with all these people here waving flags, that is the family. We are not an exclusive group, we are an inclusive group and we want everyone to enjoy this and we are so happy we can bring this home to America."
LINDSAY TARPLEY, MIDFIELDER
On the first goal - "Brandi (Chastain) played me a great ball and I turned with it. I saw that the Brazilians were falling back, so I pushed up the field and took the space they were giving me and then took the shot. I've been working on shooting. That's something that Anson Dorrance has been stressing. When it went in, everything just went crazy."
CAT REDDICK, DEFENDER
On what it means to be on this team - "We went out ready to win it for all of us and to send them out on top. After spending the last seven months together, I have never felt more a part of a team than I have with this one."
On Julie Foudy's comments in the huddle prior to overtime - "She said `all we have is 30 minutes. You have players on either side of you and in front and behind you. Believe and trust in each other and we'll get this done.'"
On the game plan - "It was just be ready. We emphasized defending individually and defending collectively. They have incredible individual players. Give all credit to Brazil. It was an exciting game to watch."