Sept. 9, 2013
NOTRE DAME, Ind. -- One of the common phrases you might here from soccer coaches around the country is "first five, last five," a reminder to their players that some of the most critical moments of the match come in the opening five minutes and final five minutes of action.
Notre Dame (4-1) has taken at least the first part of that motto to heart during its non-conference season, actually needing 4:22 or less to score its opening goal in four of its five contests to date (all but a 1-0 loss to No. 4/2 UCLA on Sept. 1 at Alumni Stadium). These quick strikes have been the catalyst for a strong offensive showing by the Fighting Irish thus far, as Notre Dame has scored 16 goals and ranks 14th in the nation with 3.2 goals per contest.
Leading the way is junior forward Lauren Bohaboy (Mission Viejo, Calif./Santa Margarita), whose team-high five goals help her rank 15th in the nation in goals per match (1.0), and sophomore forward Crystal Thomas (Elgin, Ill./Wheaton Academy), whose team-best six assists are third in the land (and her 1.2 assists per match lead the country).
It may be early in the 2013 campaign, but at their current rate, the Fighting Irish are on pace for their best offensive season since 2005, when they averaged 4.40 goals a night (third-best in program history). This year's production also is a far cry from last season for Notre Dame, when it needed nine matches to reach the 16-goal mark and wound up averaging a program record-low 1.92 goals per match.
Sunday night's 4-0 win over Detroit was a perfect example of the Fighting Irish offensive firepower, as Notre Dame got on the board just 3:42 into the match, courtesy of freshman midfielder Morgan Andrews (Milford, N.H./Milford), who would finish with two goals and an assist. The Fighting Irish also peppered the Titans' net with impunity during the match, winding up with a 34-4 edge in total shots, including a massive 16-0 spread in shots on goal.
"I'm really pleased overall with our non-conference performances, with the exception of UCLA," Notre Dame head coach Randy Waldrum said. "The main area I'm pleased with is the opportunities we are creating offensively. This is an area we really struggled last year and we are already much improved from last fall. We are also getting production from a lot of different players, which is a great thing. UCLA was the disappointment in that area. We simply were not effective offensively at all. Having said that, we were outstanding defensively against them, so I think the experience of playing them early will pay off for us throughout the ACC schedule and into the postseason.
"Lauren (Bohaboy) is playing extremely well for us, as are (junior forward) Karin (Simonian) and Crystal (Thomas)," he added. "(Sophomore forward) Anna Maria (Gilbertson) and (freshman forward) Kaleigh (Olmsted) have both given us some good moments as well. That, added with the fact that we have an outstanding midfield with Morgan (Andrews), (senior tri-captain) Mandy (Laddish) and (sophomore) Cari (Roccaro), all of whom can score and create, we could be a force to deal with late in the year after we've had some time together. Morgan is clearly everything we thought she'd be, and our other young midfielders such as Rilka (Noel) and Cindy (Pineda) have been coming along very well in their development and adaptation to the college game.
For the season, Notre Dame is outshooting its opponents by a 3-to-1 margin and actually has registered more shots on goal (54) than the opposition has total shots (51). That's not only a tip of the hat to the Fighting Irish offense, but also the team's defense, anchored by a pair of veteran center backs from the Chicagoland area in junior Sammy Scofield (Geneva, Ill./Geneva) and sophomore tri-captain Katie Naughton (Elk Grove Village, Ill./Elk Grove), and a freshman goalkeeper in Kaela Little (Tulsa, Okla./Bishop Kelley), who has posted a 0.61 goals-against average (GAA) and .842 save percentage with two shutouts early in her rookie season.
In addition, Waldrum and his staff pulled off a bit of tactical magic during the preseason with their decision to move cerebral senior tri-captain Elizabeth Tucker (Jacksonville, Fla./Bishop Kenny) from her customary attacking role (in either the midfield or at forward) to the left back spot, a position she had never played before. Tucker has proven to be a valuable weapon in that role with her attacking mentality, her fitness and her pace on the flanks, while on the opposite side, junior Taylor Schneider (Southlake, Texas/Carroll Senior) and sophomore Brittany Von Rueden (Mequon, Wis./Divine Savior Holy Angels) have given Notre Dame a solid 1-2 punch from the wing.
"Defensively, Sammy (Scofield) has been really good and consistent for us along with Katie (Naughton)," Waldrum said. "They make up a very good central defense, and it has really allowed for (Elizabeth) Tucker, in particular, to thrive attacking up and down the left side. Brittany (Von Rueden) and Taylor (Schneider) both have continued to improve as right backs. Kaela (Little) has provided the confidence that our defense has needed, and she's playing really well as a freshman. She's very unlucky not to have two more shutouts, as we gave away two soft goals in the second half against Illinois and Northwestern."
So now the first phase of the 2013 schedule is done, and Notre Dame will take the lessons it learned during the opening three weeks of the campaign and apply them to its inaugural season in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). If the reviews from non-conference play are any indication, the league will be as tough as any in the three-decade history of NCAA Division I women's soccer, with seven teams ranked among the top 25 in both major national polls last week, including five of the top eight squads (the new rankings come out Tuesday).
"The main challenge that the ACC brings is simply the high level of competition, game in and game out," Waldrum said. "We only got a handful of good games in the BIG EAST (Conference), whereas every game is difficult in the ACC. So we'll have to adapt to having to stay focused over such a long period of time, as the margin of wins and losses will be very minimal each and every game.
"On the other hand, we have to be prepared in case we drop a game or two in conference, as that didn't happen to us very often in the BIG EAST," he added. "Our kids will have to understand that a loss in the ACC is not the end of the season for them. Carolina had five losses (in conference play) last season and finished tied for second with three other schools, and they went on to win the national championship. It's just an extremely competitive conference."
N.C. State (5-1-0), which will be winding up a six-match homestand with Thursday's visit from Notre Dame, is coming off a 2-1 victory over UNC Wilmington on Sunday afternoon. Under first-year head coach Tim Santoro (the former associate head coach at Wake Forest), the Wolfpack are off to a solid start, scoring multiple goals in each of their five wins, with only a 2-0 loss to No. 13 Georgetown on Sept. 4 marring their resume.
Thursday's match will be the first between Notre Dame and North Carolina State since Sept. 24, 1993, when the third-ranked Fighting Irish posted a 3-0 win over the No. 6 Wolfpack (behind a pair of goals from then-freshman Cindy Daws, who would go on to earn the 1996 Hermann Trophy) in the first round of the Golden Dome Classic (now known as the Notre Dame adidas Invitational) at old Alumni Field.
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-- Chris Masters, Associate Athletic Media Relations Director