Sept. 16, 2013
NOTRE DAME, Ind. -- Notre Dame came into last weekend's road trip as the new kids on the Atlantic Coast Conference block, not knowing quite what to expect as it played the program's first-ever matches under the ACC banner. By Sunday night, the eighth-ranked Fighting Irish had crashed the ACC house party like Cousin Eddie from the 1980s National Lampoon "Vacation" film series.
The highlight of Notre Dame's weekend swing through the Research Triangle came Sunday afternoon, when the Fighting Irish defeated No. 1 North Carolina, 1-0 at Fetzer Field in Chapel Hill, N.C., on a 22nd-minute goal by freshman midfielder Morgan Andrews (Milford, N.H./Milford). Notre Dame also turned in a sturdy defensive performance, holding the Tar Heels to just six shots on goal while picking up its sixth all-time win over UNC, including its fifth in Chapel Hill (with three of those wins at Fetzer Field coming via shutout).
By contrast, no other team in NCAA history has more than four wins total against North Carolina, let alone the five victories Notre Dame has logged against the Tar Heels on their home pitch.
"We had a really good first half and forced Carolina to change its system (from a 3-4-3 to a 4-2-3-1 formation) quite early in the game," Fighting Irish head coach Randy Waldrum said. "You don't see many teams force them to do that. Shutting Carolina out is something that doesn't happen very often, so I'm proud of that as well as the win."
Waldrum was effusive in praising his defense, which had to deal with a Tar Heel side that had torn through its first seven opponents with ease, averaging better than 2.5 goals per match while collecting notable wins over nationally-ranked foes Santa Clara (2-0), UCLA (1-0) and West Virginia (4-2).
UNC also boasts one of the nation's best one-two punches in midfielder Crystal Dunn (last year's Hermann Trophy recipient) and forward Kealia Ohai. So as Waldrum and his staff prepared the game plan for Sunday's clash, they decided to put sophomore midfielder Cari Roccaro (East Islip, N.Y./East Islip) on Dunn in a man-marking strategy, having Roccaro shadow one of her best friends and a fellow Long Islander (as well as her 2012 United States U-20 World Cup champion teammate) over every square inch of Fetzer Field.
It's nearly impossible to lock down a player of Dunn's ability for 90 minutes, but after viewing the game film, Waldrum saw that Roccaro more than held her ground in the heavyweight matchup, recalling visions of a 1980s boxing classic.
"Cari was a true warrior on Sunday," the Notre Dame manager said. "Crystal Dunn is such a special player, with qualities like no others in the college game. Roccaro and Dunn battled like the two great players they are all 90 minutes. Funny that we were talking about boxing (Saturday's Mayweather-Canelo fight) at breakfast that morning, but this was truly a Hagler vs. Leonard bout!"
Along with Roccaro, Waldrum also saw plenty of positives from the remainder of his back line.
"Sammy (Scofield) and Katie (Naughton) were very good defensively for us," he said. "They bottled up most attacks that came in centrally, and didn't allow Carolina to get into good goal scoring positions for the most part."
Freshman goalkeeper Kaela Little (Tulsa, Okla./Bishop Kelley) finished the day with five saves to record the third shutout of her freshman season. It was a remarkable reversal from her ACC debut at North Carolina State on three days earlier, when the rookie bobbled a free kick from midfield in the sixth minute, giving the Wolfpack an early 1-0 lead before Notre Dame stormed back to win 3-1.
"(Goalkeeper) Kaela (Little) was outstanding, rebounding very well from a poor goal at N.C. State," Waldrum said. "She showed some incredible mental toughness and focus to put the State game behind her, and to perform as well as she did as a freshman on the road against Carolina. She was everything we expected her to be when we recruited her."
It's been said that some of the best times for a coach to make corrections and adjustments is after a victory, and Waldrum certainly acknowledged there was room for growth following Sunday's win in Chapel Hill.
"I was disappointed that we were not able to counter very efficiently in the second half, although we had two really good scoring opportunities between (Karin) Simonian and (Mandy) Laddish," he said. "We need to improve that part of our game, as we'll face other teams that put us under pressure in the ACC, and we will have to be able to hold the ball better. Our midfield and forwards have to do a better job so we can link up and play out more efficiently."
YOU LOOK FAMILIAR
One of the funnier moments of the weekend for Notre Dame took place Friday night when the Fighting Irish players and staff joined members of the Notre Dame Club of Eastern North Carolina for a special dinner celebration.
During the meal, Waldrum took time to meet with 25-30 alumni, friends and family who were on hand for the event, at one point stopping at a table that featured a Notre Dame alum and his family, including a 12-year-old boy. As Waldrum began speaking, the young man (who had only heard the coach's voice with its familiar Texas twang) turned over his shoulder to look at the Fighting Irish manager and immediately did a double-take, exclaiming "Wow, Coach ... I thought for a second you were Chuck Norris!"
Needless to say, the Notre Dame travel party jumped all over that comment, changing the skipper's title to "Waldrum, Texas Ranger" and a few of the players and staff even came up with a few "Randy Waldrum Facts", playing off the popular Internet and social media phenomenon known as "Chuck Norris Facts":
Notre Dame sits alone atop the ACC standings after the first weekend of conference play, earning the full six points from its two matches (although Virginia and Maryland played only once last weekend) ... the Fighting Irish not only earned their first win over a No. 1 team since Dec. 5, 2010 (1-0 vs. Stanford in the NCAA national championship match at Cary, N.C.), but also their first win over a top-ranked squad in the regular season since Oct. 4, 1996 (2-1 in overtime over North Carolina at Durham, N.C.) ... UNC has lost just 21 times in 36 seasons of varsity competition at Fetzer Field, with Notre Dame accounting for nearly one-quarter (5) of those 21 losses ... what's more, North Carolina has been handed a shutout loss on its home turf just nine times (plus three scoreless draws) in its NCAA era (1982-present), with Notre Dame responsible for three of those nine shutout defeats (all by 1-0 scores in the 1995 NCAA national semifinals, as well as the 2008 and 2013 regular seasons) ... the Fighting Irish have won their first two road matches in a season for the sixth time in Waldrum's 15-year tenure, but the first since 2008 (the others came in 1999, 2000, 2004 and 2006) ... sophomore forward Crystal Thomas (Elgin, Ill./Wheaton Academy) continues to hold a share of the national and ACC lead in assists per match (1.00) with Virginia's Morgan Brian, while both players are second in the nation in total assists, one behind Purdue's Hadley Stuart ... Top Drawer Soccer has Notre Dame holding steady at No. 6 in this week's poll, while the new rankings from the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) and Soccer America will come out on Tuesday, along with the latest national and ACC Player of the Week selections.
Notre Dame kicks off the home portion of its inaugural ACC schedule at 7 p.m. (ET) Thursday when it welcomes fellow conference newcomer Syracuse to Alumni Stadium. The match will be streamed live and free of charge on the official Fighting Irish athletics multimedia platform, WatchND.
The Orange (4-4, 0-2 ACC) come into Thursday's contest having dropped three in a row, including their first two conference matches last weekend by identical 3-0 scores at No. 2 Virginia and No. RV/22 Virginia Tech. Syracuse will wrapping up a three-match ACC road swing when it comes to Notre Dame on Thursday night, visiting Alumni Stadium for the second consecutive season. Last year, the Fighting Irish edged the Orange, 1-0 in the BIG EAST Championship quarterfinals on Roccaro's goal with 12:47 remaining.
Thursday's match also has been designated as a "White Out" at Alumni Stadium, with the first 750 fans in attendance receiving free Notre Dame women's soccer "White Out" t-shirts in support of the team's first-ever ACC home match.
Season and single-match tickets for Notre Dame women's soccer 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