Sept. 27, 2013
NOTRE DAME, Ind. -- A while back, one of the more popular gifts for a teenage boy was a Swiss Army knife. Many were fascinated not only with its compact size, but the numerous different things it can do.
For seemingly every one of the past 15 seasons, Notre Dame head coach Randy Waldrum has received a Swiss Army knife as a gift. However, his present didn't come in a stocking or a small box with the ubiquitous Swiss emblem on it. Instead, it's come in the form of players in the Fighting Irish women's soccer program who have offered a level of versatility on the pitch that would make even the makers of the fabled pocket knife jealous.
The names are familiar to Notre Dame fans -- Monica Gonzalez, Vanessa Pruzinsky, Candace Chapman, Melissa Tancredi, Lauren Fowlkes. They are just a few of the multi-talented players to come through the Fighting Irish program and thrive at numerous positions. All of them would go on to earn major national honors as All-Americans and/or Academic All-Americans, some would earn national championships, and a few would even go on to play in World Cups and Olympic competitions (Chapman and Tancredi earning bronze medals with Team Canada at the 2012 London Games).
"That's one of the things we look for in recruiting -- versatility," Waldrum said. "When players have this quality, it makes them much more attractive to us, especially the way we play. We have had many players over the years and top players that have played in multiple positions for us and done very well. Monica (Gonzalez) was a Parade All-American as a forward in high school, and during her second year here, I moved her to outside back and then eventually as a center back. She went on to represent Mexico in the World Cup as a center back. Vanessa (Pruzinsky) was a Gatorade National High School Player of the Year as a forward, and we converted her to an outside back where she was an All-American and U.S. youth national team member for us in that position. Melissa (Tancredi) was a forward and continues to be one for the Canadian National Team, yet she was our center back on the 2004 NCAA national championship team.
"The list goes on and on, and I think they just represent the quality of the players that we are looking for here at Notre Dame," he added. "These decisions (to move players to other positions) are usually based solely on the need of the team at a particular moment, and because of their talents and versatility, that is why they are so valuable to us."
Waldrum's latest version of the "tool with 1,001 uses" is sophomore Cari Roccaro (East Islip, N.Y./East Islip), who has played just 24 matches in a Notre Dame uniform, but already has seen time at all three field positions. Not only has she has successfully competed at almost every spot on the pitch, but she's sparkled, 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 last season.
Roccaro's versatility has even extended to the international level, as she has played both midfield and now center back for the United States Under-20 Women's National Team that won the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup last September in Japan. As the second-youngest player on that team, she started four times in that tournament, including all three matches in the knockout round, and her youth means she will have a second turn with the U-20s at next year's World Cup in Canada, this time as the squad's captain.
"I think it comes naturally to me to be able to play all positions," Roccaro said. "I've never actually been set on playing one position my whole life. My role on the field varies depending on the team I'm playing for. At times, it's a challenge to adjust to because I'm constantly moving from position to position, and not always focusing on one style of play."
One need only look at Notre Dame's 5-0 win over No. 21/22 Maryland on Thursday night at Alumni Stadium to understand Roccaro's value to the Fighting Irish program. With the team's offense having stagnated a bit in the past two contests, scoring just two goals, Waldrum elected to move Roccaro up to the forward line after she had started the first seven matches of the season in the midfield.
The attacking role was nothing new to Roccaro, who had seen significant time there last year, scoring six goals. However, she had yet to find the back of the net this season. That all changed a little more than a half-hour into Thursday's contest with Maryland, as Roccaro took a pass from junior forward Lauren Bohaboy (Mission Viejo, Calif./Santa Margarita) and buried a 10-yard shot past Terrapin goalkeeper Rachelle Beanlands.
Now officially on the scoresheet in 2013, Roccaro didn't stop there, scoring again in the 55th minute thanks to some nifty teamwork with Bohaboy to force a Maryland turnover deep in their territory that led to Roccaro's 1-v-1 opportunity and second goal of the night.
Less than five minutes later, she capped off her first career hat trick, and the first by a Notre Dame player against a ranked opponent since 2006 (as well as the first against any foe in two years), poking home a cross from junior forward Karin Simonian (Westbury, N.Y./W.T. Clarke).
When the dust settled, Roccaro had three goals in less than an hour of work, a remarkable feat for a player whose value is as much apparent in the locker room and behind the scenes as it is on the pitch.
"Cari is one of the best players I've been fortunate enough to play with," said sophomore defender/tri-captain Katie Naughton (Elk Grove Village, Ill./Elk Grove). "She's really the whole package -- technical, fast, physical, agile and has a ton of soccer savvy. She's one of those players you love to play with, but hate playing against because you know she will always bring her `A' game.
"With the U-20s (where Roccaro and Naughton are currently the starting center backs), she dominates the scene," Naughton added. "I've been lucky to be able to play next to her in the back and learn from her style of play. I can honestly say that she's shown me how to become a better player, even if she doesn't know it. Her ability to come into new environments and create a team atmosphere is incredible. She's really the glue that holds the team together, both here at Notre Dame and the U-20 level."
While Notre Dame fans may just now be getting a glimpse of Roccaro's versatility, it's nothing new to Simonian, who grew up not far away from Roccaro on Long Island and has played alongside her for many years in both club soccer with Albertson SC and now with the Fighting Irish.
"I believe what makes Cari such a versatile player is the competitiveness she has inside her, that drive to be the best at whatever position she's playing," Simonian said. "She has a great soccer brain and that, combined with her size and strength, make her an asset anywhere on the field."
"As tough as it is to go from one position to another, it's fun for me to be able to help my team out a different way each game, whether I'm scoring goals or helping to stop them," Roccaro said. "As long as we're getting the win, I'm happy to play wherever Coach wants to put me."
"I thought we were really good all around on both sides of the ball," he said. "Having said that, our pressure defensively, which was initiated by our forwards, really set the tempo for the game. Cari (Roccaro) was not only outstanding in the goals that she scored and the attacks she created, but she was equally impressive in the way she pressed Maryland's back line. Her change of pace and intensity really picked up the level of play for Lauren (Bohaboy) and Karin (Simonian), and that transferred into our entire team. We had their back line under constant pressure which did two things: it created turnovers, which resulted in two of the goals, and it didn't allow them to set their play or get any sort of rhythm in their possession game."
Not to be overlooked in the wide margin of victory was the play of Notre Dame's defense, which registered its third consecutive shutout and fourth in the past five matches.
"Katie (Naughton), who mostly handled (Maryland's leading scorer) Hayley Brock, did an outstanding job on shutting her down," Waldrum said. "Sammy (Scofield) was very good as well, and between the two of them, Maryland got very little going, and we were able to completely take Brock and Spivey out of the game. Rebecca (Twining) and Liz (Tucker) both gave us great attacks out of the outside back areas, and Tucker had a great assist on the key second goal right before halftime. Our midfield played very well together with (Glory) Williams, (Morgan) Andrews, and (Mandy) Laddish. Their decision-making, for the most part, was really good, and when that works for us, our entire team clicks."
The Fighting Irish also were able to capitalize on their depth against Maryland, with 22 players seeing action in the victory. It's an aspect of Notre Dame's game that Waldrum believes will be critical as the season wears on.
"Rilka (Noel) and Cindy (Pineda) came on in midfield and gave us some really good performances," the Fighting Irish manager said. "It was great to get them some quality playing time against a Top 25 team. Kaleigh (Olmsted) did well coming back from her injury, and played well up front for us. Anna Maria (Gilbertson) showed, especially in the second half, what she is capable of doing. She has flair, creativity, and can strike the ball with either foot from distance. When she plays free and doesn't think so much, she is really a special player. She scored a great goal for us with some of that creativity last night. We now need to simply continue to build on that performance as we move forward in the ACC."
Sunday's contest is designated as the program's "White Out" match, with the first 750 fans receiving a free "Notre Dame Women's Soccer White Out" t-shirt. In addition, there will be a pre-match youth soccer clinic from 11-11:45 a.m. (ET) at the ND Practice Field (east of Alumni Stadium behind the Eck Baseball Stadium outfield wall), open to children in grades pre-K through eighth grade, with free admission when buying a $2 ticket to the Notre Dame-Pittsburgh match. Registration will close at 100 participants with more information available through Notre Dame's Murnane Family Athletics Ticket Office.
Pittsburgh (4-6-1, 0-5 ACC) is visiting Alumni Stadium for the second consecutive season, having dropped a narrow 2-1 decision to the Fighting Irish in a driving rainstorm last year. The Panthers have found the sledding rough in their inaugural ACC campaign, dropping their first five conference matches, most recently a 1-0 decision at home to No. 6 North Carolina on Thursday night. Pitt has scored just one goal in those five ACC contests, although that lone score came early on at home against top-ranked Virginia, before the Cavaliers rallied for a 3-1 victory on Sept. 22.
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