Sept. 30, 2013
NOTRE DAME, Ind. -- The line between success and failure in sports is a narrow one, a margin so slim that every decision can tip the balance in either direction.
Notre Dame women's soccer head coach Randy Waldrum has been faced with more than his share of tough calls in his 24 seasons on the sidelines. While a few of those choices haven't panned out, one need only look at Waldrum's 395 career wins and two national championships as proof-positive that the Fighting Irish manager knows his stuff.
The latest test of Waldrum's soccer acumen came a week ago, as his Notre Dame squad was enjoying an off-weekend in the rugged Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). After beginning the season with 19 goals in their first six matches, the No. 5/3 Fighting Irish had seen their high-powered offense slow to a crawl, despite consecutive 1-0 wins over No. 1 North Carolina and Syracuse.
Some observers would say it's not wise to mess with a good thing, as Notre Dame had won four in a row (three by shutout), including a road victory over the top-ranked team in the country, and had seemingly bounced back well from its first loss of the season (1-0 to No. 4/2 UCLA on Sept. 1 at Alumni Stadium). The Fighting Irish also appeared to be gelling as far as their personnel groupings were concerned, most notably in the midfield, where Notre Dame's trio of freshman Morgan Andrews (Milford, N.H./Milford), senior tri-captain Mandy Laddish (Lee's Summit, Mo./Lee's Summit) and sophomore Cari Roccaro (East Islip, N.Y./East Islip) was rapidly evolving into one of the nation's top units in the center of the park.
However, Waldrum already saw things in a larger context, looking further down the road in ACC play and realizing that his Fighting Irish couldn't afford to continue living on 1-0 victories if they hoped to achieve their ultimate goals later in the season. Thus, he made the difficult decision to break up his talented midfield triumvirate, moving Roccaro up to the forward line in place of classmate Crystal Thomas (Elgin, Ill./Wheaton Academy) and adding sophomore midfielder Glory Williams (Dallas, Texas/Lake Highlands) to the starting lineup.
The tactical switch was mainly designed to energize the Notre Dame offense, putting Roccaro back in a role where she scored six goals last season on the way to third-team All-America honors from the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) and her selection as the Soccer America National Freshman of the Year. It also allowed the speedy Thomas (who has two goals and seven assists to her credit this season) to anchor a dynamic second attack unit for the Fighting Irish, similar to a hockey line change.
The Fighting Irish debuted their new lineup for last Thursday's match against No. 21/22 Maryland at Alumni Stadium, and the reviews were universally positive. Roccaro potted a hat trick, the first by a Notre Dame player against a Top 25 team in seven years, and Thomas added the team's critical second goal with six seconds left in the first half as the Fighting Irish rolled to a 5-0 win over the Terrapins.
Four days later, Notre Dame was back on its home pitch to welcome Pittsburgh and again, Roccaro was front and center. This time, the Long Island native factored into all three Fighting Irish goals, assisting on goals by Laddish and junior forward Lauren Bohaboy (Mission Viejo, Calif./Santa Margarita), bookending her own long-range score just 49 seconds into the second half, as Notre Dame blanked the Panthers, 3-0.
"The position switch was due to things we saw in our previous games, as well as how we look ahead to our long-term seasonal plan," Waldrum said. "We were getting stagnant offensively and not creating goals for a few weeks. As I looked forward to the rest of the ACC schedule and the conference tournament, I simply realized we couldn't get through like we did at Carolina by just hanging on defensively. We had to do something to generate more consistency in the attack and Cari was the answer.
"We probably could have continued through the season, winning some more games, maybe losing one or two along the way, but making the playoffs once again," he added. "However, I don't think with the rigors of the ACC or the NCAA tournament, we would be successful if we didn't do something to generate more on the attacking side of the ball."
Waldrum's latest tactical move brought to mind another of his recent choices, one that yielded the ultimate positive result. In 2010, the Fighting Irish were upset by Connecticut, 2-0 in BIG EAST Conference Championship quarterfinals at Alumni Stadium, the first time they had ever lost a home match in the conference tournament. With the NCAA Championship looming and Notre Dame seeded fourth in its quadrant of the bracket, Waldrum made the choice to slide another versatile player, All-American Lauren Fowlkes, from center back (where she had started much of the season) to forward, where she had thrived the year before. Concurrently, Waldrum inserted veteran Molly Campbell into Fowlkes' former center back spot, putting Campbell into the crosshairs as the Fighting Irish prepared to try and run the six-match NCAA tournament gauntlet.
The decision could not have paid off better, as Notre Dame outscored its six NCAA opponents, 15-1, with Campbell and her defensive mates pitching five shutouts along the way. At the other end of the pitch, Fowlkes collected three goals and three assists as the Fighting Irish became the lowest-seeded team to win a national championship in the tournament's three-decade history, culminating with a 1-0 win over top-ranked and previously-unbeaten Stanford in the title match in Cary, N.C.
"In 2010, Molly (Campbell) was one of those players that played many positions for us," Waldrum said. "We had also come to the realization early on that we may need Lauren (Fowlkes) up front for us in order to score goals. So after the loss in the BIG EAST tournament, we tried Molly as a center back and she took to the position really well, and we were able to make those changes.
"Hopefully, this year's move is the right one, and so far, so good," he added. "Cari's play has become contagious up front for the rest of our forwards, and it's raised the intensity level all around."
TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS
"Cari certainly was very special for us up front," the Fighting Irish boss said. "She is creative, confident, dynamic, something different than what we have up front. She was very effective coming back into midfield to get the ball, as well as she has a `take on' mentality that we need. Lauren Bohaboy had two really good games - even though she didn't score against Maryland, she created two of the goals with her defensive work, and then scored one against Pitt. Our midfield also continues to improve as Mandy and Morgan become more comfortable with each other, and Glory (Williams) had two really good starts in midfield as well. These three controlled both games for us very well this past week.
"Defensively, our team continues to get better each game, and I would say we collectively were very good both on Thursday against a very good Maryland team, and on Sunday against Pitt," he added. "We didn't give up too many true goal-scoring opportunities in either game. (Freshman midfielder) Emily Geyer played well on Sunday against Pitt, and she may be our most improved player from preseason until now - I'm really proud of the developments she has made. It was also good to get (freshman forward) Kaleigh Olmsted some playing time these past two games coming off of her ankle injury. We will need her as we move forward through the ACC. (Freshman midfielders Cindy) Pineda and (Rilka) Noel also continue to impress and get better with each and every game."
Wake Forest (8-2-1, 3-2-1 ACC) is currently in fifth place in the ACC on 10 points, following a 1-0 win at Syracuse on Sunday afternoon. Junior midfielder Riley Ridgik moved into a tie for team-high scoring honors, netting her sixth goal of the year just 9:53 into the match and the Demon Deacons made it stand up, as senior goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe collected her fifth shutout of the campaign.
Wake Forest will be making just its second all-time visit to South Bend, and first in more than 15 years (Sept. 27, 1998), when Notre Dame posted a 3-0 win at old Alumni Field. However, the Fighting Irish and Demon Deacons did meet just last season in the second round of the NCAA Championship in Gainesville, Fla., with Notre Dame rallying for a 2-1 victory on Thomas' goal with 19:35 remaining. The Fighting Irish are 3-0 all-time against Wake Forest, having also earned a 3-0 victory in 2003 in Storrs, Conn.
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