Oct. 2, 2013
#4/3 NOTRE DAME "Fighting Irish" (9-1-0/5-0-0 ACC) vs. #13/11 WAKE FOREST "Demon Deacons" (8-2-1/3-2-1 ACC)
DATE: Oct. 3, 2013
A prime example of these special relationships will be on display at 7 p.m. (ET) Thursday when No. 4/3 Notre Dame plays host to No. 13/11 Wake Forest in the last of a four-match Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) homestand at Alumni Stadium (live stream at WatchND).
When Thursday's match kicks off, Fighting Irish senior tri-captain/midfielder Mandy Laddish (Lee's Summit, Mo./Lee's Summit) and sophomore forward Cari Roccaro (East Islip, N.Y./East Islip) will be squaring off with a familiar face in Wake Forest senior forward Katie Stengel. While the trio wear different uniforms at the college level, for a month in 2012, they all wore the colors of their country, suiting up for the United States at the FIFA Under-20 Women's World Cup in Japan.
Although half a world away and far from their college campuses, the three players already had become fast friends through pre-tournament camps and training, united by a common purpose to win a world championship. That goal came to fruition on Sept. 8, 2012, when the United States earned its third FIFA U-20 World Cup title with a 1-0 victory over previously-unbeaten Germany. It was a memory that none of them will forget and it bonded the three of them forever.
Playing alongside one another, each player recognized the skill and talent the others possess and the value they bring on the pitch, not only to the American side, but also for their college programs back home. In fact, all three players are starting for their respective teams and are key reasons why both Notre Dame and Wake Forest are ranked among the top 15 squads in the country, part of a high-powered ACC lineup that features half its members in the national polls.
Roccaro and Laddish started side-by-side in the Fighting Irish midfield before Roccaro moved up to the forward line last week and piled up 10 points (four goals and two assists) in wins over No. 21/22 Maryland and Pittsburgh. Laddish was the beneficiary on the latter of Roccaro's career-high two assists against Pittsburgh, scoring in the 64th minute to cap a 3-0 Notre Dame victory.
Meanwhile, Stengel leads a potent Demon Deacons' offense with six goals and seven assists, ranking among the top five in the ACC in points, goals, assists and match-winning goals. It's a statistical cornucopia that comes as absolutely no surprise to Roccaro and Laddish.
"I love Katie so much, but hate playing against her," Roccaro said. "She's so strong on the ball and so technically good and quick, it makes her hard to defend. I admire how hard she works, I'm honored to be her friend, and I'm looking forward to seeing her tomorrow night."
"The Katie Stengel you see on the field is a much different person than the Katie Stengel off the field," Laddish said. "At first glance, she's often misinterpreted by those who are intimidated by her size. Her height (5-foot-8) and strength give her the appearance of an `Abby Wambach'-type player, someone who can hold the ball and dominate in the air, but may have less technical ability or mobility. However, Katie's technical ability is her biggest strength. Her delicate touch, and swift movement allow her to dance around her opponents in a very elegant way. Her technical prowess is also matched with her incredible speed. She is one of the fastest forwards in the country and her work ethic makes her not only an offensive threat, but a defensive threat as well."
As quick as both Roccaro and Laddish point out Stengel's athleticism and fluidity on the pitch, they also note that she's one of the funniest and most outgoing personalities you'll find away from the soccer ground. A native of Melbourne, Fla., Stengel is quick to poke fun at herself, capitalize on what her teammates might call her `awkward' or `goofy' nature. It's a quality that not only puts those around her at ease, but often helps build the chemistry necessary for success with national and international teams where players are often thrust together in high-profile settings for short periods of time.
"Katie has a weird comical awkwardness about her that she embraces and uses as a mode of entertainment," Laddish recalls. "She is never serious and is typically a source of laughter, whether it be from comments she makes, her awkward actions, or from being the butt of a joke. She and I share the same sense of weird humor, and she is probably one of my best friends. There are times when we are joking around, goofing off, and I can't breathe because of my laughter.
"After we won the World Cup, the team all went to dinner at a karaoke restaurant," Laddish continued. "Katie and I decided to tackle Nelly's `Hot In Herre", so I sang and rapped, and she decided she wanted to be my backup dancer. The song started and the second Katie starts to dance, the team and coaching staff busted out laughing. Katie is the most awkward individual I know, mainly because of her size, and her dancing is a direct reflection of that. She was mixing `The Wave' and the `Walk Like An Egyptian' dance with `The Dougie' and her own interpretation of `twerking'. She was completely serious and it only got worse from there. After our performance, our coach (current Virginia manager Steve Swanson) actually commented on how good her moves were, and he was dead serious."
Stengel's awkwardness occasionally extends the training ground. Roccaro noted a time during practice for the U-20 World Cup when Stengel and the American forwards were going through a series of agility drills using cones, sticks and stationary plastic cutouts of defenders, sometimes called "blue men" or "dummies" by the players.
"Katie is so fun to be around and she's never too serious, but she's an easy target to pick on because she's so awkward and goofy sometimes," Roccaro said. "That time in training, she was supposed to take on the (plastic) dummy in a 1-v-1 and she literally ran right into it and fell on her face. All the space she had around it, on either side, and she managed to go right into it. That's part of why she's always bringing a smile to my face."
For all the jokes and laughter that Roccaro, Laddish and Stengel have shared in recent years, as soon as the whistle blows and the ball is kicked on Thursday night, it's all business and the Fighting Irish will have their hands full with a talented Demon Deacon side that is not just a one-person show.
Notre Dame head coach Randy Waldrum has had the opportunity to work with both Stengel and Wake Forest senior goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe (0.61 GAA, 5 ShO) in his role as the coach of the U.S. U-23 Women's National Team and he knows exactly what kind of challenge the Fighting Irish will be up against on Thursday.
"Wake is a very good team, collectively," Waldrum said. "They are solid in goal with (Aubrey) and add to her a very solid back line, an active midfield led by (redshirt senior) Ally Berry, and then of course an absolute goal scoring machine in Katie (Stengel), and you have a top 10 team for sure.
"Katie is a very special player," he added. "She is big and strong, physically dominant, and very skillful with the ball. She has a great feel for how to run without the ball, how to get into spaces that are dangerous, and she's lethal with her finishing. She will certainly be a handful for us tomorrow.
"Much like most of the ACC teams, Wake will try to play and possess the ball," Waldrum concluded. "We love playing these type of teams because that is our style as well. It should be a great matchup for both teams, and the fans will certainly get to witness a very high-level game. It will be important that we stay disciplined in our responsibilities, and that we maintain our focus for the entire 90 minutes."
THE NOTRE DAME-WAKE FOREST SERIES
The Fighting Irish, who also defeated the Demon Deacons in 2003 (3-0 in Storrs, Conn.) and 2012 (2-1 in Gainesville, Fla.), own an 8-1 aggregate goal advantage in the series against Wake Forest.
THE LAST TIME NOTRE DAME AND WAKE FOREST MET
Thomas perfectly timed her run to gather in a chip over the top by midfielder/tri-captain Mandy Laddish, just beating Wake Forest goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe to the ball at the top right of the box. Thomas then rounded the sprawling netminder and deftly tucked her 12-yard shot inside the far left post for her 10th goal of the season.
Forward Cari Roccaro scored the tying goal for Notre Dame in the 59th minute, capping a set piece that featured three Fighting Irish rookies. Defender Brittany Von Rueden served a dangerous corner kick from the right flag, to another freshman, midfielder Glory Williams, who settled the ball at the penalty spot with a quick pass to Roccaro on the right edge of the six-yard box. Roccaro then alertly poked a shot through traffic into the Demon Deacons' net for her first NCAA Championship goal.
Goalkeeper Elyse Hight earned the victory in the Notre Dame net, registering two saves and expertly commanding the penalty area from a series of late crosses by Wake Forest.
The Demon Deacons finished with a 9-6 edge in total shots, including a 3-2 margin in shots on goal. Wake Forest also earned a 7-4 advantage on corner kicks, while the Fighting Irish were whistled for 10 of the 16 fouls in the match (as well as the lone yellow card).
OTHER NOTRE DAME-WAKE FOREST SERIES TIDBITS
LAST TIME OUT: PITTSBURGH
It was the second stellar performance in four days for the versatile All-American, who came into the week without a point all season, but promptly netted her first career hat trick on Sept. 26 in a 5-0 win over No. 21/22 Maryland. For the weekend, she finished with 10 points on four goals and two assists, factoring into six of the eight Fighting Irish scores.
Junior forward Lauren Bohaboy got Notre Dame on the board less than 20 minutes into the match with her team-leading sixth goal of the year (and third match-winner), and senior midfielder/tri-captain Mandy Laddish capped off the comprehensive victory, scoring her first goal of the campaign in the 64th minute.
Freshman goalkeeper Kaela Little wasn't asked to make a save in 79 minutes of action before giving way to junior Sarah Voigt, who came up with one save in the closing minutes to preserve Notre Dame's fourth consecutive shutout and fifth in the past six matches.
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: PITTSBURGH
UP NEXT: MIAMI (FLA.)
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-- Chris Masters, Associate Athletic Media Relations Director