Nov. 5, 2013
NOTRE DAME, Ind. -- Hall of Fame baseball player and broadcaster Yogi Berra is credited with the famous line: "it's déjà vu all over again."
While the legendary New York Yankee certainly is known for his ability to mangle the English language, his sentiments clearly ring true when applied to the No. 23/16 Notre Dame women's soccer team.
The Fighting Irish have had more than their share of near-misses and close calls this season, playing nine matches decided by 0-1 goals, including six of their last nine outings, all since Oct. 3. However, in what has become a recurring theme throughout the campaign, Notre Dame is 2-6-1 in those close matches (0-5-1 in the past month), with five of the last six going to double overtime and four of those resulting in losses (three on the road against top-five opponents).
The latest in this frustrating cycle for the Fighting Irish came Sunday afternoon in Blacksburg, Va., when Notre Dame took an early one-goal lead in its Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Championship quarterfinal at No. 5 Virginia Tech, only to see the Hokies tie the score 10 minutes into the second half, then eventually win 2-1 on a goal with 1:13 left in double overtime against a Notre Dame side that was down to 10 players after an ejection in the 76th minute.
Since returning to campus, Fighting Irish head coach Randy Waldrum has given his charges the past two days off to heal their bodies and minds from what has been a difficult final month of the season -- Notre Dame opened the campaign at 9-1, but has gone 2-6-1 since then.
A veteran with more than 30 years of coaching experience under his belt, Waldrum understands that as quickly as the ill winds of fortune have blown into his team's camp, they can just as easily turn for the better, particularly with the extended break his team will have to recuperate before the NCAA Championship.
He also recalls the last time a Fighting Irish squad had an early exit from the conference tournament and a long wait before beginning NCAA tournament action. In 2010, Notre Dame dropped a 2-0 decision at home to Connecticut in the BIG EAST Championship quarterfinals. The Fighting Irish then spent the next 12 days going through some of the highest-level training sessions in Waldrum's 15-year tenure, and the results were staggering, as Notre Dame reeled off six consecutive wins and outscored its opponents, 15-1, en route to winning the program's third national championship.
"I am so proud of this team and how they battle each and every week," Waldrum said. "The results aren't what any of us want at the moment, but we are actually playing pretty well these past five games. Our losses this season have all come from top 10 teams with the exception of Miami (2-0 on Oct. 6), and most in overtime or in the last five minutes of the game. We will get this corrected and we will still be able to make a championship run in the NCAAs, I'm sure. To see how our team played their hearts out for about 33 minutes a player down on the road at Virginia Tech would have made any Irish supporter proud.
"I don't know that I have been more proud of any team that we've had here than I am with this one," he added. "We have fought so hard and so well, and the effort has been tremendous. I am a big believer that if you keep doing things right, it will pay off in the end. I believe in this team, and do believe there is still a lot of soccer left to the season."
Notre Dame played its ninth ranked opponent of the season on Sunday, the most for the Fighting Irish in one season since 2008, when they played 10 Top 25 foes ... it also was the fifth match against a top-five opponent for Notre Dame, and the sixth against a top-10 foe for the Fighting Irish (both the most since 1999, Waldrum's first season, when they played five top-five teams and eight top-10 squads, the majority of which came in the NCAA Championship) ... Sunday's match marked the first time Notre Dame went to overtime in a postseason contest since Nov. 6, 2009, when the Fighting Irish defeated St. John's 2-1, in the BIG EAST Championship semifinals at Storrs, Conn., on Jessica Schuveiller's golden goal in the 99th minute ... Sunday's loss was the first for Notre Dame in five career overtime matches in conference tournament play (covering the Midwestern Collegiate/Horizon League, BIG EAST and ACC) -- the Fighting Irish did play to a 1-1 draw at West Virginia in the 2007 BIG EAST final before falling on penalties, 5-3 ... Sunday was the second consecutive overtime contest for Notre Dame, the first time it's played back-to-back overtime matches since Sept. 22 and 25, 2011, when the Fighting Irish tied at South Florida (1-1) and lost at Marquette (3-2) -- Notre Dame last played three consecutive OT matches from Sept. 7-21, 2001, bookending 2-1 wins over Indiana and Villanova around a 2-2 draw with Wisconsin, all at old Alumni Field ... Sunday represented the first time in the program's 26-year history that Notre Dame had lost consecutive matches in overtime, let alone double overtime, while the four OT losses this year extend the school record in that category ... this is the second time in three seasons, and the fifth time in program history that the Fighting Irish have tied the school record by playing five overtime matches in one campaign (also 1995, 2001, 2007 and 2011).
Notre Dame has filed an appeal with the NCAA, seeking to overturn the first of two yellow cards that was shown to senior defender/tri-captain Elizabeth Tucker (Jacksonville, Fla./Bishop Kenny) in the 66th minute of Sunday's ACC Championship quarterfinal loss at Virginia Tech. Tucker received a second yellow card for a professional foul less than 10 minutes later, resulting in her ejection from the match and an automatic one-match suspension.
According to video footage, Tucker's first yellow card was given during a stoppage in play after her sophomore teammate, Cari Roccaro (East Islip, N.Y./East Islip) shoved Virginia Tech's Candace Cephers while the pair were jockeying for position prior to a Hokie free kick. Cephers' teammate, Ashley Meier, then stepped in and retaliated for Roccaro's shove by pushing Roccaro herself. All the while, Tucker was stationed approximately 10 feet away from the altercation, marking another Virginia Tech player in the penalty area.
However, in what appears to be a textbook case of mistaken identity, the center referee (after consulting with his assistant on that side of the pitch) assessed yellow cards to Roccaro and Tucker (who wears jersey No. 8), instead of giving the latter card to either Cephers (No. 18) or Meier (No. 15).
If the appeal is denied, it would mean Tucker, who had never received a yellow card for any infraction during her four-year college career prior to Sunday, would have to sit out Notre Dame's first-round match in the NCAA Championship, should the Fighting Irish be selected.
It also brings up the unthinkable possibility that Tucker, one of the University's top student-athletes as a 2012 first-team Academic All-American (and prime candidate to repeat that honor this year having already earned first-team all-district accolades for the third consecutive year last week), as well as being a 4.0 student, multi-time Dean's List honoree as an accounting major and a prominent member of Notre Dame's Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) as one of her team's representatives, has played the last match of her competitive career.
Tucker has never missed a match since coming to Notre Dame, starting 84 of 89 contests to date, including all 19 matches this season at left back, a position she had never played before (she had been a midfielder and part-time forward for the Fighting Irish during her first three years). She is second among all active Notre Dame players with 18 goals, 12 assists and 48 points.
"I'm extremely disappointed for Elizabeth Tucker as she received a yellow card that should have been given to the Virginia Tech player," Waldrum said. "The video clearly shows that Liz had no part at all in the play in question. We are appealing the yellow card currently and waiting to hear back with a decision. The video has been sent to the appropriate people in the process, and we can only trust that they see it as we do. If they don't, then Liz will be our biggest supporter in the first round NCAA game if we are selected, and will be back to join us for the second round."
UP NEXT: NCAA CHAMPIONSHIP SELECTION SHOW
The 64-team field for the 2013 NCAA Championship will be announced at 4:30 p.m. (ET) Nov. 11 live at NCAA.com. Notre Dame is seeking its 21st consecutive berth in the NCAA tournament, having posted a 62-17-1 (.781) record in its 20 prior postseason trips (the second-longest active streak and third-longest all-time), winning three national championships and advancing to the NCAA Women's College Cup 12 times (both second-most in tournament history).
Last year, the Fighting Irish reached the NCAA quarterfinals with a home win over Milwaukee (3-1), followed by a neutral-site victory over third-seeded Wake Forest (2-1) and a road win at second-seeded Florida (2-0) before bowing out at top-seeded Florida State (1-0).
First-round matches in this year's NCAA Championship will be played during the weekend of Nov. 15-17, with the second and third rounds scheduled for the weekend of Nov. 22-24, and the quarterfinals penciled for Nov. 29-Dec. 1, with all matches in those first four rounds played at campus sites. The 2013 NCAA Women's College Cup will take place Dec. 6 & 8 at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C.
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