Nov. 7, 2011
NOTRE DAME, Ind. -- For the 19th consecutive season, the Notre Dame women's soccer team (10-7-3) has earned a berth in the NCAA Championship. The defending national champion Fighting Irish received an at-large bid to the tournament, with Notre Dame beginning its journey towards the program's fourth NCAA title at 1 p.m. CT (2 p.m. ET in South Bend) Sunday, when it travels to Champaign, Ill., for a first-round match against Big Ten Conference tournament champion and No. 18/13 Illinois (16-4-2) at the Illinois Track & Soccer Stadium.
Tickets for Sunday's NCAA Championship first-round match against the Fighting Illini will be available by contacting the Notre Dame Murnane Family Ticket Office by phone (574-631-7356) or in person (Gate 9 in the Rosenthal Atrium at Purcell Pavilion) from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (ET) weekdays. Fans also can contact the Illinois Athletics Ticket Office by phone (217-333-3470; 866-455-4641) or by going online to www.athletics.illinois.edu/tickets.
"It's definitely been a challenging season for us, but we're excited to be part of this year's NCAA tournament," Notre Dame head coach Randy Waldrum said. "We've had some anxious moments the past few days waiting for the bracket to come out, and in the end, we're pleased to have the opportunity to defend our championship on the field. Illinois is an extremely talented and well-coached team, as they showed by winning the Big Ten Tournament in overtime against Penn State yesterday, and it will be a test for us to go down there and play them at their place. I think we're all looking forward to getting back out on the practice field tomorrow and starting to prepare for this weekend's game."
The Fighting Irish enter the NCAA Championship having gone unbeaten in seven of their last nine matches while advancing to the semifinals of the BIG EAST Conference Championship for the 15th time in the program's 17-year membership in that league. Along the way, Notre Dame defeated No. 5/9 Marquette, 1-0 on Oct. 30 in Milwaukee, the centerpiece in a set of five shutouts during those nine matches, not counting a sixth contest that was on the verge of being a clean sheet until DePaul scored in the final minute of a 5-1 Fighting Irish win on Oct. 21 at Alumni Stadium.
Notre Dame is led by senior forward/tri-captain Melissa Henderson (Garland, Texas/Berkner), who recently earned first-team all-BIG EAST honors for the third time after leading the conference with 18 goals and 44 points. Senior defender-midfielder/tri-captain Jessica Schuveiller (Plano, Texas/Plano West) also was a first-team all-BIG EAST selection after posting career highs of six goals and 14 points, while sophomore midfielder Mandy Laddish (Lee's Summit, Mo./Lee's Summit) was a second-team all-conference choice after tying for fourth in the BIG EAST with seven assists (second on the team). Freshman forward Lauren Bohaboy (Mission Viejo, Calif./Santa Margarita) rounded out the Fighting Irish conference honorees, claiming a spot on the BIG EAST All-Rookie Team after chalking up six goals and 15 points this season.
The past seven years have seen the NCAA shift to a different seeding system for the tournament, abandoning the format where there were 16 national seeds that were assigned number 1-16. The current format has four seeds (listed 1-4) in each of the four quadrants of the bracket. Notre Dame is unseeded in its portion of the bracket, with the tournament's overall top seed, Stanford (19-0-1) the No. 1 seed in the Fighting Irish quadrant, Oklahoma State (19-1-2) the second seed, Auburn (14-6-2) the third seed and Boston College (11-5-2) the No. 4 seed. If the Fighting Irish advance, they would be in line for a possible second-round match at Oklahoma State on Nov. 18 (the Cowgirls play host to Arkansas-Pine Bluff in a first-round contest), with that potentially being a rematch of last year's NCAA Championship quarterfinal, also in Stillwater, Okla., and won by Notre Dame, 2-0.
This year's NCAA Championship features a new scheduling format, with 32 campus sites hosting first-round matches this weekend. The remaining teams then will move on to next weekend's action, which features second- and third-round contests on Nov. 18 & 20, also on campus at the highest remaining seeds in that portion of the bracket. The quarterfinals then will be played during the weekend of Nov. 25-27, also at the highest remaining seeds.
The 30th annual NCAA Division I Women's College Cup will be played December 2 and 4 at KSU Soccer Stadium in Kennesaw, Ga., with the national semifinals (at 5:00 and 7:30 p.m. ET) to be televised live to a national audience (first semifinal by ESPNU, second semifinal on ESPN3.com), and the title contest to air live at 1 p.m. ET on ESPNU.
The Fighting Irish also are one of four BIG EAST teams selected for this year's NCAA Championship, joining Marquette, West Virginia and Louisville in the 64-team field.
Illinois is making its 10th trip to the NCAA Championship, and third in four seasons. The Fighting Illini started a bit slowly this season, but have come alive down the stretch, going unbeaten in their last 11 matches (10-0-1), including three consecutive overtime contests at the Big Ten Championship last weekend in Evanston, Ill. (shootout victory over Ohio State, followed by wins over Michigan State and Penn State). Illinois also finished second in the Big Ten standings with an 8-2-1 record, having avenged their regular-season losses to Ohio State and Penn State during the conference tournament.
Despite their geographic proximity, this will mark only the second time the two sides have squared off on the soccer pitch, having previously tangled in the second round of the 2007 NCAA tournament, a 2-0 Fighting Irish victory at old Alumni Field. Notre Dame also has played the Fighting Illini numerous times during the spring season, most recently on April 27, 2009, in the Kicks Against Breast Cancer Tournament at Soldier Field in Chicago (a 4-0 Notre Dame win in a match shortened to 60 minutes by weather). The teams were poised to square off in the second round of last year's NCAA Championship when Illinois was assigned to Notre Dame's Alumni Stadium for its first-round match against USC, but the Fighting Illini fell to the Trojans, 3-1.
The Fighting Irish and Illinois have played two common opponents this season -- Wisconsin and Louisville. Notre Dame defeated UW, 2-0 in its season opener back on Aug. 19 at Alumni Stadium, before dropping a pair of one-goal decisions to Louisville (1-0 on Sept. 16 at Alumni Stadium, 2-1 on Nov. 4 at the BIG EAST Championship semifinals in Morgantown, W.Va.). Conversely, the Fighting Illini went on the road to defeat Louisville, 2-1 in overtime on Aug. 28, and also downed Wisconsin, 1-0 on Oct. 16 in Champaign, Ill.
Notre Dame owns a 1-6-1 record this season versus teams in the 2011 NCAA field, earning a 1-0 win at Marquette in the BIG EAST Championship quarterfinals on Oct. 30, as well as a 1-1 draw at Santa Clara on Sept. 11. It should be noted that five of those six losses were by one goal, with two coming in overtime (2-1 at North Carolina on Aug. 26; 3-2 at Marquette on Sept. 25) and another coming via two goals in the final 10 minutes (2-1 at Stanford on Sept. 9).
Last season, the Fighting Irish won their third NCAA national championship with a 1-0 victory over Stanford in the title match, courtesy of a goal by current sophomore forward Adriana Leon (Maple, Ontario/The Country Day School) in the 63rd minute. That victory capped a run that saw Notre Dame outscore its six tournament opponents by a combined 15-1 margin and post five shutouts along the way (the last four wins and three clean sheets coming away from home). The Fighting Irish also made their program-record fifth consecutive NCAA College Cup appearance and sixth in seven years, with Henderson being named the College Cup Most Outstanding Offensive Player and Schuveiller garnering the College Cup Most Outstanding Defensive Player award.
The Fighting Irish have a 59-15-1 all-time record (.793) in NCAA tournament play, including 6-2-1 (.722) in NCAA games played on an opponent's home pitch. In addition to last year's crown, Notre Dame earned NCAA titles in 1995 and 2004, joining North Carolina as the only three-time champions in the history of the tournament, and the Fighting Irish have finished as the NCAA runner-up five times (1994, 1996, 1999, 2006 and 2008), as part of their 12 NCAA College Cup berths (also semifinalist in 1997, 2000 and 2007), all since 1994.
With this year's selection, Notre Dame also extends the second-longest active streak of consecutive NCAA Championship berths with 19, trailing only North Carolina (30) in that category. Notre Dame and UNC remain the only teams to have reached the final-32 or further in every NCAA Championship since 1993, and remain 1-2 in virtually all tournament appearance records in that time -- round-of-16 trips (UNC-18, ND-16), quarterfinals since 1994 (ND-14, UNC-14), College Cup berths since 1994 (UNC-13, ND-12) and title match appearances since 1994 (UNC-11, ND-8; no one else with more than three).
For more information on the Notre Dame women's soccer program, join the Fighting Irish women's soccer news Twitter page (@NDsoccernews) or sign up for the Irish ALERT text-messaging system through the "Fan Center" pulldown menu on the main page at UND.com.