Dec. 4, 2010
CARY, N.C. (AP) - Notre Dame and Stanford are used to making it this far in the NCAA women's soccer tournament.
One team can take it a step further and claim a title. For the other, it'll be yet another loss in the championship game.
The Fighting Irish and Cardinal will meet Sunday at Noon ET on ESPN2 in the Women's College Cup final. The schools have combined for three title-game losses in four years.
"It's just an expectation for us to be here, and it's not just good enough for us to have made the College Cup as maybe it was two years ago," Stanford forward Christen Press said Saturday. "Now we're here to win, and so it's more about business. I think the mentality that we carry now will help us in the game to just be mentally prepared."
Stanford coach Paul Ratcliffe said his team's top priority is to "start strong and get after them right from the get-go" - something he said didn't happen in last year's final, a 1-0 loss to North Carolina.
His Cardinal (23-0-2) want to extend one streak - their 22-game winning streak - by bringing an end to another, having reached the College Cup for the third straight year while still chasing their first national championship.
"This is what we play the game for - we want to compete at the highest level," Ratcliffe said. "This is the biggest stage. So it would mean a lot to us and to all the players who have come through Stanford. We'd love to win a national title for everybody."
To do that, they'll have to find a way to score on a Fighting Irish team that has allowed only one goal in five previous NCAA tournament games.
Notre Dame (20-2-2), which won national titles in 1995 and 2004, is making its fourth title-game appearance in seven years. The Irish were beaten by the Tar Heels in the 2006 and '08 finals. That run two years ago included a 1-0 semifinal victory over Stanford.
"It's been a great experience - coming to the final four for four years, it's been amazing," senior midfielder Rose Augustin said. "The first year and second year, you don't know what to expect. But the last two years, it's been, 'We're here to win.' You kind of block out everything else, and you concentrate on the game."
The teams have more in common than just a knack for making it this far. Both employ an attacking 4-3-3 alignment that has propelled them through the bracket.
"I hope it says that (the 4-3-3 is) the way to go, not only as a collegiate sport but as a country," Notre Dame coach Randy Waldrum said.
Notre Dame reached the title game thanks to Mandy Laddish's goal in the 83rd minute of a 1-0 semifinal victory against Ohio State in which the Irish outshot the Buckeyes 15-3 in the second half. Stanford advanced with a 2-0 win against Boston College, holding the Eagles without a shot in the first half and receiving goals from Camille Levin and Lindsay Taylor.
Notre Dame's players insisted they didn't spend Friday night obsessively scouting the Cardinal.
"We need to focus on what we need to do and get the few details (on Stanford), the specifics that we really need to hone in on and make sure we're aware of for the game tomorrow," Irish defender Julie Scheidler said, "but focusing on us is what we need to do."