Dec. 17, 2009
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Notre Dame women's soccer head coach Randy Waldrum has been selected as the 2009 Soccer America National Coach of the Year, the publication announced Thursday. It's the first time the 11th-year Fighting Irish skipper has been chosen for a national coaching honor, although he is an eight-time National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) regional coach of the year (four during his tenure at Notre Dame), as well as an eight-time conference coach of the year (including four in the BIG EAST Conference while coaching the Fighting Irish).
"I'm truly humbled and grateful for this honor, but in reality, awards like these are the product of a team effort, and my assistant coaching team of Dawn Greathouse, Ken Nuber and Jeannette Boudway was absolutely tremendous this year," Waldrum said. "Of course, there's no way we would have achieved what we did without every one of our players buying into our system and making the commitment to keep this program at the level it's been at for so many years. The future for Notre Dame soccer is extremely bright and I'm excited to continue being a part of it."
Most college soccer observers agree the 2009 season produced the finest coaching performance of Waldrum's storied 28-year career, as he guided the Fighting Irish to a 21-4-1 record, their fourth consecutive NCAA College Cup appearance and a No. 4 ranking in the final NSCAA and Soccer America polls.
Notre Dame came into the '09 season with a significant challenge on its hands, having graduated three All-Americans (including 2008 Hermann Trophy recipient Kerri Hanks) and four of the top 21 picks in the inaugural Women's Professional Soccer (WPS) draft. The Fighting Irish then saw their numbers dwindle even further when a rash of injuries sidelined numerous key upperclassmen, including senior midfielder/tri-captain Courtney Rosen (missed entire season with broken foot), senior forward/tri-captain Michele Weissenhofer (limited to 14 games with hamstring problems) and senior defender Haley Ford (missed seven games with leg injuries).
What's more, Notre Dame faced its always-rugged non-conference schedule that featured both eventual '09 NCAA title game combatants (North Carolina and Stanford), as well as NCAA Sweet 16 participants Santa Clara and Wisconsin. Three weeks into the season, the Fighting Irish found themselves staring at a 3-3 record as they prepared to enter BIG EAST play. At that point, Waldrum and his staff made the decision to switch junior defender/midfielder Lauren Fowlkes (Lee's Summit, Mo./St. Teresa's Academy) up to the forward line and slide sophomore Courtney Barg (Plano, Texas/Plano West) to the holding midfield position, two moves that wound up paying off handsomely.
Notre Dame would go undefeated through its next 19 contests (18-0-1), shutting out 13 opponents in that stretch on the way to claiming the program's 12th BIG EAST regular-season title and 11th BIG EAST Championship crown. The Fighting Irish then charged through the first four rounds of the NCAA tournament, outscoring their opponents by a 14-1 margin, capped by a 2-0 win at sixth-ranked (and top-seeded) Florida State in the NCAA quarterfinals to book their fourth consecutive NCAA College Cup appearance and fifth in six years. As a result, the Notre Dame Class of 2009 became just the second group of seniors in school history to go to four straight College Cups, joining the Fighting Irish Class of 1997 that was led by future U.S. National Team members Kate Sobrero (Markgraf) and Holly Manthei.
"It's been one of the most rewarding years I've had at Notre Dame, and that's including the national championship of 2004," Waldrum said following Notre Dame's 1-0 NCAA semifinal loss to UNC on Dec. 4 in College Station, Texas. "This team really has come so far. If you'd have asked anyone who saw us play Carolina in the first two weeks of the year (a 6-0 Tar Heel win), no one would have guessed we'd be back here. It's taken a lot of hard work. This staff has done a great job of keeping the team focused and believing they could get back. A lot of the credit goes to the players for believing that we were good enough to get back."
Waldrum's coaching honor was one of two awards presented by Soccer America to Notre Dame personnel on Thursday. Sophomore forward Melissa Henderson (Garland, Texas/Berkner) was named a first-team Soccer America MVP after scoring a career-high (and team-leading) 18 goals and 41 points, ranking among the top 10 in the nation in both categories. Henderson also was a first-team NSCAA All-Northeast Region choice and a second-team all-BIG EAST selection this year, blossoming late in the season after a lengthy recovery from off-season leg surgery and exploding for a school-record 10 goals in the postseason, including seven in the NCAA tournament (highlighted by a four-goal outburst in a second-round win over Central Michigan).
Waldrum and Henderson's awards are the latest in a series of postseason honors for the Notre Dame women's soccer team, with Barg earning first-team NSCAA All-America status and Fowlkes claiming third-team All-America laurels (the first for both players). Barg, who also was tabbed as a semifinalist for the Hermann Trophy, is the 13th first-team All-American in the program's history (combining for 18 citations), while the Fighting Irish now have fielded 47 All-Americans (one of the three NSCAA squads) since 1993.
Fowlkes, the '09 BIG EAST Co-Offensive Player of the Year and BIG EAST Championship Offensive Most Valuable Player, also was named to the NCAA College Cup All-Tournament Team (she finished with a career-high 10 goals and 24 points), while she and Barg joined Henderson as first-team NSCAA all-region honorees. In addition, junior midfielder Rose Augustin (Silver Lake, Ohio/Walsh Jesuit) and sophomore defender/tri-captain Jessica Schuveiller (Plano, Texas/Plano West) garnered second-team all-Northeast Region citations (Augustin had career highs of seven goals and 10 assists; Schuveiller backstopped a Notre Dame defense that posted a 0.69 goals-against average with 16 shutouts), while the Fighting Irish collectively earned an NSCAA/adidas Women's Team Academic Award after registering a 3.37 cumulative team grade-point average (GPA).
Notre Dame is expected to have nine of its 11 starters returning next season, including Henderson, Barg, Fowlkes, Augustin, Schuveiller and goalkeeper Nikki Weiss (Redding, Conn./Immaculate), who took over as the starting netminder at midseason and finished with a 14-2-1 record, 0.51 GAA and seven shutouts (not to mention a conference-record 0.15 GAA against BIG EAST foes). The Fighting Irish also anticipate bringing back at least 21 players who suited up in 2009, accounting for 88 percent of the team's goalscoring (51 of 58) and point scoring (144 of 162) output.