Nov. 27, 2009

By Paul D. Bowker
Special to

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Notre Dame had celebrated its NCAA quarterfinal 2-0 win over Florida State for less than half an hour Friday when the subject of a rematch with defending national champion North Carolina surfaced.
That‘s when the face of Notre Dame senior defender Haley Ford turned serious, drawing a laugh from her teammates at a press conference following Friday's win.
“A little bit,” said Ford, when asked if she was looking forward to playing a team that defeated the Irish, 2-1 in 2008 and 2006 for the national championship, and also destroyed Notre Dame, 6-0, in a game earlier this season.
“We’re pretty excited to have another shot at them because the first time around this year, we didn’t play the way we wanted to," she continued.
When Notre Dame and North Carolina meet in the semifinals of the NCAA Women's College Cup on Friday at Aggie Stadium in College Station, Tx., they’ll arrive with identical 21-3-1 records. The similarities don’t end there. Notre Dame’s current seniors have a record of 91-10-4, which is the second-best record in the nation. Only UNC’s seniors are better, at 92-9-4. The Irish are in the NCAA's for the 17th consecutive year, the second-longest streak in the nation. Who’s number one? Yes, UNC, which is working on 28 consecutive years.
UNC advanced to the semifinals with a 5-2 win Friday over Wake Forest.
“Obviously we’re so excited about winning and getting a chance to go to College Station,“ Notre Dame coach Randy Waldrum said. “I think when you look around the country, the eight teams that made it this far (quarterfinals) probably were the teams we expected to get there.“
Although the Irish have lost their last two national title games to UNC -- an impossibility this year -- they did knock off the Tar Heels, 3-2 in the third round of the 2007 tournament.
For Ford and six other Irish seniors, this is their last shot, after Irish last won the national title in 2004, two years before the senior class first took the field in South Bend.
“We’re hoping to come out with a different outcome this year. It’s our fourth year to go in a row. We’re hoping to come back with the title this year,” Ford said.
Said junior goalkeeper Nikki Weiss: “We just really want to go out and help them [the Notre Dame seniors] end this.”
One thing is certain. The Notre Dame team that UNC will see on Friday won’t resemble the same one that the Heels hammered by six goals in their Sept. 13 meeting. The loss to North Carolina, then ranked No. 1, was one of three in a four-game stretch that left the Irish at 3-3. They haven’t lost since and have been tied just once, by Pittsburgh.
“I think after we were 3-3, we just kind of talked with each other and said this isn‘t really Notre Dame soccer,” Weiss said. “From that point on, we needed to make a difference. Our team has been amazing coming together and changing that.”
Weiss had been a big part of that turnaround, posting seven solo shutouts in her last 14 games, including three in the NCAA Tournament. She did not have any saves in the second half of the Irish’s loss to UNC.