Nov. 27, 2009

Sidebar: One More Shot For Irish Seniors

Notebook: A Battle Of The 6's

By Paul D. Bowker
Special to NCAA.com

 
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The joy of a fourth consecutive berth in the NCAA Division I Women’s Soccer College Cup produced a hug between Note Dame senior defender Haley Ford and junior Lauren Fowlkes at mid-field.
 
Chants of “We are Notre Dame, we are Notre Dame” rolled down from the stands of a soccer stadium filled with once-noisy Florida State fans.
 
Once again, the fifth-ranked Irish are headed to the College Cup to play North Carolina, the result of a 2-0 victory Friday afternoon over FSU that left the sixth-ranked Seminoles just plain teary and frustrated. FSU has played Notre Dame in the NCAA tournament each of the last four years, losing three times, but this time the loss came at home where the Seminoles hadn‘t lost in more than a year.
 
“It‘s huge for us. We‘re so excited,” said Ford, whose third goal of the season Friday helped push the Irish‘s unbeaten streak to 19 games following a 3-3 start. The Irish were tied only once in that streak. They haven’t lost since a 2-0 loss to then-No. 3 Stanford on Sept. 13.
 
“I’m just real excited because of the girls on our team and everything we’ve done to get where we are is just astonishing. I’m so proud of every single person who has put in the effort that they had to get to where we are today,“ said sophomore forward Melissa Henderson, whose goal 38 minutes, 35 seconds into the game was all Irish goalkeeper Nikki Weiss needed.
 
Notre Dame (21-3-1) will meet North Carolina (21-3-1) in the national semifinals next Friday at College Station, Texas, a rematch of the 2008 and 2006 title games won 2-1 by the Tar Heels both times.
 
“This is our fourth year in a row. We‘re hoping to come back with the title this year,” Ford said.
 
Against FSU, the top seed in its quarter of the bracket, the Irish, seeded No. 2, struck for two goals in less than a minute in the first half, then relied on strong defense to extend the Seminoles‘ disappointment yet another year. FSU (19-5-1) is one of just 11 teams nationally to make it into the NCAA Tournament 10 consecutive years, and lost to Notre Dame by an identical 2-0 score in a quarterfinal-round game played last year at South Bend, Ind.
 
“We‘ve had nothing but respect for them the last four years,” Notre Dame coach Randy Waldrum said.
 
The Seminoles were unbeaten in 18 consecutive home games, dating back to a loss to Virginia in September 2008.
 
“It‘s disappointing not to be advancing,” said FSU coach Mark Krikorian, “but today we weren‘t good enough to advance.“
 
Until Henderson took advantage of a defensive mistake deep in FSU’s zone, the Seminoles dominated the Irish at times. Speedy forward Jessica Price, who had scored four goals in the Seminoles’ previous three NCAA tournament wins, was denied scores on several occasions, the ball deflecting wide or Weiss making saves.
 
Once, with the ball lined up for a clear shot just outside of the penalty box, a sliding defensive tackle by Notre Dame’s Amanda Clark knocked the ball away.
 
Even with the Seminoles buzzing around Notre Dame’s end, Krikorian could sense things just weren’t right. Passes were not as accurate as they normally were; shots sailed over the net and wide of it.
 
“Things were not quite sharp enough,“ he said. “We had some very good, high-quality chances we were just off on from the penalty box.“
 
Before Henderson’s goal, the Seminoles had outshot the Irish, 6-2, and Weiss had three saves.
 
After Henderson’s goal, the Irish struck quickly again. A corner kick by Rose Augustin was headed in by Ford, who moved in from the defensive side of the field. Suddenly, with two snaps of a finger, the Seminoles weren’t just looking at a one-goal deficit, but two.
 
“To have it in a time of a minute is difficult,” Krikorian said. “Against a good team, it’s awful hard to dig yourself out of that kind of a hole.”
 
“After we scored the first goal, I think we all knew we had to come out strong for the next five minutes because those five minutes are always pretty critical,” Ford said.
 
Not that the Seminoles didn’t go after Weiss even harder. They moved the ball around, but were stopped by Notre Dame blocks. The Seminoles never did get another shot on Weiss after falling behind, 2-0. But until the final buzzer, the Seminoles went after Notre Dame aggressively, chasing down balls and attempting to set their speedy forwards with passes down the wing.
 
“That’s been part of our character all season,” said senior midfielder Becky Edwards. “We’re still trying all game.”
 
“Coach always tells us 2-0 is the hardest lead to hold because as soon as they get one more goal, the momentum changes and it’s a whole new game,” said Weiss, who has posted nine shutouts in her last 14 games. “So I don’t think any pressure was lifted, but it definitely made it a little easier.”