Dec. 5, 2010

By Greg Johnson

CARY, North Carolina - After losing in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament, Notre Dame womens soccer coach Randy Waldrum could sense something special in his team in the two weeks of preparation for the NCAA championships.

Waldrums feelings were confirmed as the Fighting Irish capped an impressive run through the bracket, culminating with a 1-0 victory over top-ranked Stanford in the final of the Womens College Cup at WakeMed Soccer Park Sunday afternoon.

Adriana Leon, a reserve freshman forward, scored the games only goal after receiving a perfect cross from teammate Melissa Henderson in the 62nd minute to give Notre Dame its third national title in the sport.

The Fighting Irish, who also won the event in 1995 and 2004, finished the year 21-2-2. Waldrum felt the season turned for his team after it lost 2-0 to Connecticut in its conference tournament on Halloween.

He called a 5 a.m. film session the next day, and his team responded with a string of quality workouts before embarking on the NCAA title run.

We were struggling a little bit,” said Waldrum, who won his second national championship at Notre Dame. I dont know what triggered it, but we had two weeks of the best practices weve had in a long time. It all just came together.”

Waldrum was particularly impressed with how his team handled the quality of competition throughout the tournament. He specifically mentioned his teams 4-0 home win over USC in the second round, and its 4-1 dismantling of 20-time national champion North Carolina on the road in the third round.

The Fighting Irish, who were seeded fourth in their region of the bracket, also went on the road to beat Oklahoma State 2-0 in the quarterfinals.

Notre Dame followed those victories with a 1-0 national semifinal win over Ohio State, and then handed previously undefeated Stanford, 23-1-2, its only loss of the season in the final.

Our kids thought we were the best team,” Waldrum said. Thats not being disrespectful. The mindset of this team is, ‘Were the better team. We didnt care what anybody else thought or said, because we were playing like the best team in the country.”

Stanford had a chance to change that thinking. The Cardinal rolled through the season scoring multiple goals in every match this season with the exception of a 1-1 season-opening tie against Boston College.

Stanford almost took an early lead when defender Courtney Verloo raced forward and sent a wicked 25-yard shot towards the goal. However, the ball glanced off the left post in the 17th minute.

If that shot would have went in, I think that would have broken the ice for us and boosted the confidence,” said Stanford coach Paul Ratcliffe, whose team are the national runners-up for the second straight season.

Four minutes later, it was Notre Dames turn to curse the soccer gods as a header by Henderson, who was named the tournaments most outstanding player on offense, popped a header on goal that was deflected into the cross bar by Stanford freshman goalkeeper Emily Oliver.

The teams went to the locker rooms scoreless, but Notre Dame had the better of the play in the final 45 minutes. Henderson created most of the good scoring chances only to be denied by Oliver.

Finally in the 63rd minute, Henderson settled a loose ball and quickly went past a defender on the left wing. She drew the defense towards her before centering a pass to the middle of the box.

Leon was waiting to put the ball high over Olivers right shoulder for the goal.

When the ball was coming, I was anticipating a goal,” said Leon of her fourth tally of the season. I told myself, ‘This is going in. All I saw was an open net.”

The goal was also a blow to Stanfords psyche, because it marked the first time the Cardinal had trailed in a match since a 2-1 come-from-behind overtime win against Georgia September 10.

Stanford tried desperately for the equalizer, which opened it up to several Notre Dame counter attacks. The Fighting Irish were never able to get the insurance goal thanks to some outstanding goaltending by Oliver, who made one spectacular save after another.

I had no idea that Oliver was a freshman,” Henderson said. She made so many great saves, and I have so much respect for what she did out there.”

Before the NCAA tournament play began, Waldrum constantly sent his club the message to be aggressive. His players never disappointed him during this championship run.

If you walk in our locker room youll see the word ‘attack 50 times on the wall,” Henderson said. Our coaches printed out flyers saying ‘attack and posted them everywhere, so we had that mindset going into it.”

Stanford, which has advanced to the College Cup three years in a row, is still looking for the programs first NCAA womens soccer national title.

Its very bitter,” said Cardinal senior forward Christen Press, who led the nation with 26 goals this season. We worked so hard for it, but at the end of the day soccer is a crazy game. Ive learned over the years this is how it goes.”

Notes: A crowd of 7,833 attending the Womens College Cup final. … Stanford was denied a chance to win its first NCAA womens soccer title. The loss also denied the Cardinal a chance to win the schools 100th team NCAA championship. Stanford has won 99 team NCAA titles in 17 different sports. … Notre Dame coach Randy Waldrum coached his 300th match at the helm of the Fighting Irish. He is 253-36-11 in his 12 seasons at Notre Dame with two national championships. … Notre Dame improved to 3-5 in NCAA Womens College Cup finals.

The all-tournament selections were:

Jessica Schuveiller, Notre Dame, (Most Outstanding Player on Defense)

Melissa Henderson, Notre Dame, (Most Outstanding Player on Offense)

Hannah Cerrone, Boston College, defender

Katie Baumgardner, Ohio State, goalkeeper

Camille Levin, Stanford, forward

Emily Oliver, Stanford, goalkeeper

Christen Press, Stanford, forward

Rose Augustin, Notre Dame, forward

Mandy Laddish, Notre Dame, midfielder

Courtney Barg, Notre Dame, midfielder

Adriana Leon, Notre Dame, forward