Women face first ranked opponent in three weeks
By KEVIN BERCHOU
The sixth-ranked women's soccer team enters today's match with the 15th-ranked Michigan Wolverines playing arguably its best ball of the season.
The Irish women have won four games in a row by a combined tally of 22-2.
They were at their best this past weekend as they trounced the Georgetown Hoyas, 10-0, and the Villanova Wildcats, 4-0, to improve to 8-2 on the season.
"I was really pleased with the way we played," head coach Randy Waldrum said. "We were extremely organized on defense, and offensively we were able to score some goals."
The Irish are prepared for a much sterner test as today's matchup with the Wolverines constitutes their first game against a ranked opponent since last month's upset loss to SMU. With recent wins coming against lesser opponents, Waldrum anticipates a challenging test for his squad.
"I think it will be a very difficult game," Waldrum said. "They [Michigan] are very good up front. They're quick and talented and they really possess the ball well. We've seen a lot of them on video and they're a strong team."
Adding significance to today's showdown — the third of a four-game home stand — is the fact that Michigan and Notre Dame lie in the same geographic region. A win would have considerable implications on NCAA tournament seedings at seasons' end. An Irish win or loss today could potentially mean a couple of spots difference in the end of the year seeding brackets.
"That does make it more important," Waldrum said. "You always want to get a jump on teams from your own part of the country."
The surging Irish offensive attack will be led by senior forward Jenny Heft, whose five goals this past weekend left her just five tallies short of Monica Gerardo's school record of 73 career goals.
Captain Jen Grubb, the defending Big East Defensive Player of the Week, will anchor the midfield along with Anne Makinen who recently returned to the squad after concluding her involvement with the Finnish national team.
The Irish know that to effectively handle the Wolverines, they will need to continue to spread the scoring around, in an effort to prevent the Wolverine defense from keying in on one or two players. The recent strong play of Meotis Erikson should allow for Notre Dame to do just that. Erikson regained her scoring touch over the weekend to give the Irish yet another offensive threat.
"It's definitely key that we get everyone involved and move the ball around," Grubb said. "We all have to be ready to play and come out hard."
Notre Dame's offensive arsenal will be complemented by the play of All-American goalkeeper LaKeysia Beene, who is prepared for a busy afternoon after seeing relatively little action in the team's last two dominating performances.
The Wolverines enter today's action sporting an 8-2-1 record, and are coming off an easy 4-1 win over conference rival the Purdue Boilermakers. Michigan's offensive attack will be sparked by freshmen forward Abby Crumpton, who leads the team with six goals. Like the Irish, the Wolverines boast a strong net minder in Carissa Stewart, who started each of her team's outings and has already posted four shutouts.
With the Irish women playing their third game in a matter of five days, one would think that fatigue might be a factor, but Coach Waldrum says that's not the case.
"I don't really think fatigue will be an issue," he said. "We were able to get most of our players some rest this past weekend, and I think Michigan is in the same situation we are [having played three games in five days]. I think it's a fairly even match up."
All Sports Stories for Tuesday, October 5, 1999