Irish defend Big East crown against Pirates
By MIKE CONNOLLY
Associate Sports Editor
The No. 6 Notre Dame women's soccer team continues its defense of its 1998 Big East championship today at 5 p.m. in the Big East semifinals in Piscataway, N.J. against the Pirates of Seton Hall.
The Irish have won every Big East title since they joined the conference in 1995.
The Irish faced the Pirates once already this year and won 4-2. While the Irish are a deeper and more talented team overall, the Pirates feature one of the most dangerous goal scorers in the country in Kelly Smith. Smith, the Big East preseason offensive player of the year, leads Seton Hall with 27 goals.
She leads the nation in goals and has been named Big East offensive player of the week three times in 1999 — including this week for her hat trick and two assists in Seton Hall's 6-2 win over Syracuse in the Big East quarterfinals. The junior now has 76 goals in her career and has a chance to break Mia Hamm's NCAA record 103 career goals next year. In their Sept. 24 matchup, Smith tallied a goal and an assist in a losing effort.
While Smith is an incredible scorer, Waldrum also believes she can be contained if the Irish stay on top of her for the entire game.
"I think she is certainly stoppable but she is one of those players that you have a handle on her for 89 minutes but if you have that one second where you lose track of her she will put the ball in the net, Waldrum said. "Do you focus so much that you take away from other things or do you just focus enough to counter what she does? It should make for an interesting matchup. We are certainly going to do our best to make her a non-factor in the game."
Irish head coach Randy Waldrum hopes that playing against a player of Smith's caliber will prevent the Irish from looking past the Pirates.
"I think playing Seton Hall and against a player like Kelly Smith will help us to focus for 90 minutes, Waldrum said. "If we don't, she is certainly the kind of player that can give you problems. In the first game of the year she was certainly a handful for us."
Focusing for all 90 minutes has been a problem for the Irish in their past three games. In the quarterfinals against the Miami Hurricanes, the Irish looked sluggish in the first half and went into the locker room with just a 1-0 lead. The Irish played much better in the second half and cruised to a 5-0 win.
The Irish also had problems with intensity in their last two regular season wins over the Wisconsin Badgers and the Indiana Hoosiers. Against Wisconsin, Notre Dame gave up two quick goals less than one minute after the Irish had scored a goal. In the Indiana game, the Hoosiers scored the first goal in the opening minutes of the game. The lack of defensive focus as of late has led to better focus in practice, according to Waldrum.
"I haven't seen any indication of that this week that we are looking ahead, he said. "The way this team has been defensively in the last few games, with the exception of Miami, we can't afford to be looking too far ahead."
While the Pirates have relied on Smith for almost all of their scoring, the Irish have had the luxury of many scoring threats throughout the season. While none of the Irish have scored more than 20 goals this year, four have scored more than 10 with Jenny Heft leading the Irish with 17. Senior Jenny Streiffer is second on the team with 15 and juniors Meotis Erikson and Anne Makinen are third with 12.
Makinen has enjoyed considerable success in Big East championships in the past. As a freshman and a sophomore she was named the Big East championship's most outstanding player. Makinen, like the rest of her teammates, has a knack for stepping up her play in the big games.
"She is certainly a world class player, Waldrum said. "She will step up and have a great tournament. She always steps up in the big games. I think most of our kids focus better in the bigger games. I think sometimes we have the tendency to play down to the level of the teams we play against."
If the Irish defeat the Pirates, they will face the winner of the second semifinal between the Connecticut Huskies and the Boston College Eagles on Sunday at noon.
All Sports Stories for Friday, November 5, 1999