Waldrum excels in first year under the Dome
By MIKE CONNOLLY
Associate Sports Editor
With Chris Petrucelli's resignation as head coach last winter, questions arose as to whether the Irish would be able to achieve the same levels of success the Irish enjoyed from 1990 to 1998.
His replacement, Randy Waldrum, has quickly answered those questions with a resounding yes and has led the Irish back to a 20-3 record and a berth in the NCAA quarterfinals — where the Irish lost last year to Portland, 2-1. For guiding the Irish to an 8-0 record in the Big East and winning their fifth straight conference championship, Waldrum was named Big East coach of the year.
The transition from one head coach to another has been practically seamless for the Irish this year thanks to Waldrum's easy-going attitude.
"Things went pretty smoothly," senior goalkeeper LaKeysia Beene said about the transition to Waldrum's coaching style. "He is a very easy person to get along with. I think we all didn't have any preconceived notions about him. We all just judged him by what we saw of him in the spring and everyone took to him pretty quickly."
Waldrum gives credit for the smooth transition to the players who adapted to his style of coaching and did not question adjustments he made to formations and strategies. While Waldrum said he wanted to keep the system as close as possible to Petrucelli's system, he tweaked the lineup to get more production from the talent. The most noticeable change Waldrum implemented involved moving from four midfielders and three backs to three midfielders and four backs. The players are very receptive to his ideas, according to Waldrum.
"We've changed a few things in our formation but we have tried not to make huge changes to the team," he said. "It's such a veteran team this year that I don't think it would have been a wise thing to do. We've changed things here and there but we haven't made huge changes with positions or formations. We've only made a few adjustments."
Waldrum, who came highly recommended by his peers, not only found a quick rapport with his players but also with Irish administrators.
"When we started the search we called the people that we regarded as the best coaches in the business [to ask for recommendations] and his name always seemed to come up," associate athletic director Missy Conboy said. "In his interviewing process he impressed us with his preparation. He knew everything about our team in advance. He had done his homework and his research ... of all the candidates that we talked to, he was someone who had his heart set on coming to Notre Dame and knew our program inside and out."
It is not surprising that Waldrum had his heart set on coming to a program for a job that he calls "one of the top two coaching positions in the country."
"Here and Carolina are probably the top soccer jobs in the country," Waldrum said. "I think there are a lot of other good jobs but here and Carolina are by far the top two jobs in the country. Notre Dame has such a great history of the soccer and the history of the institution itself. I was certainly very excited when I got the phone call asking if I would be interested in coming in and interviewing."
Waldrum came to Notre Dame from Baylor where he started the women's soccer program in 1996 and guided it to a Big 12 Championship in 1998 — the first for Baylor in any sport. Baylor's religious foundation and value system gave Waldrum the edge over other coaches considered for the job because he had an understanding of the higher standards to which Notre Dame holds its athletes, according to athletic director Michael Wadsworth.
"If you look at people who come into coaching roles and the vital importance of recruiting, finding people who embrace Notre Dame's values isn't automatic," Wadsworth said. "That is one of the most critical questions you face when you look at candidates.
"They must understand what Notre Dame is all about," he continued. "And thus will make better judgements in terms of bringing in players that will be good fits at Notre Dame."
While Waldrum's personality and value system fit what the University was looking for in a head coach, the support and funding that the administration gives Notre Dame's women's soccer was exactly what Waldrum was looking for.
"The support from the administration and the support from the school has been tremendous both in funding and in overall support," Waldrum said. "I think they've truly made a commitment to women's athletics and our program. That's what you would expect it to be if you want to be a national program."
Waldrum has maintained the high level of performance Irish fans have come to expect and may take Notre Dame to new levels of excellence with a national championship — a feat the Irish have not achieved since 1995.
"In making that adjustment you can sometimes see a falling off in performance," Wadsworth said. "I think it is a credit to the team members as well as to Randy that they have been able to keep up that high level or performance."
All Sports Stories for Tuesday, November 23, 1999