Experienced freshmen add depth to Irish roster
By MIKE CONNOLLY
Associate Sports Editor
Four months ago Vanessa Pruzinsky was a freshman making her first start in an exhibition game against the Stanford Cardinal.
Four days ago, Pruzinsky headed a ball off the back line in the 15th minute to preserve the Irish shutout against the Stanford Cardinal in the third round of the NCAA tournament.
"She's been good for us all year," head coach Randy Waldrum said. "It was good to see her come up big in a big game as a just a freshman."
Pruzinsky is one of just four freshmen who have had big impacts on the Irish roster this year. In the postseason, Pruzinsky, midfielders Nancy Mikacenic and Ashley Dryer and forward Ali Lovelace played big roles in the Irish advancing to the quarterfinals.
Pruzin-sky, the Big East Rookie of the Week, has started every postseason game while Mikacenic and Dryer have appeared in every postseason game — each starting four. Lovelace has come off the bench to give the Irish valuable relief and scored three goals in the Big East Championships.
The important role that the Class of 2003 is playing in the postseason is not a complete surprise, said Waldrum.
"That's probably something you can never know but we felt like the freshman class would be good for us," Waldrum said. "Having Vanessa earn the rookie of the year and as much as Nancy has played for us and Ashley Dryer and the way Ali Lovelace has come on for us. I think the freshmen have done a great job for us. You hope that that is the case and then you are presently surprised when it is."
The freshmen met before on national teams and knew that they had the talent to make a big impact on this season, said Lovelace.
"I had a lot of expectations," she said. "I knew all the incoming freshmen from playing with them on the national teams and I knew they were all very good so I expected a lot from us."
The freshman class brings much-needed depth and speed to the Irish roster.
"I think the biggest thing is not only the ability but ... depth," Waldrum said. "Some of them are starting and they are pushing the older players to regain their positions. The overall quality of the team has been raised because you have a new five or six players that add another dimension to your team."
Waldrum said that the biggest problem with last year's team that lost in the quarterfinals was a lack of depth and flexibility in the lineup.
With four freshmen rotating through the lineup, that is not a problem this year.
"They just didn't have enough depth here last year," he said. "A lot of times last year when things went wrong they didn't have the players to change it but this year we have been able to make some changes and the freshmen have added to that."
All Sports Stories for Tuesday, November 23, 1999