Irish take semis, can't hold on against UNC
Assistant Sports Editor
SAN JOSE, Calif.
It was the best of times and the worst of times.
In a tale of two games, the Notre Dame women's soccer team basked in the glory of a semifinal win over Santa Clara Friday only to suffer the agony of defeat in a 2-0 loss to North Carolina in the championship round of the Women's College Cup Sunday.
With a 1-0 decision over the Broncos, the Irish geared up to meet the Tar Heels in the finals, but no amount of preparation could have readied the underdog squad for the sharp play and relentless attack mounted by the Tar Heels.
Irish head coach Randy Waldrum pointed to the squad's less than full-strength roster, magnified by the loss of midfielder Anne Makinen, as a reason for Notre Dame's inability to match the Tar Heels.
"If there's one thing I'm disappointed in, it's the fact that I don't really think anyone here got to see our team at full strength and see what we can do offensively — that's just not the way the year has gone for us,"said Waldrum.
"I don't know that we ever fully recovered from the four overtimes against Nebraska [in the quarterfinals]," he continued. "It was just a difficult week and I don't think we were very fresh and very sharp in either of the games, and I don't think it's a indication of what we can do."
The Irish struggled all weekend to put together a consistent offense, getting outshot 17-3 against both the Broncos and the Tar Heels.
In the championship game, the Tar Heels controlled the ball from the opening minutes of play. The Irish defense, led by right defender Kara Brown and goalkeeper LaKeysia Beene, came up big in the first half, stifling several Tar Heel attempts at a score.
Despite pummeling the goal with eight shots to Notre Dame's one before the half, North Carolina went into the locker room at halftime locked in a scoreless tie.
"If you look at the balance of when we make our run, this team makes its run in the second half,"said Tar Heel head coach Anson Dorrance. "It takes us a while to get tracked and it takes us a while to basically wear our opponent down.
"By the time the second half rolls around, that's usually when we make our move,"he continued. "Going into the half, I wasn't particularly frustrated … but I had a feeling that given the amount of energy it took Notre Dame to weather the Santa Clara storm, I felt we were going to have fresher legs in the second half."
Throughout the season, the Tar Heels established a pattern of tough play in the first half with a more productive, goal-oriented offense in the second half. According to Dorrance, the Tar Heels outscored their opponents 37-10 in the first half and 54-2 in the second half this year.
And Sunday's game was no exception.
Tar Heel forward Merideth Florance scored the game-winning goal 10 minutes into the second half, knocking a shot from the top of the box past Beene. Forward Susan Bush set up the Tar Heel goal when she booted the ball from the midfield to forward Kim Patrick at the left corner of the box. Patrick headed the ball to Florance, who kicked it in for the 1-0 lead.
"I knew that chances weren't going to come that often and that we would have to finish the ones we got,"said Florance. "After I missed my first shot at the goal I just had to refocus and remember that on the next chance I got I would have to stick it."
Florance has been a thorn in the side of the Irish defense. The junior's only other game-winning goal this season came against Notre Dame in the Tar Heels 3-2 overtime win in the regular season.
The Irish tried to gain an offensive edge by making key position changes on the field to even the score, but no altered plan of attack was successful against a stingy Tar Heel defense led by All-American defender Lorrie Fair.
"At that point you can take one of two approaches … you can go a little longer to see if you get it back or try something different,"Waldrum said. "Since we hadn't really put anything together against Santa Clara offensively and hadn't all day [Sunday], it doesn't matter at that point if you lose by one or by five. That's just the mentality you take: Do you want to try and win the thing or sit back and lose 1-0 and make sure you keep it close? I don't think any of these kids wanted to play that way."
Waldrum moved Jenny Streiffer from the midfield to the forward line and replaced her with Jen Grubb immediately following the Tar Heel goal. He continued to shift his lineup, attempting to find the right combination for a goal. Unfortunately, nothing seemed to work.
"You know what they're going to do. They're extremely difficult to get in behind, especially with [goalkeeper] Jenni Branam coming off the line,"Waldrum said. "We thought that we might compress her a little bit and get a turnover, but she was pretty solid."
Branam earned her 16th shutout of the season with two saves on the game.
With 11 minutes remaining in the game, Tar Heel midfielder Beth Sheppard erased all hopes of an Irish victory when she scored, increasing North Carolina's lead to two. Earning her second assist of the afternoon, Bush made a leading pass to forward Raven McDonald down the left side of the field. Raven dished the ball to an open Sheppard in the middle of the box, setting up the play for an easy score.
Despite the loss, Beene turned in a powerful performance for the Irish. Coming up with several impressive saves against Santa Clara, the senior goalkeeper anchored the Irish squad and led it into the final round.
"I've always thought that LaKeysia is the best goalkeeper in the country and I think she showed it this weekend,"said Grubb. "In the game against Santa Clara she came up with some big-time saves for us. … Unfortunately it's been our fault that her goals-against average wasn't as good as it should have been this year."
Sunday's loss to the Tar Heels marks the sixth consecutive post-season appearance for the Irish, who won the tournament in 1995. With the win, the Tar Heels enhanced their record as the most winning team in women's soccer history and earned their 16th national title.
All Sports Stories for Monday, December 6, 1999