Aug. 19, 2001
“What can you do for an encore?” has become a challenging question for the Notre Dame women’s soccer program in recent years. After advancing to the 1999 NCAA championship game, the Irish had to regroup in 2000 minus five graduated starters, including three All-Americans and another who ranked as the Irish career goalscoring leader. The 2000 squad responded by spending 11 weeks at No. 1 and fashioning a 23-1-1 season that ended in the NCAA semifinals.
Thus, the question comes again: “What’s next for the Irish?”
“It goes without saying that our past two teams were driven to win the national championship and performed admirably in that quest-they just came up a little short at the end,” says third-year head coach Randy Waldrum, whose current Notre Dame team is set to return 13 of its top 18 players from the record-setting 2000 squad.
Notre Dame welcomes back nine players who were regular starters a year ago but the team’s losses include its top two scorers and four players with starting experience-led by midfielder and consensus national player of the year Anne Makinen, plus forward Meotis Erikson and marking backs Kelly Lindsey and Kerri Bakker.
“By losing starters from every position but goalkeeper, we had some clearcut goals in the recruiting phase and we met those goals by adding talented players who will fit well into our system,” says Waldrum.
“We will be a very athletic team and have added significantly to our team speed, which should provide fans with a very attractive style of soccer. Our basic goal was to match up better athletically with the other top teams while still maintaining the high level of soccer skill that has characterized past Notre Dame teams.
“This also is a very team-oriented group that plays very well as a unit and their ultimate goal has not changed. They want to bring home the national championship and I think we have the right elements in place to make that happen.”
Notre Dame’s strength lies in the defense, after leading the nation with an 0.39 goals-against average in 2000. Three of the team’s five seniors-goalkeeper Liz Wagner, rightside back Lindsey Jones and fifth-year Monica Gonzalez at left back-play in the defensive third while junior marking back Vanessa Pruzinsky is considered the heart and soul of the stingy Irish defense.
Notre Dame’s unique 4-3-3 “inverted pyramid” formation returns two of its three central-based midfielders in senior Mia Sarkesian and junior Ashley Dryer while promising sophomore Randi Scheller is slated to fill Makinen’s attacking role at the third midfield spot. The young-but extremely deep and talented-forward unit is led by junior Ali Lovelace and sophomores Amy Warner and Amanda Guertin, who each played significant minutes in 2000.
Here’s a look at the 2001 Irish, by position:
Notre Dame’s roster is overflowing with quality players at the forward position, including three-junior Ali Lovelace and the sophomore duo of Amy Warner and Amanda Guertin-who combined with Erikson for most of the time last season.
Senior Kelly Tulisiak has been a proven goalscorer off the bench in 40 career games while three “newcomers” also will be heavily in the forward mix: sophomore Melissa Tancredi, who missed all of the 2000 season due to an ACL knee injury, and the exciting freshman tandem of Candace Chapman and Mary Boland. Chapman is a former teammate of Tancredi’s on club and national-team squads in their native Canada while the versatile Boland could be used at a number of positions.
“We really like what we’ve added offensively,” says Waldrum. “We were disjointed at times on offense last year, adjusting to a more pressuring style and funneling things through Anne. Then Amy and Ali had some injury setbacks-it all resulted in us having trouble controlling the speed of play at times.
“This year, there are plenty of options and depth up front, which can give you fresh legs at crucial parts of the game. It also will allow us to try different combinations or absorb what normally would be an untimely injury.”
The speedy Lovelace (Dallas, Ga.), who has the most college game experience among the returners, is one of the more intriguing members of the forward unit. A regular threat to slash towards the goal, Lovelace could be due for a breakthrough season. She was hampered by nagging injuries her first two seasons-with four goals and one assist in 1999, 4G-5A in 2000-but many of her points came in big games, including goals versus Santa Clara in the 1999 NCAA semifinals (1-0) and the 2000 quarterfinals (opening goal in 2-1 overtime win). Lovelace also came agonizingly close to scoring several more goals in 2000, a sign that many see as positive for 2001.
“When you look at Ali’s potential as a goalscorer, the injuries may have altered her rhythm at times,” says Waldrum. “But when Ali’s on her game, playing with consistency, she can cause a lot of problems for opposing defenses.”
Warner (Albuquerque, N.M.) burst onto the scene early in 2000, buzzing around the offensive zone and ranking as the team’s second-leading scorer through 10 games (7G-4A) before suffering a knee injury that caused her to miss seven games (she returned in reserve duty beginning with the final regular-season game and scored as a starter in the 2-1 NCAA semifinal loss to North Carolina).
A first team all-BIG EAST and third team all-region selection, Warner finished her truncated first season with nine goals and four assists, including the earliest hat trick ever posted by a Notre Dame freshman. She now heads into her sophomore campaign looking to resume her scoring pace, after undergoing offseason knee surgery that held her out of spring practice.
“Any coach who saw Amy play in the first half of last season will tell you she was one of the most exciting-and one of the most talented-freshmen in the country,” says Waldrum of Warner, somewhat unheralded as a prep while also competing in track, which limited her national exposure.
“Amy has that intangible sense of how to get by defenders and how to put the ball in the net. She can blow by you down the flanks, can beat you with a quick burst, and is very clever running at players when she has the ball. When she gets near the goal, she can surprise you with a quick shot or can have the patience to wait for the goalkeeper to commit. Without question, Amy will be a very important player for us and has the all-around talent to have a great year.”
The old clich? “fire and ice” aptly applies to the equally-effective styles of Warner and her classmate Guertin (Grapevine, Texas), who quietly turned in a rookie season that included 11 goals and four assists (her 26 points trailed only Makinen and Erikson on the Irish scoring charts). Highly-touted as a prep, Guertin didn’t disappoint in her debut college season, starting 22 games and tying for second on the team with four game-winning goals-including an overtime score to end West Virginia’s upset bid.
“We’re going to rely on ‘Guerty’ to again be very consistent on the ball-she’s very effective in that role and similar to Meotis, but not as strong physically,” says Waldrum. “She’s such a composed player around the penalty area and can make those quick decisions that often determine whether the ball’s going to end up in the back of the net.
“One thing often overlooked about ‘Guerty’ is how accurate she is with both feet. She can make a tough-angle shot from anywhere on the field.”
Tulisiak (Medina, Ohio)-whose sister Kate is a freshmen defender with the Irish-has made the most of her opportunities, scoring six career goals on just 28 shots. “Kelly can pressure and pressure the defense, has that knack of finding the right spots to create scoring chances and is a great finisher,” says Waldrum. “As our only senior among that forward group, she will play an important role.”
Many teams would be content with the above four-player rotation but Notre Dame’s depth extends to seven players who all could see quality minutes in the attacking third-wit three new faces who could dramatically change the look of the Irish attack.
“We essentially view Melissa Tancredi as part of this newcomer group and she will combine with Candace, possibly Mary, and our returning forwards to provide tremendous quickness and athleticism,” says Waldrum.
Tancredi (Ancaster, Ontario) had a solid outing in Notre Dame’s 2-1 win over the Mexican National Team last spring and was expected to be in prime condition for the 2001 campaign. A former teammate of Chapman’s on the Canadian under-18 national team, Tancredi could add a certain edge to the forward unit with her combination of size (with a solid 5-9 frame), speed and toughness. She also could be a effective replacement for Erikson’s role as primarily a central striker.
“Tancredi may be somewhat of an unknown for some people but she is a very promising part of a forward group, because she brings so much to the table,” says Waldrum. “She could play some important roles, including that of a target player-which is an area where we hope to improve this year.”
Chapman (Ajax, Ontario)-who has experience at forward and flank midfielder-could combine with Warner as one of the nation’ fastest pair of forwards, but she’s far from being a one-dimensional player.
“Candace has several similarities to Amy, with her speed and ability to beat defenders one-on-one,” says Waldrum of Chapman, who totaled 25 goals in 15 league games with the Burlington Sting during the 2000 club season. “She’s played some as a flank midfielder-a position our system doesn’t use-but as a forward that makes her a threat to get free down the sides and provide quality service into the goal area. She’s a very exciting prospect and should mesh well with the other forwards.”
Boland (Hudson, Ohio) originally was slated to play in the Irish midfield or defense but she also has been thrown into the forward mix, thanks to an eye-popping performance during the summer of 2001 while playing with the U.S. under-19 team. Boland scored the lone goal in a 1-0 win over Chaman and the Canadian under-19 team before adding a hat trick and two assists three days later, in an 11-1 win over the same squad. Her All-America senior season at Hudson High School included 27 goals and 12 assists in 23 games, with two goals in the state semifinals and a two-goal flurry in the final six minutes of the 2-1 state-title game win.
“Mary will make an impact wherever she plays,” says Waldrum. “She played midfield with her regional team, has played forward at several levels and also played great centrally in the back at our summer camp last year. It’s a nice dilemma to have.
“Mary has such a great attacking mentality-a go-for-the-goal type of attitude-and backs up that approach with excellent technical ability. She has both the ability and maturity to play wherever the team needs her-in that respect, she has the potential to be one of our most valuable players.”
Freshman Erin Sheehan (Wilton, Conn.) rounds out a forward unit that includes tremendous depth-with all but Tulisiak set to return when the 2002 season rolls around.
“As they go, so will the team go.” Such are the words of Waldrum in reference to Notre Dame’s pair of returning midfield starters-senior Mia Sarkesian and junior Ashley Dryer.
Despite having a big fan in their head coach, Sarkesian and Dryer have yet to gain significant national recognition-due, in large part, to playing in Makinen’s shadow. Some attention did come their way late in 2000, with Sarkesian being named the BIG EAST Championship’s most outstanding player while Dryer’s value ironically was magnified in her absence, missing most of the NCAA quarterfinals and all of the NCAA semifinals due to injury. Without Dryer, the Irish went an unthinkable 77 minutes vs. Santa Clara without a shot and were forced to switch to an unorthodox 4-2-4 system (four forwards, two midfielders) versus North Carolina in the semifinals.
“Mia and Ashley are such key elements but they are more than capable of handling that pressure,” says Waldrum. “Winning the midfield battle is critical in our system and they’ve come into their own as strong all-around players who consistently get the job done.”
Makinen’s attacking spot in the midfield is set to be filled by promising sophomore Randi Scheller while freshman Reagan Jones or sophomore Kim Carpenter could fill a role similar to Scheller’s in 2000, when she was the first midfielder off the bench.
Sarkesian (Canton, Mich.) owes a large part of her apparent anonymity to a seemingly effortless ability to patrol the midfield and distribute the ball with accuracy and consistency. Even her meager career statistics of nine goals and 10 assists are deceiving, with many of those points coming in pressure situations (she was a proven scorer as a prep, with 72 goals and 36 assists).
“You have to know a little something about soccer to appreciate the type of player that Mia is for this team, because our system is based on succeeding in those subtle aspects of midfield play,” says Waldrum. “Mia has made important strides in her defense, her ability in the air and in her leadership-all of which has come with age and experience. She is a very committed player and will be looking to boost her offense even a little more this season.”
Dryer (Salt Lake City, Utah) has similar attributes to Sarkesian but always has been one of the team’s top players in the air, despite being one of its shortest at 5-4. Likewise an accomplished scorer in high (76G-47A), Dryer could match her Irish career stats (2G-5A) early in the upcoming season.
“Ashley is such a strong player when running at people with the ball and has developed into a very good defender. The last ingredient for her will be to become a more consistent goalscoring threat,” says Waldrum. “She does such an excellent job creating chances for her others, but you should see her creating more of her own chances this season.”
Scheller (Kutztown, Pa.) could open some eyes in her second season, as she packs plenty of talent into her deceptive 5-3 frame. The sophomore fireplug boasts an assortment of twisting moves to go along with a strong shot and an improving field sense. Add in a rookie season in which she learned from one of the best players in collegiate women’s soccer history and it’s no surprise that Scheller has the confidence of the Irish coaches.
“Randi is a great fit at that position and should complete what will be a very strong midfield. She learned a lot from Anne about how to excel as an attacking midfielder. She’ll be up for the challenge,” says Waldrum.
Jones (Tampa, Fla.) and the mutli-positional Boland, who both attended Notre Dame’s 2000 soccer camp, could provide solid depth to the midfield unit. Jones-a steady playmaker who has the distribution skills needed in the Irish midfield system-was a four-year MVP and three-time scoring leader (30G-23A in 42 games during 2001) with Blackwatch Stirling, one of the nation’s top club programs.
Carpenter (Webster, N.Y.) has the versatility to play all over the field and could be a regular sparkplug. She turned in a commendable performance during the spring exhibition vs. Mexico, starting at the left outside-back position usually occupied by Gonzalez (who was playing sweeper at the other end of the field for Mexico).
The Irish return four of five starters in the defensive third (including Liz Wagner in the goal), with a wealth of experience contained in the threesome of Monica Gonzalez, Lindsey Jones and Vanessa Pruzinsky. Those thre-who each trained previously at forward or midfield-have combined to play in 200 career games at Notre Dame, with 128 starts.
“We have great leaders in the defense but the big question is who will fill that other central spot,” says Waldrum. “It will be important to have that player in place, in order to have a coordinated defense, but we still are very solid in the back. Vanessa is one of the best defenders in the nation and Lindsey and Monica are a great tandem due to their added ability to push forward-they may be the best pair of outside backs in college soccer this season.”
Gonzalez (Richardson, Texas) is the battle-tested veteran of the squad, embarking on her fifth year of eligibility due to a sophomore season that was lost due to injury. In addition to logging 74 career games (28 starts), Gonzalez-a converted forward and the team’s tallest player at 5-11-has the added is a founding member of the three-year-old Mexican National Team. She likely will return to the left outside-back spot where she made most of her 18 starts in 2000, when she chipped in one goal and four assists while ranking as one of the best players on the field in the regular-season showdown at UConn and the NCAA semifinal matchup with North Carolina.
“We look for Monica to have a great final season and she’s made tremendous strides,” says Waldrum. “Her work ethic and attitude are excellent and she provides so much value up-and-down the field due to her understanding of our attacking style. She also is very tough in the air and we may try to use her more as a target player on set plays.”
Jones (South Bend, Ind.)-who switched from the midfield when Notre Dame went to its 4-3-3 system in 1999-returns at right back, where she made 23 starts a year ago (she has started in 49 of 75 career games played). A tireless runner with a lanky 5-9 frame, Jones has developed into a hard-nosed defender and is possibly the most well-conditioned member of the squad.
“Since moving to defense, ‘Jonesie’ really has learned the position well and continues to gain confidence,” says Waldrum. “She’s a tremendously hard worker and has developed as a leader. Her ability to push forward also makes her a threat at the other end of the field.”
Pruzinsky (Trumbull, Conn.)-who has started all 51 games of her Irish career-earned preseason billing as the BIG EAST’s co-defensive player of the year, a fitting tribute to the central intimidator of the Irish defense whose skills make her a strong All-America candidate (she already has earned first team Academic All-America honors, as a 4.0 chemical engineering major). Pruzinsky has the power to win most “50-50” balls and the recovery speed to close quickly on forwards who venture into her vicinity.
“Vanessa moved from outside to central defense last year and it ended up being a natural fit for her great combination of speed, athleticism and physical strength-she’s without a doubt one of the toughest kids in the country,” says Waldrum of Pruzinsky, who was invited to the elite U.S. under-21 training camp last summer.
“It’s amazing when you think that Vanessa was the national high school player of the year as a forward, scoring 79 goals in her career, and now she has developed into one of the nation’s best defenders. She’s the heart and soul of our defense, you get the best from her every day and she has the utmost respect from all her teammates.”
While the Irish have a known commodity at one central defender spot, Pruzinsky’s partner at the marking back position is unknown heading into the 2001 preseason. Boland impressed the Irish coaches with her play as a central defender at the 2000 Notre Dame soccer camp while Gonzalez could be an option, after spending the summer as Mexico’s starting sweeper.
Freshman Gudrun Gunnarsdottir (Seltjarnames, Iceland) is one of the more likely solutions to fill the spot held by Bakker and Lindsey for most of 2000. A member of Iceland’s up-and-coming national team, the 5-9 “Gunna”-as she is known by teammates-follows Finland native Makinen as the second European player to join the Notre Dame program.
“Gunna seems to be a natural addition at central defender, due to her speed, height, ability to read the game well and experience playing internationally against some of the top forwards in the world,” says Waldrum. “She could give us a new look in the back due to those qualities and the fact that she plays the game on a very simple-yet effective-level. That’s the type of steadiness you need from your marking backs.”
Carpenter also could see time at outside back while sophomores Megan Rogers (Syracuse, N.Y.) and Jennifer Carter (Boise, Idaho) both have shown the ability to make contributions but are looking to rebound after missing time-Rogers last spring due to shoulder surgery and Carter in the second half of the 2000 season due to illness.
Freshman Kate Tulisiak (Medina, Ohio) rounds out the defensive corps and will combine with her sibling Kelly as the first sisters ever to play for the Notre Dame women’s soccer program.
The strong play of Liz Wagner (Spring, Texas) often was lost on observers from the 2000 season, particularly if they witnessed a game where she hardly touched the ball (she faced just 19 shots in 13 regular-season games vs. unranked teams) as compared to seeing one of her many stellar efforts vs. ranked teams and in the postseason-when she made 42 saves and allowed just six goals in 12 such “big games.”
Wagner’s nation-leading 0.39 goals-against average included a 700-minute shutout streak (12th-longest in NCAA history) and a pair of prime-time, eight-save efforts at Connecticut (0-0) and vs. Santa Clara in the NCAA quarterfinals (2-1, OT). She did not give up multiple goals until the 2-1 NCAA semifinal loss to North Carolina-just the second time that Wagner and the Irish trailed during the entire 2000 season, spanning just 35 minutes.
“Liz faced a big challenge last year. We’d graduated two starting defenders, including a four-time All-American in Jen Grubb, and Liz had never even started a game while backing up another All-American in LaKeysia Beene. So she had a lot of pressure just to win the starting job,” says Waldrum.
“The key for Liz is her focus, because consistency really is the key for any goalkeeper. She went out and did her job, didn’t cost us any games, and then played some awesome games that kept us from losing. She has the framework to make that happen again, with her positioning and distribution skills and solid training habits. She’s developed into a great leader for our defense.”
Sophomore Lauren Kent (Laguna Niguel, Calif.) again will contend for time in the nets, after playing sparingly as a freshman. Expected to fully recover from offseason knee surgery, Kent was a pleasant surprise in 2000.
“Lauren reads the game well, has excellent command of the penalty box and is very confident in her abilities,” says Waldrum. “She continues to improve her distribution but has made some great strides overall. She will need to be ready to play at any time and we will try to get her some quality minutes throughout the season.”