Sept. 15, 2008
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – For the fourth time in the past five seasons, Notre Dame has the No. 1-ranked women’s soccer team in the country, with the Irish rising to the top spot in the Soccer America, Soccer Buzz and Top Drawer Soccer polls on Monday. Notre Dame, which now has been No. 1 in five of head coach Randy Waldrum’s 10 seasons at the helm (since ’99), moved past previously top-ranked UCLA, which tied Brown, 0-0, on Sunday afternoon, with the Irish potentially elevating to No. 1 in two other polls (National Soccer Coaches Association of America and Soccer Times) when those surveys are released on Tuesday.
Also on Monday, freshman forward Melissa Henderson (Garland, Texas/Berkner) collected the first individual awards of her career, earning a place on the Top Drawer Soccer National Team of the Week and the BIG EAST Conference Weekly Honor Roll after scoring a pair of goals in a span of 6:05 during last Friday’s 5-0 win over SMU at Alumni Field. Henderson already is the sixth different Irish player to garner a national or conference award, and the second freshman to be honored after her former club teammate and fellow Texan, defender Jessica Schuveiller (Plano, Texas/Plano West), was tapped for a spot on last week’s Soccer Buzz Elite Team of the Week.
Notre Dame (6-0-0) has opened this season in impressive fashion, defeating three consecutive ranked opponents in a seven-day span with wins over No. 12 (Soccer America)/21 (NSCAA) Santa Clara (2-0), No. 2/3 North Carolina (1-0) and No. 11/12 Duke (3-1), the latter two victories coming at UNC’s Carolina Classic in Chapel Hill, N.C. It marks the first time in eight years that the Irish picked off three consecutive Top 25 teams in the regular season, while it’s the first time since 1995 that Notre Dame has played all three of those traditional powers in succession — that ’95 Irish squad (which went on to claim the program’s first national championship) was 1-1-1 in that stretch, defeating SCU (1-0), tying Duke (2-2) and losing to North Carolina (0-2).
Notre Dame remains one of just 12 teams in the nation that are unbeaten and untied through the first three weeks of the 2008 season. The other squads with perfect records include: Akron (5-0-0), College of Charleston (7-0-0), LSU (5-0-0), Miami-Fla. (7-0-0), Michigan State (7-0-0), Minnesota (8-0-0), North Carolina State (7-0-0), Oklahoma State (6-0-0), Siena (4-0-0), Villanova (7-0-0) and Washington (6-0-0).
This year’s Irish have been strong at both ends, outscoring their opponents by a 22-1 spread, with the lone goal allowed coming against Duke on a second-half corner kick that deflected in off the back of a Notre Dame defender. The team’s 0.17 goals-against average (GAA) through six games — good for fourth in the nation — also is well below the single-season school record (0.36 in 1997), with the Irish posting five shutouts (school record is 19 in 2006) and allowing only 2.17 shots on goal per game (Notre Dame record is 2.11 in 2006).
With 22 goals to date (3.67 per game; fifth in the nation), the Irish have nine more goals than their opponents’ combined shots on goal (13) and have nearly twice as many shots on goal (69) as their opponents have total shots (37). What’s more, Notre Dame has had 13 different goalscorers and 16 separate point scorers through six games, already within striking distance of the program records of 17 goalscorers and 20 point scorers set in 1996.
Monday’s No. 1 ranking by Soccer America comes almost two years to the day after the last time Notre Dame took over the top spot in that publication’s poll. During that 2006 season, the Irish rose to the top of all the major national rankings by the fourth week of the campaign, remaining there for the balance of the year (some polls knocked them down briefly following a scoreless tie at Connecticut in mid-October) before a 2-1 loss to fellow No. 1 team, North Carolina, in the NCAA national championship game at Cary, N.C. (Notre Dame’s only defeat in a 25-1-1 season).
Freshman forward Melissa Henderson became the sixth different Irish player to collect a national or conference weekly award this season, earning a place on this week’s Top Drawer Soccer National Team of the Week.
Notre Dame first was ranked No. 1 by the NSCAA poll (then called the Intercollegiate Soccer Association of America poll) for the final month of the 1994 season, then returned to the pole position in the final ISAA poll of 1995 after defeating Portland, 1-0 in triple overtime, in the NCAA title game. The Irish then spent the final two months of the 1996 season as the top-ranked team in the NSCAA poll and returned to No. 1 for the final 11 weeks in 2000. Notre Dame’s 2004 squad held the NSCAA top spot for six weeks midway through that season and regained that placement after defeating UCLA in the national championship game (1-1, 4-3 on penalty kicks). The 2005 team then opened the season as the No. 1 squad for three weeks before the ’06 team registered its lengthy stay atop the polls.
The women’s soccer team’s No. 1 ranking this week also extends a remarkable run of success for Notre Dame athletics. Beginning with the 2000-01 academic year, at least one Irish athletics program has risen to the top of the polls in their respective sport in each of the past nine years. An unprecedented four Notre Dame teams were ranked No. 1 in 2000-01 (women’s soccer, women’s basketball, fencing and baseball), with fencing continuing its top-ranked run from 2002-06. Ice hockey earned its first-ever No. 1 ranking in the 2006-07 season, while fencing battled its way back to the top spot last year.
As has become the custom on the Notre Dame campus, a flag bearing the numeral one is being flown outside the Irish athletic department offices at the Joyce Center, and the traditional, lighted numeral one will be placed atop Grace Hall on the northeast edge of campus in honor of the Irish women’s soccer team’s ascension to No. 1 in the polls. The eight-foot sign, built by Fr. Bob Malone and a group of seminarians, originally went up at Moreau Seminary (at the north end of St. Joseph’s Lake) in 1974, following Notre Dame’s 1973 national championship football season. It later moved to Howard Hall before shifting to its current perch on the roof of Grace Hall. The sign was displayed at the end of the 1988 national-title football season and returned for parts of the `89, `90 and `93 football campaigns, as well as the title-winning ’95 and early ’96 women’s soccer seasons, but then went dark for four years before illuminating once more on Oct. 12, 2000, when the Irish women’s soccer team began its current run of No. 1 rankings.
Notre Dame will take the pitch for the first time this season as the nation’s No. 1 team on Friday when it opens BIG EAST play with a 4 p.m. (CT) match against DePaul at Wish Field in Chicago. The Irish then will head to University Park, Pa., on Sunday for a 1 p.m. (ET) contest at No. 16 (Soccer America) Penn State, with that match scheduled to be televised live on the Big Ten Network.
— ND —