Junior tri-captain Cari Roccaro was named to the preseason all-ACC team that was released by the conference on Monday

Pitch Points: Irish Use Spring To Build Framework For Future

May 8, 2014

NOTRE DAME, Ind. – You’ll have to forgive new Notre Dame women’s soccer coach Theresa Romagnolo if her team temporarily saw its colors change from gold and blue to orange and red during its recently-concluded spring season. It certainly wasn’t by design, and if Romagnolo has her way, those colors won’t be seen in the Fighting Irish dugout any time soon.

The orange hue could be traced to the construction zone that was Notre Dame’s training sessions and matches during the spring, as Romagnolo began to implement her philosophy and system for a Fighting Irish squad that features seven starters and 22 veterans returning for the 2014 season. The first-year Notre Dame skipper faced two big challenges during the installation process, not the least was simply the timing of her arrival, which came less than one week before the Fighting Irish began their six-match spring schedule in mid-March.

Meanwhile, the other challenge (and the temporary shade of red within the program) reflected the number of injuries and other maladies that sidelined various Fighting Irish players during the spring. In fact, between all of the injuries (none of which are expected to carry over into the 2014 fall season), Notre Dame’s ranks were whittled down to the point that defender Elizabeth Tucker, who completed her senior season back in the fall and is just mere days from graduating, was pressed into service to help the Fighting Irish cope with their lack of depth this spring.

Nevertheless, the Notre Dame players and coaches showed the ability to quickly adapt to their changing environment, winning four of their six spring matches, including a 1-0 victory at Michigan (following a loss to the Wolverines by a similar score in the third round of last year’s NCAA Championship), and identical 2-0 wins over the Haiti National Team and Mexico Under-20 National Team at Alumni Stadium in international friendlies to conclude the spring season.

The clean sheet against Mexico was noteworthy for two reasons, as it not only marked the first time since 2006 (and second time in the past 15 years) that the Fighting Irish blanked their Latin American counterparts, but it also came at the expense of a Mexico side that finished second at the 2014 CONCACAF Under-20 Championships back in January and has qualified for the 2014 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup this summer in Canada.

“I was very pleased with the development of the team this spring,” Romagnolo said. “We put a lot of focus on our attacking ideas and creativity in the final third and I saw this area improve, especially in our final game against Mexico. We are starting to have a great mentality about taking players on and taking risks in the final third while also bringing consistent defensive pressure as a team. The spring is a great opportunity to try new ideas and for me, that meant trying players in different positions and learning the strengths of our team. It was very productive for me to evaluate the players and team before they head away for the summer.”

Notre Dame’s 2-0 win over the Mexico Under-20 National Team on April 25 at Alumni Stadium also featured one of the top individual plays in recent Fighting Irish women’s soccer history, courtesy of freshman midfielder and reigning ACC Freshman of the Year Morgan Andrews.

Words really don’t do justice to Andrews’ play, which led to Notre Dame’s second goal in the 70th minute. Take a look at the following YouTube clip from the WatchND broadcast, a video that later was nominated as an ESPN SportsCenter #SCTop10 highlight and appeared on Top Drawer Soccer’s “91st Minute” blog (might want to keep an eye on the volume as our Spanish broadcast crew went slightly nuts when they saw the move and the resulting goal):

The Fighting Irish put a final wrap on the 2013 fall season at their end-of-the-year banquet on April 26 at the historic Morris Inn on the Notre Dame campus. The afternoon gala featured a season highlight video, celebrating the team’s 13-8-1 campaign and trip to the third round of the NCAA Championship, as well as tributes to the program’s four departing seniors (Tucker and midfielders Mandy Laddish, Nicole Rodriguez and Rebecca Twining), and the presentation of the team’s annual awards.

Tucker, who had four goals and three assists last season while starting all 22 matches at defender despite never before playing the position, earned two honors at the banquet, notably sharing Notre Dame Monogram Club Most Valuable Player accolades with sophomore Cari Roccaro. It was the first time two players earned the award since 1996, when future national players of the year Cindy Daws (1996 Hermann Trophy) and Jen Renola (1996 National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) National Player of the Year) shared the spoils.

Roccaro, a Soccer America First Team MVP (All-America) and All-ACC First Team selection, finished third on the team with five goals and added two assists while starting 21 times at all three field positions. She also garnered Monogram Club MVP honors for the second year in a row, something last achieved by two-time All-American, 2004 Soccer America National Player of the Year and 2005 Hermann Trophy finalist Katie Thorlakson (2004 and 2005).

In addition to her MVP plaque, Tucker, a two-time Capital One first-team Academic All-America choice, took home the Notre Dame Club of St. Joseph Valley Rockne Student-Athlete Award for the second consecutive season (the first multi-time recipient since Ashley Jones in 2005 and 2007). The Jacksonville, Fla., native rounded out a remarkable athletic and academic career at Notre Dame by earning NCAA and ACC postgraduate scholarships this spring as she maintains a perfect 4.0 grade-point average (GPA) and stands poised to earn her bachelor’s degree in accounting from the top-ranked Mendoza College of Business. What’s more, she was a prime candidate to be one of the first Fighting Irish student-athletes ever chosen as valedictorian for the University’s Commencement Ceremony that will be held May 18 at Notre Dame Stadium.

Meanwhile, Kaela Little, who started all 22 matches in goal during her rookie season, was chosen as the team’s Most Valuable Freshman, the third time a Fighting Irish goalkeeper earned the award, joining Renola in 1993 and Erika Bohn in 2002. Both Renola and Bohn went on to backstop Notre Dame to national titles in 1995 and 2004, respectively, with Bohn earning NCAA College Cup Most Outstanding Defensive Player honors after turning aside three penalty kicks in the title match victory over UCLA (two in the decisive shootout).

Tucker’s double honors at the Notre Dame women’s soccer awards banquet served as a precursor to the massive haul she earned at the Fighting Irish athletic department’s 13th annual awards show known as the O.S.C.A.R.S. (Outstanding Student-Athletes Celebrating Achievements & Recognition Showcase), which took place April 30 at Purcell Pavilion.

Tucker became the first student-athlete in Notre Dame athletics history to earn all four of the school’s major athletics honors in the same year, collecting the Byron V. Kanaley, Francis Patrick O’Connor, Athletics Community Champion and Top Gun awards.

The Kanaley Award is the most prestigious award given to a Fighting Irish student-athlete and has been given annually since 1926 to senior monogram athletes who have been most exemplary as both students and leaders, as chosen by the University’s Faculty Board on Athletics. Tucker is the ninth women’s soccer player to receive the award, and the first since Lauren Fowlkes in 2010-11.

The O’Connor Award was first presented in 1993 and honors male and female student-athletes who best display the total embodiment of the true spirit of Notre Dame, as exemplified by their contributions to their respective teams. To be considered, student-athletes must possess the qualities of caring, courage, confidence, encouragement, humility, honesty, humor, kindness and patience — traits attributed to the award’s namesake Pat O’Connor (a former student-athlete who passed away in 1973 following his freshman year). Tucker is the fourth women’s soccer player to garner this accolade and the first since Ellen Bartindale in 2010-11.

The Athletics Community Champion Award was established in 1999 to recognize the contributions of Notre Dame student-athletes to the University community and the community at large, embodying the spirit of leadership, commitment and selflessness. Conferring this award recognizes student-athletes who “study for the sake of learning, give for the sake of giving, and understand that personal accomplishment is never achieved alone.” Tucker is the fifth women’s soccer player chosen for this award, and the first since Lindsay Brown in 2010-11.

The Top Gun Award has been given annually since 1993 to a graduating senior student-athlete with the highest cumulative grade-point average and who has competed with an intercollegiate team for at least three years. Tucker is the second women’s soccer player to receive this honor (along with Vanessa Pruzinsky in 2002-03) and she joins Pruzinsky and men’s cross country/track & field athlete Nate Andrulonis (2000-01) as the only Top Gun Award recipients to post a 4.0 cumulative GPA during their academic careers at Notre Dame.

Along with her exploits in the classroom and on the soccer pitch, Tucker has donated an incredible amount of time to numerous local, regional and even national community service projects, in addition to being an active contributor in several campus groups, both inside and outside the Notre Dame athletics department. She has been extremely involved in the Irish Fight For Life program, which brings together teams and student-athletes with a patient in the pediatric Hematology/Oncology unit at South Bend’s Memorial Hospital, providing the patients and their families with support as they undergoing treatment for various types of cancers.

Tucker also has participated in the Adopt-a-Family, Ronald McDonald House, Pediatric Christmas Party and Perley Elementary Tutor programs. What’s more, she has taken part in meet-and-greet events at local area middle schools, as well as soccer clinics throughout the South Bend area, notably with Michiana Special Olympians. In addition, Tucker is part of the Notre Dame Tax Assistance Program, which annually goes out into the South Bend and surrounding communities to help low-income and disabled citizens with the preparation of the tax returns.

On campus, Tucker is highly invested in helping younger Notre Dame students reach their goals through the Notre Dame Peer Advisor Program, in which she meets with 50 freshmen to discuss their academic progress and social concerns. Within Notre Dame’s top-ranked Mendoza College of Business, Tucker also served two years as a teaching assistant in two courses — Managerial Economics and Information Technology Management. Most notably, Tucker has been an active member of two highly-regarded Notre Dame student-athlete groups — the Rosenthal Leadership Academy and the Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC).

Thus it was no surprise when Tucker also was chosen to receive one of Notre Dame’s top student leadership awards, the Ray Siegfried Award for Leadership Excellence, at the University’s Student Leadership Awards Banquet last month. The Siegfried Award is given to a graduating senior who exemplifies the qualities for which the late former Notre Dame trustee Ray Siegfried (’65), was known — leadership, generosity, devotion to the Catholic faith and an affinity for athletics. Tucker is the first women’s soccer player to receive the award, which was established in 2006.

Andrews, Roccaro and sophomore defender Katie Naughton will be headed to southern California this weekend to take part in the latest United States Under-20 Women’s National Team camp, which will be held May 11-18 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif.

The Notre Dame trio is among 27 players invited to the camp, which is the penultimate domestic event before the United States competes in the 2014 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Canada in August. It also is the final camp before head coach Michelle French chooses the 20-player roster that will represent the U.S. in a pair of friendlies against the French U-20 National Team next month in France. The Americans then will have one more domestic camp in July before heading to Canada for the World Cup.

Andrews, Roccaro and Naughton all were members of the USA squad that captured the country’s fourth CONCACAF U-20 Championship back in January in the Cayman Islands, outscoring their five opponents by a combined 29-0 margin (the first time in six appearances the Americans swept through the CONCACAF U-20 tournament without allowing a goal). The United States won the crown with a 4-0 victory in the title match against a Mexico side that included current Notre Dame freshman midfielder Cindy Pineda, who appeared in two matches at the tournament (starting one), and scored the opening goal in Mexico’s 10-1 group-stage win over Honduras.

Roccaro, who is in her second cycle with the U-20s after helping the USA to the 2012 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup crown, is the Americans’ most-capped player at this level with 27 appearances. She started all five matches in the CONCACAF Championship and played all 450 minutes for her country, wearing the captain’s armband for the opening match against Costa Rica.

Andrews also appeared in all five contests for the USA, starting three times and handing out assists in each of the Americans’ three group-stage matches against Costa Rica, Jamaica and Guatemala, respectively.

Naughton, who was the subject of a feature story by U.S. Soccer during the tournament (CLICK HERE to read more), has become a mainstay at center back for the United States in recent months and started all five matches at this year’s CONCACAF U-20 Championship, going the distance in four of those outings (all but the Guatemala match, when she served as captain for the first time in her career, and then was able to earn some rest after halftime of the 10-0 rout). Naughton also logged an assist on the USA’s first goal in its 6-0 semifinal win over Trinidad & Tobago, a victory that clinched the Americans’ spot in this summer’s U-20 Women’s World Cup.

Notre Dame is one of three schools (along with North Carolina and Stanford) that will have three players headed to this weekend’s United States Under-20 Women’s National Team training camp. Four Fighting Irish players have been a part of three USA U-20 World Cup championship teams since the event was first held in 2002 — Kerri Hanks in 2002 (when the competition was at the U-19 level), Fowlkes in 2008, and Roccaro and Laddish in 2012.

Earlier this week, Romagnolo finalized her coaching staff for the 2014 season, retaining 11-year assistant coach Dawn Greathouse and bringing aboard former Cal State Fullerton associate head coach Diego Bocanegra (the older brother of former U.S. Men’s National Team captain Carlos Bocanegra). The full release on Romagnolo’s staff can be found by CLICKING HERE.

Monday’s announcement also means there will be three new names on the Notre Dame coaching staff roster next season. Three, you say? As it turns out, Greathouse will change her last name later this summer after she marries Fighting Irish director of hockey operations Nick Siergiej (pronounced SIR-gay).

When the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) kicked off its second season April 12, six Notre Dame alumnae were on opening day rosters, including three with FC Kansas City — Laddish (who was a third-round draft pick by the club in January) and former Fighting Irish All-Americans Jen Buczkowski (’07) and Melissa Henderson (’12). Laddish is set to join her team once final exams are over, while Buczkowski has started every match in the midfield and Henderson earned her first start of the season Wednesday night against the Western New York Flash.

Two other Notre Dame alums (and members of their respective national teams) are slated to eventually suit up for the Chicago Red Stars, as U.S. Women’s National Team midfielder Shannon Boxx (’99) and Canadian frontliner/former Fighting Irish All-American Melissa Tancredi (’04) arrive in the Windy City. Boxx currently is on maternity leave, while Tancredi is set to compete for Canada against the United States in a friendly Thursday night at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba (8 p.m. ET on ESPN3 and espnw.com).

Another former Notre Dame All-American, Brittany Bock (’09) is in her first season with the expansion Houston Dash, playing for former Fighting Irish head coach Randy Waldrum. However, Bock saw her season cut short when she suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her left knee early in the first half of her team’s inaugural match (and home opener) on April 12 against defending NWSL champion Portland Thorns FC at BBVA Compass Stadium. She already has undergone successful surgery to repair the injury and is expected to return to the club next season.

Notre Dame is in the process of gaining final approval from the University’s Faculty Board on Athletics to release its 2014 schedule. The docket will feature two new looks, as the ACC moves away from its traditional 13-match round-robin format to a 10-match unbalanced conference schedule (meaning the Fighting Irish will not face three of the other league schools next year). In addition, the ACC has altered its postseason tournament structure, with the top four teams, instead of the top eight, in the final regular season standings now qualifying for the event (the site of which has not yet been announced).

Once Notre Dame has announced its schedule, fans will be able to purchase season and single-match tickets for all 2014 Fighting Irish soccer contests by contacting Notre Dame’s Murnane Family Athletics Ticket Office (574-631-7356; UND.com/buytickets; @NDTIX) or by visiting the ticket windows at either Gate 9 of Purcell Pavilion or Alumni Stadium on match day.

For more information on the Fighting Irish women’s soccer program, follow Notre Dame on Twitter (@NDsoccernews or @NDsoccer), like the Fighting Irish on Facebook (facebook.com/NDWomenSoccer) or sign up for the Irish ALERT text-messaging system through the “Fan Center” pulldown menu on the main page at UND.com.

— Chris Masters, Associate Athletic Media Relations Director