Oct. 19, 2008
STORRS, Conn. – Senior All-America forward/Hermann Trophy candidate Kerri Hanks (Allen, Texas/Allen) scored twice and the Notre Dame defense turned in a stellar performance as the top-ranked Irish clinched the 2008 BIG EAST Conference National Division title with a 2-0 victory over Connecticut on Sunday afternoon at Morrone Stadium in Storrs, Conn. Hanks’ two-goal flurry was the highlight in a handful of record-setting moments for Notre Dame (16-0-0, 9-0-0 BIG EAST), which also has matched the best single-season start in school history, originally set back in 2000 by head coach Randy Waldrum’s second Irish club.
Hanks scored in each half, giving her 81 career goals to top Jenny Heft’s old school record of 80 tallies set from 1996-99. Hanks has a conference-best 17 goals this season and has scored in 10 consecutive games, tying the school record currently held by Amanda Guertin from the 2001 season. What’s more, the three-time All-America striker moved into a tie for eighth place on the NCAA Division I career points list with 225 (81G-63A), pulling alongside former U.S. National Team player and coach (and North Carolina standout) April Heinrichs, who set her mark from 1983-86. Hanks also now is tied for 15th in NCAA Division I history with 81 career goals, matching the outputs by Texas A&M’s Ashlee Pistorius and William & Mary’s Natalie Neaton.
Sunday’s victory carried added significance for Notre Dame, which historically has had trouble at Morrone Stadium, going 1-2-2 at Connecticut in its five previous trips to Storrs. In 2006, the Irish had come to town in a similar place as this season (with an unblemished record) and left with only a 0-0 tie to show for their efforts. Two years earlier, Notre Dame faced UConn on its home field in the BIG EAST Tournament final and dropped a 2-1 decision to the Huskies in what would be the only loss for the Irish on the road to their second national championship.
This time around, Notre Dame was sharp at both ends of the field, outshooting Connecticut, 27-11, including a sizeable 15-1 margin in shots on goal. In fact, the Huskies’ lone official shot on frame came 13 minutes into the game from well outside the penalty area, and their best chance of the day with a little more than 12 minutes to play skipped wide of the cage. UConn (5-8-4, 3-3-3) did register the only two corner kicks in the contest, the first time in two seasons (Oct. 22, 2006, at Georgetown) that the Irish didn’t earn at least one try from the flag. However, it mattered little for Notre Dame, which controlled the run of play for large portions of the afternoon, keeping the Huskies on the defensive and preventing any meaningful forays into the offensive third by the host school.
“I’m very pleased with this result, especially with our history of problems at Connecticut,” Waldrum said. “I thought it was important for us to go out and get an early goal to establish things, and we did that with a great piece of teamwork that Kerri finished well. The second half was really solid for us, and Kerri’s second goal was the end result of a great build-up which she capped off with a brilliant strike from distance. Winning the division title is always special, but we also realize that we have many other goals we want to reach and this is just the first step in that direction.”
In what has become a recurring theme this season, Notre Dame jumped out to an early lead, scoring in the first 20 minutes for the 11th time in 16 games. Freshman midfielder Courtney Barg (Plano, Texas/Plano West) started the sequence by corralling a loose ball in the center of the Connecticut half of the field and quickly threading a diagonal pass to senior All-America forward/Hermann Trophy candidate Brittany Bock (Naperville, Ill./Neuqua Valley), who was racing down the right channel. Bock pushed the dribble to the right endline and delivered a perfectly-placed cross into the heart of the six-yard box, where Hanks rose up and snapped a header into the right-center portion of the net at 8:38.
Notre Dame looked ready to double its lead just after the mandatory television timeout at 24:12, when freshman forward Melissa Henderson (Garland, Texas/Berkner) got loose on the left edge of the box and deked a defender out of position near the six-yard junction. Henderson then looked to have beaten UConn netminder Stephanie Labbe to the far right post, but the shot clanged hard off the woodwork to keep the margin at 1-0.
Henderson worked hard for another golden opportunity in the second half (64:37), after Barg led her speedy classmate with a sweet chip over the UConn backline. Henderson charged into the penalty area, stopped on a dime with a pivot inside a defender before letting loose with a low right-footed rocket to the short side, but Labbe (a Hermann Trophy candidate in her own right) was able to get down and parry the ball wide of the left post.
The second-half media timeout proved to be just the tonic the Irish needed to get refreshed and put the game on ice. Henderson got things moving in the right direction after backtracking to tackle away a ball at midfield. She then worked the sphere ahead to fellow Garland, Texas, native, and senior midfielder Rebecca Mendoza (Garland, Texas/North Garland), who smartly shoveled a one-touch pass to Bock cutting laterally across the offensive third. The veteran took one dribble, which looked to be too far in front of her, but she recovered and managed to toe-poke a pass to Hanks near the top right corner of the penalty area. Hanks cut back against the grain and from uncorked a world-class left-footed blast from 20 yards out that kept twisting away from Labbe, who leapt in vain as the shot tucked high into the left sidenetting at 70:14.
Not only was it Hanks’ second goal of the game, but it also gave Bock two assists for the second consecutive game. The ’07 first-team All-American and Hanks’ fellow Senior CLASS Award finalist (vote daily for both players through Nov. 19 at www.seniorclassaward.com) has come alive in the past six games, chalking up 13 points (4G-5A) in that time, with a goal and four assists this weekend.
The two-goal margin would be more than enough for the experienced Notre Dame defense. Connecticut did get a solid build-up in the 78th minute, as reserve forward Cory Bildstein ran on to a through-ball at the right side of the penalty area and drove a hard right-footed shot that wound up going wide of the left post. In addition to that effort, junior goalkeeper Kelsey Lysander (San Diego, Calif./Rancho Bernardo) efficiently managed her area, making one save on the way to her fourth solo shutout of the season and Notre Dame’s 10th clean sheet of the year.
The Irish now return home for their final two games of the regular season, beginning at 7:30 p.m. (ET) Friday with a matchup against BIG EAST National Division runner-up Rutgers at Alumni Field. Tickets for that contest, as well as all remaining Notre Dame home games, can be purchased through the Irish Athletics Ticket Office located on the second floor of Gate 1 at the Joyce Center (call 574-631-7356 during normal business hours), by going on-line to the official Notre Dame athletics web site (www.UND.com) and clicking on the “tickets” bar at the top of the main page, or by visiting the Alumni Field ticket windows on game night. Fans also can take the opportunity to get their tickets for the 2008 BIG EAST Championship, with the semifinals and finals slated to be played at Alumni Field on Nov. 7 and 9.
— ND —
POST GAME NOTES: In an ironic twist, the only other time Notre Dame started a season 16-0-0 in 2000, that string was broken with a scoreless tie at 25th-ranked Connecticut; it would be the only blemish on the Irish record prior to the NCAA College Cup semifinals, where Notre Dame dropped a 2-1 decision to fifth-ranked North Carolina in San Jose, Calif. … Notre Dame is 32-1-1 in its last 34 games since beginning last season with a 3-4-1 record … the Irish also extended several other streaks with Sunday’s win — consecutive wins (16, tied for third-longest in school history and most since that 2000 season-opening run from Aug. 27-Oct. 18), regular-season wins (school-record 26 games), unbeaten in regular season (26 games, fifth-longest in school history), unbeaten against BIG EAST opponents (school-record 47 games, 45-0-2, third-longest in Division I history) and goalscoring streak (41 games, third-longest in school history) … Notre Dame did have its eight-game run of three-goal games snapped, three short of the school record set in 2005, but still tied for the second-longest streak of its kind in school history; the Irish still have an active streak of nine consecutive two-goal contests, but they have a ways to go to catch the Notre Dame record in that category (16 from Sept. 24-Nov. 14, 1999) … the Irish did continue their amazing run of success with a 2-0 lead, moving to 296-0-1 all-time in such games and remaining unbeaten in the past 273 contests when going in front by a 2-0 count … Notre Dame moves to 18-4-3 all-time against Connecticut, with a 4-2-3 record in Storrs; Sunday marked the first-ever two-goal margin for the Irish over the Huskies at Morrone Stadium, with the three other victories all coming by a single goal (1996, 1998 BIG EAST final and 2004 regular season) … the Irish have led more than 70 percent of the time this season (1,018:50 of a possible 1,446:58) and have trailed for a grand total of 1:59 (all against Marquette on Oct. 5) … Hanks broke Heft’s career goals record at Notre Dame in two fewer games than Heft, needing 94 games to score her 80th and record-setting 81st goal … Hanks’ current 10-game goalscoring streak equals the run put together by Amanda Guertin from Oct. 12-Nov. 18, 200, the final 10 games of her sophomore season (which ended abruptly with a 3-2 home loss to Cincinnati in the second round of the NCAA Tournament) … Hanks’ 12-game point-scoring streak is one shy of her career-long run (done each of the past two seasons) and two away from Thorlakson’s school record set from Oct. 2-Nov. 25, 2005, the final 14 games of Thorlakson’s remarkable career (ending with a 3-1 loss at top-ranked Portland in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals) … Hanks’ two-goal outburst was her 17th career multi-goal game … Hanks notched her fifth gamewinning goal of the season, becoming the first Irish player ever to score at least 5 GWG in each of her four seasons at Notre Dame … Hanks and Bock now have a combined 126 career goals (Hanks – 81; Bock – 45), moving into second place on Notre Dame’s list of all-time goals by classmates, passing the 124 total of 2000 seniors Anne Makinen (65) and Meotis Erikson (59) … Hanks’ numbers this season are even more impressive when you take into account the fact she’s averaging just 64.5 minutes per game; at her current scoring pace, if she played a full 90 minutes, Hanks would have 24 goals, six more than the national leaders coming into Sunday’s action … however, Hanks isn’t even leading her own team in goals-per-90 minutes this season — Henderson averages just 43.3 minutes per game and would be averaging 25 goals over a full game.