Aug. 7, 2004
The Notre Dame women’s soccer team is the preseason favorite to win the 2004 BIG EAST Conference regular-season championship, with the Irish previously winning eight regular-season and seven tournament titles in nine BIG EAST seasons. Fifth-year All-America central defender Melissa Tancredi was picked to repeat as the BIG EAST defensive player of the year and was joined by sophomore midielder Jen Buczkowski on the 11-player 2004 preseason all-BIG EAST team. The BIG EAST women’s soccer alignment now consists of one grouping of 12 teams, as opposed to the previous format of two divisions. Notre Dame will play every other team in the conference except St. John’s in 2004, with the 1st-place finisher in the regular-season standings playing host to the 8th-place finisher in the BIG EAST quarterfinals (the 2nd seed then will host the 7th, etc.), Notre Dame senior forward Mary Boland was overlooked on the preseason all-BIG EAST team (as selected by the league’s coaches), despite earning first team all-BIG EAST and NSCAA second-team all-region honors in 2003. Sophomore defender Christie Shaner – the league’s co-rookie of the year and a second-team all-BIG EAST pick in ’03 – also failed to crack the 2004 preseason list, which includes just two defenders (Tancredi and Villanova’s Michelle Biehl) among the 11 players. The next few weeks will be an eventful time for the Notre Dame women’s soccer program, which is set to take a preseason training trip to Campinas, Brazill, from Aug. 10-19. The 2004 Notre Dame roster includes 23 former letterwinners, led by several top players from the dominant 2003 Irish squad that was ranked No. 2 for most of the season and finished 20-3-1 (after an 18-0-1 start). Senior defender Candace Chapman, like Tancredi a member of the Canadian National Team, will be looking to return to her All-America form after missing the 2003 season due to an ACL knee injury. The tremendous depth on the 2004 roster could result in Chapman shifting to a more attacking role during the upcoming season, with the Brazil trip likely to provide a strong barometer of the team’s lineup options. Two veteran members of the Notre Dame program – Buczkowski (U.S.) and junior Katie Thorlakson (Canada) – have been active in recent months with their respective under-19 national teams, as have 2004 signees Kerri Hanks (U.S.) and Jannica Tjeder (Finland). The Under-19 World Championship will be held during the college season (Nov. 10-27 in Thailand) and the U.S. team’s pre-tournament residency camp has required its college-age players to sit out the entire 2004 college season (Hanks will enroll at Notre Dame in the 2005 spring semester). Buczkowski had been a starting defender with the U.S. Under-19 squad but announced to her teammates at the team banquet (following the ’04 spring semester) that she had decided to remain at Notre Dame in the 2004 fall semester and play for the Irish. Canada is allowing its college players to remain on campus for most of the 2004 season, with Thorlakson set to play with the Irish throughout the entire regular season and BIG EAST Tournament before returning for a potential NCAA quarterfinal game in late November. Tjeder intended to play for Notre Dame this fall even before Finland failed to qualify for the Under-19 World Championship. Hanks – ranked by Soccer America as the nation’s No. 4 signee for 2004 – is one of three freshmen (plus one veteran) who will not play for the Irish during the upcoming season. Her classmate Susan Pinnick was involved in a van accident with her summer club team and plans to join the Irish program for the 2005 spring season (she still is set to begin her studies this fall). Defensive midfielder Kelly Simon, a recruited walk-on addition who starred with the powerhouse Busch Soccer Club in St. Louis, recently had shoulder surgery and will not play with the Irish this fall. Notre Dame fans have eagerly awaited the return of spirited midfielder Randi Scheller, who missed all of her senior season in 2003 due to a nagging hip condition. Scheller, like Tancredi, had been approved for a fifth year of eligibility in 2004 but again will miss the season as she continnues with her rehabilitation under the care of a top specialist in the Pittsburgh area. Scheller is set to return to Notre Dame for the 2005 spring semester and has applied to the NCAA for a “hardship” sixth year of eligibility in the fall of 2005. Several other Irish players have the option of applying for fifth years of eligibility, including Chapman (in ’05), midfielder Annie Schefter (in ’06) and defender Jenny Walz (in ’06), with Hanks, Pinnick and Simon each likely to play four seasons with the Irish from 2005-08. Notre Dame is followed in the 2004 BIG EAST preseason poll by Connecticut, West Virginia, Boston College and Villanova (tied for fourth). Check back to und.com throughout the next few days and during the Brazil trip for various preseason offerings on the Irish women’s soccer team – including a rundown of a busy 2004 summer that saw the Notre Dame players and their respecitve offseason teams turning in some impressive performances.