Aug. 21, 2008
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Led by two Notre Dame women’s soccer alumnae, the United States won its second consecutive Olympic gold medal with a thrilling 1-0 overtime win over Brazil on Thursday before a spirited crowd of 51,612 at Beijing Workers’ Stadium in Beijing, China. Former Irish All-America defender Kate (Sobrero) Markgraf (`98) and standout midfielder Shannon Boxx (`99) started and played all 120 minutes in Thursday’s epic Olympic final, earning a second gold medal to go along with the one both players received as members of the 2004 U.S. squad that also downed Brazil in overtime (2-1 in Athens, Greece).
With the victory, Markgraf and Boxx join fencer Mariel Zagunis (’10) as the only Olympians with Notre Dame ties to win multiple gold medals in their careers. Zagunis won her second gold earlier this month with a victory in women’s sabre, before adding a school-record-tying third Olympic medal with a bronze in women’s team sabre. Markgraf, who also earned a silver medal with the 2000 United States women’s soccer team, has tied that standard, also held by track & field’s Alex Wilson (’32) (bronze in 1928, silver and bronze in 1932 for his native Canada).
Current and former Notre Dame student-athletes now have won a total of eight medals (seven gold) in the past two Olympics, with all eight medals being won by women. Four years ago, Markgraf, Boxx and Zagunis were joined on the top step of the medal podium by former Irish women’s basketball All-American Ruth Riley (’01), who helped Team USA steamroll to a perfect record and the gold medal.
Thursday’s win was especially sweet for Team USA, which dealt with tremendous adversity in the final days before the Olympics. First, star forward Abby Wambach suffered a broken leg in the team’s final tune-up game (ironically against Brazil), and then the United States, which came into the Games with a 21-0-1 record this year, opened group play with a stunning 2-0 loss to Norway. However, the Americans regrouped and won their next five games (three by shutout) to secure their third gold medal in four tries since women’s soccer was added to the Olympic schedule in 1996.
“I don’t think we ever doubted but we just didn’t think about (the adversity),” Markgraf said after Thursday’s final. “Also, after the first game, we had our backs against the wall and we had no choice but to fight — all 18 of us. There isn’t a star on this team, (but) there are 18 great team players. That’s how we won (Thursday).
United States’ Kate Markgraf carries her son Keegan on their shoulders as they are all smiles during the medal ceremony for the women’s soccer gold medal match. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)
“I think so many of us for so long looked up to players who are no longer here,” she continued. “Hopefully now America will start to look up to the players around me. There are 18 of us now, even though the previous generations set the standard.”
Carli Lloyd scored the game-winning goal in the 96th minute, but it was Markgraf and Boxx who played critical roles in the American victory, the fourth consecutive 1-0 win for the United States over Brazil this year (but the first with Brazil at full strength, led by two-time FIFA World Player of the Year Marta). Markgraf was stellar as a central back for the U.S., with her biggest defensive play coming in the 102nd minute when she blocked Marta’s shot from inside the penalty area and allowed fellow three-time Olympian (and backline mate) Christie Rampone to sweep the ball out of danger.
Boxx, who logged her 100th cap (National Team appearance) in the quarterfinal win over Canada, was equally strong as a holding midfielder for the Stars & Stripes, employing a physical style from the opening whistle that slowed the speedy Brazilians and allowed the United States to control the run of play for significant stretches, particularly in the second half and overtime.
Prior to her distinguished career with the U.S. National Team, Markgraf was a three-time All-America defender at Notre Dame from 1994-97. Playing under her maiden name of Kate Sobrero, she was the defensive MVP of the 1995 NCAA Championship (won by the Irish) and was the 1997 BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year. She also was a two-time national player of the year finalist (1996, 1997), compiling seven goals and 24 assists in 97 games (all starts), while leading Notre Dame to four consecutive NCAA national semifinal appearances (including three trips to the title game).
Boxx and Markgraf were teammates at Notre Dame for three seasons (1995-97), before Boxx’s tenure concluded with an injury-plagued 1998 season that ended in the NCAA quarterfinals. A three-time all-BIG EAST selection, Boxx finished her college career with 39 goals and 57 assists, currently ranking sixth in school history for total assists, 12th for career points (135) and 15th for all-time goals.
The U.S. will return home for a three-city post-Olympic victory tour against Ireland from Sept. 13-20. These exhibition games will be played in Philadelphia (Sept. 13 at 8 p.m. ET at Lincoln Financial Field), East Rutherford, N.J. (Sept. 17 at 7:30 p.m. ET at Giants Stadium), and Bridgeview, Ill. (Sept. 20 at 7 p.m. CT at Toyota Park).
— ND —