June 30, 1998
Entering his ninth year as head coach of the Notre Dame women’s soccer team, Chris Petrucelli has the Irish set to challenge for the NCAA championship once again. After four straight semifinal appearances, Notre Dame has reloaded for another run in 1998.
“We are going to be a very good team, one of the best teams in the country, and should have a chance to win the NCAA championship,” says Petrucelli. “Some people may want to compare us to last year’s team but that is unfair because we don’t have to be better than last year’s team. We just have to be better than everyone else in the country this year.”
With nine starters returning and the loss of just eight goals scored by players gone through graduation, Petrucelli and the Irish will field one of the more experienced teams in the country. “One of our strengths will be our experience,” says Petrucelli. “We have a lot of players back from last year who are really hungry and focused.”
Once again, the Irish should be solid at nearly every position with four All-Americans and 10 players with national team or under-20 national team experience in the lineup.
“We are going to put quality players on the field at every position which is one of the reasons we have had success in recent years,” says Petrucelli. “The biggest concern is an overall lack of depth, especially in the back and in the midfield. These are areas where we need to get some help from our underclassmen and freshmen.”
The 1998 Irish schedule features five games against ’97 NCAA championship participants, including road games at North Carolina and Connecticut. Notre Dame will play a 10-game home schedule at Alumni Field, including the second annual adidas/Notre Dame Classic when the Irish will face Wake Forest and Indiana. The three-time defending BIG EAST champions will attempt to win their fourth straight conference crown this year at the BIG EAST championship in Storrs, Conn.
“Our toughest games are on the road which is not all that bad,” says Petrucelli. “We enjoy playing on the road and like the challenge and focus it brings to the team.”
Senior midfielder Shannon Boxx (Torrance, Calif.) and junior defender Jen Grubb (Hoffman Estates, Ill.) will serve as captains for the 1998 season.
“Our captains are extremely talented players who have been leaders for us in the past, but now with the official title and a little more freedom, we hope to see them step up,” says Petrucelli. “It is important that Shannon and Jen have been serious about both the game and being students. They are doing all the right things and are here for all the right reasons.”
In what has become a perennial strong spot in the Irish lineup with an All-American every year since 1994, Notre Dame’s goalkeeper duo of junior All-American LaKeysia Beene (Gold River, Calif.) and freshman U.S. women’s national under-20 team member Elizabeth Wagner (Spring, Texas) should be one of the top pair of goalkeepers in the country.
Beene played every minute of every game in 1997, allowing just nine goals for a 0.36 goals against average. She set a Notre Dame record by shutting out 18 of 25 opponents and set a BIG EAST single-season shutout record with nine shutouts in 11 conference games. Beene trained with the U.S. women’s national team and the under-20 national team once again in the spring.
“It is pretty obvious we are talented in net,” says Petrucelli. “I don’t think anybody would argue that LaKeysia Beene is the best college goalkeeper in the country. She has improved in her couple of years here. Her footwork and her decisions are better, but what makes her good is her athletic ability and her ability to come up with a big save that can win a game.”
Wagner has trained with the U.S. under-20 team and comes to Notre Dame as a Parade and National Soccer Coaches Association of America high school All-American. Also one of Soccer America’s top 25 high school seniors, Wagner will serve as a backup to Beene and should continue to improve and gain experience in that role.
“Elizabeth gives us some depth in the net we didn’t had a year ago,” says Petrucelli. “She is a pretty good goalkeeper and is even going to be better by spending time with LaKeysia. Elizabeth is very quick and keeps getting better all the time.”
Part of Beene’s success in ’97 can be contributed to the stingy Irish defense, whose zonal system was instrumental in limiting the opposition to just 101 shots, an average of just over four shots per game. All-American Jen Grubb and sophomore Kelly Lindsey (Omaha, Neb.) return from ’97 and are joined by junior Kara Brown (Avon, Conn.), expected to move to the back from the midfield to replace graduated national team member Kate Sobrero.
“We are excited once again about our ability in the back with Jen Grubb, Kelly Lindsey and Kara Brown,” says Petrucelli. “Our backline again should be tough to get through.”
Grubb joined Sobrero on the NSCAA first team All-America list and was a finalist for the Missouri Athletic Club Player of the Year award. In addition to her speed and power as a defender, Grubb also has shown the ability to come forward and impact the game on the offensive end. She tied an Irish record for assists in a half with four in the first half against Wisconsin in a game in which she recorded a career-high six points.
“Jenn Grubb is really going to have to take over our defense whereas in the past Kate Sobrero did that,” says Petrucelli. “As the veteran in the back, she has become more of a leader for us and she is going to have to be.”
Lindsey battled through early-season injuries to be an immediate success on the Irish defense as a freshman. Soccer America selected her as a member of its all-freshmen team with her tremendous speed and athletic ability which frustrated opponents. Lindsey also possesses quality offensive skills as she chipped in nine assists and had two goals last year, including a goal against Cincinnati in the NCAA first round when she dribbled in from midfield and slashed through the Bearcats defense to score from eight yards.
“Kelly has a great future here at Notre Dame,” says Petrucelli. “She may not be 100 percent healthy all season long, but Kelly already has made a big impact on our team. It will be an even bigger impact as time goes on.”
Brown should make the switch from outside midfielder to defender in her junior year. She starred at outside midfield in her first two years with six goals and 20 assists, including seven assists in NCAA championship games. Brown has impressed the coaches and frustrated opponents with her relentless, gutty play.
“Kara will be a great on defense because she is so mentally tough, feisty and quick and has the attitude that no one is going to beat her,” says Petrucelli. “She will make a very good back. She may have been one of our best players in the spring.”
Senior Laura Vanderberg (Kalamazoo, Mich.) also can contribute on defense after playing in 66 games in her career in a key reserve role. Most of her play has come in the midfield but she also has the ability to play in the back to help give the Irish depth on defense. “Laura Vanderberg can play in the back as well as the midfield,” says Petrucelli. “Her speed and tenacity make a big difference in either spot. She gives us some versatility when she is in the game. We lack a little depth in the back and we’ll have to see if our younger players can contribute there as well.”
Sophomore Liz Zanoni (Kalamazoo, Mich.) should serve in a backup role at defender. Zanoni saw action in six games as a freshman and saw extensive action in the spring season.
Like its solid goalkeeper, Notre Dame’s run of strong central midfielders continues with the return of sophomore Anne Makinen (Helsinki, Finland), Soccer America’s women’s freshman player of the year and the only freshman midfielder named NSCAA All-American.
“For some reason we seem to have developed a tradition of quality goalkeepers and center midfielders,” says Petrucelli. “Those are the two spots where we not only attract good players, but we also improve and develop them.”
Leader of the Finnish national team, Makinen had an immediate impact on college soccer last year, averaging a goal per game with 23 goals in 23 games to go along with 12 assists. She was at her dominating best in the big games, scoring the first goal and creating the second goal in the 2-2 tie with North Carolina and scoring a hat trick in the 6-1 win over Connecticut in the BIG EAST championship game. Makinen’s crafty playmaking skills and accurate, powerful shot have given opponents trouble.
“Having a year under her belt of knowing what college life and college soccer are all about, Anne will have a great year,” says Petrucelli. “She is one of the best players in college soccer and is certainly the best central midfielder out there. We need her to step up and be the best player on the field every game. Anne is capable of that, and she’s shown it more in the big games but we need her to do that in every game for us.”
Joining Makinen in the central midfield is three-year starter Shannon Boxx, who has played in all 76 games in her career, starting 71 of them. The two-time all-BIG EAST honoree posted career highs with 13 goals and 17 assists and five game-winning goals in 1997. Boxx has developed as a midfielder with the ability to score, create and drop back defensively with her versatility complementing Makinen’s abilities.
“When Shannon came in, we thought she would be a great player, and she has developed into a great player,” says Petrucelli. “She gives us so many options, she can win the ball in the air, strike a ball and score goals, is good with her feet and can defend. Shannon gives Anne the freedom to get forward and create for us. As a senior we expect Shannon to have a mjor impact on our team.”
With the graduation of Holly Manthei and the shift of Brown to defender, the Irish will have to replace both of their outside midfielders from the past two years. Manthei, now a member of Notre Dame’s women’s lacrosse team after finishing her women’s soccer eligibility, left her mark on women’s soccer as the NCAA assist recordholder for a career, single season, assists per game for both her career and single season and single-game assists.
“The outside of our midfield will have a lot of questions,” says Petrucelli. “We have a bunch of different options and are not set at all on our outside midfielders. Lindsey Jones, Mia Sarkesian, Jenny Streiffer and Laura Vanderberg are all possibilities.”
Streiffer (Baton Rouge, La.) has been equally adept at scoring or finding others with 42 goals and 40 assists in her first two years as she became the fastest player in Notre Dame history to reach 100 points. She, with Makinen, led the Irish in scoring with 58 points a year ago and was named to the NCAA all-tournament team for the second time. Streiffer’s dribbling abilities and her ability to create scoring opportunities have given Notre Dame an offensive weapon up front which should be just as effective in the midfield.
“If Jenny Streiffer plays in the midfield, we would change the way we play so that she ends up more central as an outside midfielder as opposed to where Holly Manthei was outside wide all the time,” says Petrucelli. “If Jenny plays outside, we’ll play more to her strengths which are the ability to dribble, to get into space and play balls into space and create.”
Jones (South Bend, Ind.) starred at John Adams High School, the same high school as former Irish standout Amy VanLaecke. She excelled in track and field and basketball in addition to soccer, and Petrucelli will look to Jones’ athleticism to help her develop as a soccer player.
“Lindsey is a great athlete who needs some soccer experience but she has the athletic ability to play on this level,” says Petrucelli. “She is going to get a good look and is going to get a chance to play right away.”
Parade All-American Mia Sarkesian (Canton, Mich.) comes to Notre Dame after a standout career at Plymouth Salem High School where Soccer America tabbed her as one of the top 25 high school seniors, and the Detroit Free Press picked her as one of the top 10 scholar athletes in the state. Petrucelli expects Sarkesian to contribute to the team.
“Mia may be more of a central midfielder but she has a future in our program,” says Petrucelli. “She will get some playing time this year and will be an impact player over the course her career.”
Sophomores Kerri Bakker (Washington, N.J.) and Kristin Danielson (Granger, Ind.) played in 16 games as freshmen, provided depth off the bench. The pair will be need to contribute once again in the thinner midfield ranks. Freshman Kelly Tulisiak (Medina, Ohio), a regional Olympic development team member, could also contribute in the midfield.
Notre Dame returns a potent attack to its front line with senior Monica Gerardo (Simi Valley, Calif.), sophomore Meotis Erikson (Kennewick, Wash.) and junior Jenny Heft (Germantown, Wis.) expected to fill out the forward ranks. The talented trio combined to score 52 goals a year ago with each bringing a different style to the field to complement each other.
“We have quality players in the front,” says Petrucelli. “Monica Gerardo, Meotis Erikson and Jenny Heft, along with Jenny Streiffer, give us four very talented front players. We have some depth up front.”
Gerardo returns to Notre Dame for her senior year after gaining international experience with the Mexican national team in 1998. She has scored 53 goals in her three seasons and needs just eight more to match Cindy Daws’ school-record 61 goals. Also one of the most durable players, Gerardo has played in every game in her career, starting all but two of the 76 games.
“Monica is somewhere in between Jenny Heft and Meotis Erikson,” says Petrucelli. “She is very tricky but also plays well with her back to the goal. Monica has done so much for us in her career, and we will look to use her as a target player once again.”
Erikson contributed immediately to Notre Dame’s offense, scoring 22 goals as a freshman in ’97. Soccer America put her on its all-freshman team, and she was named first team all-BIG EAST and to the BIG EAST all-rookie team. Erikson finished 10th in the country in scoring with 56 points and 10th in goals with 22. Petrucelli looks for Erikson to continue to excel in the scoring column.
“Meotis is a great player with her back to the goal,” says Petrucelli. “She can turn well, get a shot off in a tight space and strikes the ball really well.”
Heft, who split the starting role with Erikson last season, upped her scoring from 12 goals as a freshman to 20 last year, including five game-winning goals. She scored the game-tying goal against North Carolina just three minutes before lightning halted play. Heft came through in the big games, scoring six goals in the eight games she played in against ranked teams. The Irish will once again rely on Heft’s speed and goal-scoring abilities as she looks to move into a starting role.
“We will use Jenny more to her strength which is to push her out wide to give her a chance to beat some people,” says Petrucelli. “She had a great year last year and will score goals again this year. Jenny always seems to gets on the other end of rebounds to knock them in and can beat people.”
Sophomore Monica Gonzalez (Richardson, Texas) will look to recover from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in the spring. She came off the bench a year ago to score 10 goals and dish off five assists as she played in every game. Gonzalez scored two goals, including the game winner, against Duke and scored the fifth goal of the first half against Connecticut in the BIG EAST final.
Junior Iris Lancaster (Waiahae, Hawaii) gave the Irish good results off the bench in her 16 games as a reserve a year ago. She utilized her speed to score twice and dish off two assists. “Iris is very fast up and down the field,” says Petrucelli. “We need her to be more of a factor when she is on the field.”