Jan. 19, 2000
by Eric Wachter
They won their first game 14-0. A month later the Notre Dame women’s soccer class of 2000 showed the number-one team the way to number two after a 2-1 overtime win over North Carolina to seize the top-ranking that was theirs for the rest of the season. The school record 24 wins and the NCAA Division I record 140 goals flowed forth almost effortlessly.
Their first trip to the NCAA final arrived with seeming certainty for them during that dream-like freshman year in 1996, on a team that was defending the 1995 NCAA national championship, of which they were not a part. A 1-0 double-overtime loss to the Tar Heels in that game was a disappointment for sure. But they were only freshmen.
The dream continued as sophomores in 1997. Only lightning kept them from a perfect regular-season record. North Carolina’s first visit to Notre Dame was a thriller for the first 71:16 of the 2-2 game. But with momentum on the Irish side in that game, Mother Nature put a damper on the already soggy night with enough lighting to halt the game.
A rematch in the ’97 final seemed inevitable after they scored 21 goals in the first three games of the NCAA tournament to breeze into the semifinals once again. But the dream ended with a crash – not a lightning bolt – but a dull thud. It was the sound of almost-perfectly placed shots smacking the post three times and the crossbar twice.
Those sounds were not nightmares from which they could groggily awaken. They were all too real after a 2-1 NCAA semifinal loss to Connecticut, a team they out shot 28-6 that day and had thrashed 6-1 just 26 days earlier in the BIG EAST final.
After not losing until the 25th game of the season as sophomores, the fifth game of their junior campaign would result in just three shots for the Irish. If ever there were hell on earth, surely it was North Carolina’s Fetzer Field in that 5-1 loss on a blazing day with the temperature in the mid 90s on the 13th of September. A tie and another loss preceded a home defeat in the NCAA quarterfinals.
They would suffer yet another loss following the season when head coach Chris Petrucelli exited the program for Texas. Enter Baylor coach Randy Waldrum.
They embarked upon their final season with perhaps more uncertainty than ever and ranked seventh in the preseason rankings. An unspectacular, but workmanlike, regular season resulted in three losses. After regressing from the NCAA finals as freshmen to the semifinals as sophomores and then the quarterfinals as juniors, what would the ’99 NCAA tournament bring? Only the most stirring soccer Notre Dame’s class of 2000 had ever produced.
There was the tense 1-0 win in the third round over a stubborn Stanford team ranked eighth when a Cardinal penalty kick bounced off both posts in the 82nd minute, just 1:18 after the Irish finally had scored. There was the surreal shootout after four overtime exhausting periods at fourth-ranked Nebraska in the quarterfinals when senior goalkeeper LaKeysia Beene extended her classmates careers by saving the final penalty kick.
There was the semifinal game against undefeated and top-ranked Santa Clara, who entered with the highest-scoring offense in the country and had scored four goals in the first 20 minutes of a 4-2 win over the Irish in October. But that did not stop the Irish from returning to the NCAA final with an exhilarating 1-0 win, their final victory with Irish across their uniforms at the expense of the team that had unexpectedly handed them their first loss back in their freshman season when they were the top-ranked team in the land.
In their return to the final, despite a 2-0 loss to North Carolina, this group of six put their brilliance on display for the college soccer world for the final time and ended their careers how they ended as freshmen in 1996, playing in the final college soccer game of the season. There was reserve forward Iris Lancaster sparking the Irish with her presence in the closing minutes of the Santa Clara and North Carolina games.
There was Beene facing nearly 60 shots, halting countless other scoring chances while allowing just three goals in the final four games of the season against four top-eight teams, and finishing with the best career goals-against average in Irish history.
There were defenders Jen Grubb and Kara Brown anchoring the back line against the top two scoring offenses in the country in Nebraska and Santa Clara. Grubb finished her career as the only four-time All-American Irish defender. Brown shined on the biggest college soccer stage once again, just as she had done when she first turned heads during the 1996 NCAA semifinals and final.
And there were forwards Jenny Heft and Jenny Streiffer wrapping up their careers as the only four-year teammates in NCAA Division I history to score at least 70 goals each. Heft finished with an Irish record 80 goals, while Streiffer – with 70 goals and 71 assists – joined Mia Hamm as the only Division I players to reach the 70-70 plateau.
Together this group won at least 20 games every year for a total of 89, captured four BIG EAST championships, played in three NCAA Women’s College Cups and truly saved their best for last.
Perhaps two-time captain Grubb – on the same stage as their freshman season while at the post-game press conference on the losing end of the NCAA final – best summarized and reduced their four years to a few eloquent words: “I don’t think that in the beginning we would have been satisfied without winning the national championship. I look at how we played, especially, the last five games, and that is what we are about. We never gave up and in that respect I’m satisfied.”