Aug. 7, 2013
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Katie Naughton, Cari Roccaro, Crystal Thomas, Morgan Andrews and Kaela Little all figure to have their chances to make headlines this fall for the University of Notre Dame’s 2013 women’s soccer team.
But with all five of those players missing for the first week of Irish drills on campus while they participate in the United States U-20 national team camp, the opening of workouts Wednesday for 15th-year head coach Randy Waldrum gives him some extra opportunities to evaluate many of his younger and newer roster members.
“It’s a great opportunity for those players who are here that get more reps with the others being gone,” Waldrum said. “It’s an advantage to many of the kids who are here, but there is a little bit of a disadvantage with the others not being in here. Fortunately, they will be back in time to still get a good week and a half of practice in before our first regular season game.”
The first day of practice is an exhilarating time for all, from the players to the coaching staff, and in particular for this year’s Fighting Irish as the team finally begins full preparations for the upcoming debut season in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“It’s always good to get back, and it’s always good to see the new players,” Waldrum said. “You build up all summer to get to today, so we were excited to be out. I think there is some good young talent that we are excited about, and certainly some of the older players that have come back look fit and ready to go.”
With the expectations and sense of opportunity that accompany the opening of team camp, emotions often run high during the first training sessions of the year. New players getting their first taste of collegiate soccer, veteran players continuing to improve, are all variables that can make the beginning of a new year’s practice schedule a white-knuckle experience.
Senior midfielder Mandy Laddish has been through the rigors of the opening practices before during her three seasons at Notre Dame. She did miss the first few weeks of camp in 2012, but that time away was well spent, as the Lee’s Summit, Mo., native helped lead the United States to the FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup title in Tokyo, Japan last September.
Still, Laddish feels that the mentality of the season’s first training sessions has not changed a great deal since she first stepped on campus four years ago.
“It’s a little different because there are so many new players, we’re very young this year, but for me I am always excited to get back with the team because it’s been a few months since we were together and we’re very close,” Laddish said. “The first practice is always rough because we aren’t quite used to each other, and everyone is a little nervous.”
Waldrum has stuck with a method he developed in his earliest days of coaching when it comes to approaching how to design his team’s practice schedule each summer. He scripts the first four days of workouts based on what he saw in both the spring and prior fall seasons, reinforcing concepts and areas he feels the team needs to focus on.
“After that point I have learned from years of experience, (because) I used to script the whole 20-something days worth of practice and I would end up throwing those out the window after three or four days,” Waldrum said. “Now, I usually script the first three or four practices and we see where we are, and then what our needs are.”
Laddish, a three-year starter and 2012 team tri-captain, agreed that chemistry always builds as the early practice sessions progress. Eventually, the nervousness of making a great first impression becomes a periphery thought, and the team gradually settles into a rhythm.
“We all have a lot of energy at the start because we’ve been tapering for this moment, so it’s always crazy, hectic, and we’re still full of energy,” Laddish said. “It’s not our best soccer but we will get there. By mid-preseason we’re usually exhausted, but it’s still fun.”
On a team that returns 18 monogram winners and 10 of 11 starters from last season’s 16-6-2 roster that was an NCAA Championship quarterfinalist, and welcomes eight talented newcomers in 2013, the margin of error seems slim for every Notre Dame player trying to secure her niche in the Fighting Irish rotation. Even Laddish, a two-time National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) third team all-region and all-BIG EAST second team selection, feels that all positions are up for grabs on any given day.
“We have a lot of depth, and (Coach Waldrum) doesn’t care who plays, he’s going to put the best players out there,” Laddish said. “Even as a senior I could easily lose my spot, so having that kind of depth in our midfield is going to help me work harder because I am not going to just give my spot up to someone. That’s how all of the other returning girls are going to play as well, and the freshmen will be fighting for an opportunity themselves.
“The more players you have with the potential to start for you, the better practices become, and the harder everyone ends up working.”
Waldrum wants his squad to make strides during the opening weeks of practice to improve its overall offensive game, particularly its ability to consistently attack and score goals. Combining that focus with a solid defensive mentality, and strong outings during exhibition contests with Xavier (Aug. 14) and Baylor (Aug. 17) should help to develop what will become the Notre Dame lineup.
“In the first preseason game, a lot of the new players will get that game time, and in the second game, I think you will see a lineup closer to what we think it may be come the regular season,” Waldrum said. “If we can be close to having that solidified at that point, because there are a couple of key players that we still have to decide where they will play for us, if we can have that solved, I will be very happy.”
The Fighting Irish open the 2013 regular season Friday, Aug. 23 at 5:30 p.m. (ET) against Illinois at Alumni Stadium.