SOUTH BEND – A streak of luck does not make a champion.
A fortunate turn of events may win a game, but true achievement is a daily grind.
The Notre Dame women’s soccer team made its mark last year as it fought its way to a national title. Though the Irish always welcome the aid of leprechauns, their continued success has nothing to do with rainbows or pots of gold.
Unfortunately for Michigan, Notre Dame has kept the proverbial ball rolling in 2005 – the defending champs already sport a 7-1-0 record. The Wolverines learned the hard way yesterday afternoon in South Bend, as they suffered a thorough thrashing that recalled their 5-0 loss to the Irish in 2004.
Some Michigan players held back tears as the Irish goalie corralled sophomore Melissa Dobbyn’s long arching shot, a play accompanied by the announcer’s recitation of the game’s final seconds. Though the match was out of hand early in the second half, the Wolverines’ tears were not a reflection of failure, but Notre Dame’s refusal to allow the possibility of success. The show of emotion was prompted by the mounting and ultimately insurmountable frustration that dogged the team throughout a long, hot day that ended in a 3-0 defeat.
Dominating on both sides of field – Notre Dame spent much of the day around the Michigan net – the Irish had no need for luck. Swarming, efficient defensive play allowed the Irish midfielders to stifle any Michigan attempt at offense, and Notre Dame’s offensive juggernaut rolled all game despite the pounding heat that beat on the packed bleachers of Alumni Field.
As Michigan’s hope for victory evaporated in the closing minutes, the teams jawed and jostled, forcing the referees to intervene on several occasions.
The Irish did not ease back after Susan Pinnock hit the top left corner of the net for the team’s third and final goal at 71:38. The goal reaffirmed Notre Dame’s command, although one goal would have sufficed.
Following a 5-3 victory over Western Michigan on Friday night – a game in which senior Therese Heaton recorded her first career hat-trick – Michigan’s venerable offense was never allowed to materialize.
Rendered impotent by a battery of Irish defenders, The Wolverines were unable to assemble in the offensive zone.
“That third goal was the nail in the coffin,” coach Debbie Rademacher said.
“Against a top team like Notre Dame, it’s really tough to fight your way back. It was definitely a change of pace from Western Michigan, but we did our best.”
Despite a comfortably secure lead, the Irish showed the relentless confidence of champions. They chose to maintain their up-tempo attack for all ninety minutes, never offering the Michigan defense a moment of relief.
Outshot 23-3, Michigan was made painfully aware that the 2004 champions are again serious contenders. The Wolverines managed just one shot on goal in the second half -Dobbyn’s 11th-hour attempt – and the Irish demonstrated why they merit a No. 5 national ranking.
Hard-pressed for a moment’s rest, sophomore goalkeeper Megan Tuura weathered her biggest challenge of the season. The score could have been much more lopsided had Tuura not turned in yet another stellar performance.
The loss was disheartening but not devastating. Although the Wolverines appeared relieved to hop on the bus out of South Bend, they managed to remain upbeat about upcoming conference play. They expect to put the loss behind them when they face off at home against archrival Ohio State on Friday night.
A mud-splattered and visibly exhausted Tuura was excited about the prospect of going toe to toe with conference opponents.
“We’re gonna bounce back,” Tuura said, wiping sweat from her dirty brow. “Once a goal’s on the board, there’s nothing you can do but maintain your composure. You have to take the hit, bounce back up and keep playing. I’m still on my feet, so bring it on Big Ten.”