[ELITE 8 COUNTDOWN]With a team that includes 2006 Hermann Trophy winner Kerri Hanks and two other semifinalists, Brittany Bock and Amanda Cinalli, for the 2007 award, it's no surprise that Notre Dame is back in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division I Women's Tournament.
The surprise is how the Irish could have gone 3-4-1 in their first eight games.
A big reason for Notre Dame's postseason charge has been the return to form of Michelle Weissenhofer, the 2006 Soccer America Freshman of the Year.
Hampered by an ankle injury, Weissenhofer fell into a slump and ended the regular season with just four goals and two assists -- a far cry from their 2006 totals of 18 goals and 17 assists.
But she' been on a tear in the NCAA Tournament, scoring the first goal in the 2-0 win over Illinois in the second round and adding two goals and an assist in the 3-2 victory at defending champion North Carolina last Saturday.
Notre Dame coach Randy Waldrum says having Weissenhofer healthier has made all the difference in the world for the Irish, who take a 16-game unbeaten streak into Friday's game against Duke in South Bend.
"She actually looked faster than some of the Carolina kids in the back," he said, "and she was strong and confident."
Waldrum says the goal against Illinois was the key.
"As forwards," he said, "it's like a home-run hitter. If you are in a slump, it begins to weigh on you. I think she was getting really down on herself for not scoring a lot of goals on a regular basis."
Weissenhofer also assisted Notre Dame's third goal, setting up Bock with a flip throw-in.
"Michele has been hobbled pretty much the whole season with a bad ankle," said Bock, who grew up with Weissenhofer in Naperville, Ill. "That slowed her down all season and she's been battling that. But the past couple games you can see that she's back. And that just takes a huge burden off everyone all over the field, to have another strong frontrunner. We all know what she's capable of and I think it helps me and Kerri Hanks to have her out there at 100 percent. For her to come in and step up is big time."
Weissenhofer is simply happy to be able to contribute.
"It was awesome to actually feel like I've done something for the team," she said, "and give back since they've helped me so much with my injury."
She also sent a warning to the other teams remaining in the NCAA Tournament.
"If we keep playing like we did on Saturday," she said "with that same level of effort and great team play, we will be tough to beat."