[NOTRE DAME: SA Preseason #5]One of last season's big surprises was Notre Dame, which started five freshmen and parlayed a strong run in the second half of the season into a berth in the quarterfinals, the eighth time in the past nine years the the Fighting Irish reached the final eight. With 10 starters back, plus the nation's top incoming freshman, they should again go far in the NCAA Tournament, but first things first will matter of their new conference home ...
Notre Dame has joined the ACC, which has six teams in the top 10 in Soccer America's preseason rankings. Coach Randy Waldrum thinks the ACC regular-season campaign will get the Irish ready for the NCAA Tournament.
"The ACC is certainly going to be a test from top to bottom," Waldrum said. "There are no off nights in this league, which you couldn't always say when we were in the Big East. I think it'll help keep us sharp and focused throughout the season and that can only help us when we get later in the year and closer to the playoffs."
While the scoring from the frontline was done by committee last season, nearly all of Notre Dame's offensive production returns: 146 of a possible 147 points, including all 46 goals.
Two forwards to watch are juniorLauren Bohaboy (13 goals and seven assists in two seasons) and sophomore Crystal Thomas (team-high 10 goals and 22 points last season)
Notre Dame's strength is in midfield, where 2012 Soccer America Freshman of the Year Cari Roccaro returns. She is one of the most versatile players in the country and can also play on the backline, where she played on the 2012 U.S. U-20 Women's World Cup championship team and captains the rising U-20s.
"One of our biggest challenges this year is to not only get the best 11 players on the field, but to put them in the best position to be successful," Waldrum said. "Cari is a perfect example of that because she can be so valuable in any number of roles on the field."
If Roccaro moves elsewhere, the midfield will still be in great shape. Senior midfielder Mandy Laddish, the Irish playmaker, also played U.S. U-20 Women's World Cup championship team. The Irish also landed the nation's top recruit in midfielder Morgan Andrews, the two-time Gatorade Girls Soccer High School Player of the Year.
Waldrum says that his defensive unit is one of the best he's had at South Bend.Katie Naughton was a rock on the backline as a freshman alongsideSammy Scofield.
In goal, sophomore Elyse Hight is coming off a great season, starting 16 games and leading Notre Dame with a 0.63 goals-against average, but she'll be pushed by freshman Kaela Little, who recently joined the Irish after playing with the U.S. under-20 national team alongside Roccaro, Naughton, Andrews and Thomas in its two-game series against Japan.