WOMEN’s SOCCER: No. 3 Notre Dame awaits

Beth Wilberding

When the Lady Topper soccer team steps off the team bus Saturday, it will be under the glow of the golden dome of Notre Dame University.

Western plays the Fighting Irish Saturday night at Alumni Field in South Bend, Ind.

Notre Dame will be the toughest team the Lady Toppers have faced in their three-year history. Last season, the Fighting Irish made it to the third round of the NCAA tournament. This week, the National Soccer Coaches Association of America coaches’ poll ranked them third.

Notre Dame returns 10 starters from 2002, including two NSCAA All-Americans. The Irish are undefeated, having already beaten Hartford, Wake Forest, Arizona State and Oklahoma. Tonight they play at St. John’s.

Western coach Jason Neidell originally penciled in this game two years ago. But two years ago, Neidell said, Notre Dame wasn’t as good as it is this season. Still, he knew before this season started that UND would be one of the best teams in the country.

“I think you have to play the best to really know what college soccer is all about and where you stand,” Neidell said.

The Irish boast Big East Rookie of the Week Jen Buczkowski, who scored two goals and three assists last week. But she’s just the fourth best scorer on the team. Mary Boland leads Notre Dame with six goals in four games. And two players have collected four assists.

In preparation for those players, the Lady Toppers (2-2) have been working on tightening their defense. The defense is even more important in this game because the Irish have given up three goals in four games.

Sophomore defender Jenny Dalby said the team had a meeting Wednesday night to discuss what formation Notre Dame plays “and how to shut them down in the central midfield.”

Junior midfielder Jocelyn Roach said the team needs to “make sure that we concentrate at practice the next couple of days, work hard and stay focused, and definitely not be intimidated.”

Players said playing Notre Dame will be good for the team because it gives them the chance to see how they can compete against a ranked team.

Junior defender Meissa Robinson believes Notre Dame will be the highest level of competition Western will see all season. Since the team has nothing to lose, it can only gain experience, Robinson said.

The team has also planned a campus tour Saturday morning to see Notre Dame’s historic landmarks.

“It’s really an experience of a lifetime for our kids to play in such a prestigious environment,” Neidell said. “We’re just going up there to play and do the best we can.”

Reach Beth Wilberding at [email protected]