SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Ready for a weekend of big games in a hostile environment, the No. 24 Santa Clara women's soccer travels to South Bend, Ind. this weekend to take part in the Notre Dame Adidas Invitational. The Broncos will take on host Notre Dame on Thu., Aug. 30 at 4:30 p.m. and Connecticut on Sun., Sept. 2 at 8 a.m. You can follow the games at the Tournament Central page.
Every team that hopes to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament knows that it will have to play games on unfamiliar fields with hometown crowds filling the stands. This weekend will be a test for Santa Clara who struggled on the road in its opening game at Stanford.
"When we put together a schedule we are looking to do a number of different things," said Santa Clara head coach Jerry Smith, now in his 26th year leading the Broncos. "We want to play talented teams, face great coaches and we want to put our team in tough environments. In all likelihood you are going to have to face all three of those things if you want to go deep in the tournament. This weekend is one of the biggest of the year for Notre Dame so we are expecting an unbelievable atmosphere around their campus. The students will be back and we expect it to be very loud. It should be very similar to the second half at Stanford where we folded once the crowd got into the game. The challenge will be to see if our team can handle another hostile environment."
There are several keys to playing in unfriendly territory and Smith has been around the game long enough to know what needs to happen for the Broncos to quiet the stands.
"One thing we must do is take care of the ball," continued Smith. "If we turn the ball over the crowd will get loud. If they have a scoring chance, the crowd gets even louder. If they score a goal the crowd will get even louder. The best way to quiet the fans is to score an early goal. Our other main objective is to hold the ball and sustain attacks. If we have the ball we can slow down their momentum and keep the crowd from getting involved."
Notre Dame, the 2010 National Champions, started the season 2-1 but is 1-0 on its home field. The Irish fell 1-0 at No. 14 Wisconsin to open the season but came back with a 2-0 win at Tulsa and a 5-0 rout of East Carolina at home. Notre Dame has outshot their opponents 59-28 and Elizabeth Tucker leads the team with two goals while five others have scored once each. They have also received 17 corner kicks while allowing just six. In goal, Elyse Hight has collected nine saves while allowing a miniscule 0.35 GAA on the young season.
Connecticut also enters the weekend with a 2-1 record with wins coming vs. Vermont by a score of 4-2 and vs. Maine by a final of 3-0. The Huskies fell to No. 7 Boston College 4-3 at home in front of over 1,000 fans. UConn is also outshooting its opponents by more that two to one. It has 60 shots to its opponents 29. Samantha Mcguire leads the team with three goals while Danielle Schulmann and Jennifer Skogerboe are second with two goals each. Shulman leads the team with three assists and is tied for the team-lead in points with Mcguire at seven. Goalkeeper Allison Saucier has collected nine saves while allowing a 2.26 GAA.
In 2012 the Santa Clara offense is led by junior Sarah Jackson who has scored two goals, both game winners coming last weekend. Meleana Shim, Olivia Klei and Dani Weatherholt have each found the back of the net once while Jackson and Kat McAuliffe have one assist each to lead the team. After a rough debut at then-No. 1 Stanford, freshman goalkeeper Andi Tostanoski has played well, picking up back-to-back shutouts with the help of Lexie Rubattino who played the second half vs. Riverside. Tostanoski has collected 15 saves already in 225 minutes played.
With 2011 top-scorers junior All-American Julie Johnston and All-WCC sophomore Sofia Huerta participating in the U-20 Women's World Cup in Japan, the team has had to try and find the best line-up to put on the field. While this is something always goes on, missing two of the teams best players makes this period even more important. With the early lead over UC Riverside on Aug. 26, Smith was able to get several players into game action and see how they performed at different positions. To stay update to date on the U-20 World Cup and see scores, click here.
"Whether we're missing key players or not, we always look at different formations and combinations of players," added Smith. "We use the non-conference part of our schedule to do this experimenting and we will continue to do that this weekend. Our goal is to win the conference championship so our experimentation has to be finished by the time conference play comes. By setting our line-up at the beginning of conference play we hope to be able to get into a rhythm and find great chemistry so we are playing our best soccer when the tournament comes. Being able to get different plays game action vs. Riverside was very helpful for us and will be a big benefit going forward."