Notre Dame’s first national champions since 2004 arrived back in South Bend Sunday night to a few hundred faithful fans at the Purcell Pavilion.
Slightly less than eight hours earlier the team clinched the NCAA women’s national championship with a 1-0 win over top-ranked Stanford. The Cardinal was highly-favored, coming in to the game without a loss and only two ties on their record. The last time they didn’t win a game was a double overtime tie with North Carolina on Sept. 9.
After the game Irish coach Randy Waldrum made sure to tell the Stanford graduate and former soccer player who called the game on ESPN2 that the win wasn’t a fluke. Waldrum told the announcers that Notre Dame has been the best team in the country since the beginning of the tournament. He has a pretty good case. On what was called arguably the hardest path to the College Cup crown ever, the No. 7 Irish knocked off 2007 champion USC and 2008 and 2009 champion North Carolina. The win gave Notre Dame its third championship in program history, which is the second most of any school in the country. They have a little work to do before catching the Tar Heels who have won 21 titles in school history.
Waldrum also defiantly stated his star player’s case for the Hermann Trophy (soccer’s version of the Heisman). Without being asked in his post-game interview, he said that junior forward Melissa Henderson was the best player in the country.
Stanford’s Christen Press, who was averaging more than a goal per game this season, had been more or less crowned with the award before the final game. Henderson finished her season with 17 goals and 11 assists in 24 games.
Her final assist of the season came at the 63rd minute of Sunday’s championship game. At the top of the box, Henderson fed freshman Adriana Leon who was cutting toward the middle. Leon one-timed (sorry for the hockey term, not sure of the soccer equivalent) the pass past the Stanford goalie and iced the game. Notre Dame threatened to score several more times down the stretch but Stanford keeper Emily Oliver made some terrific saves to keep the game close. Or, as Irish defensive linemen Ian Williams put it on his Twitter account: “Yo stanford goalie is good on some real ish.”
But as it turned out, Notre Dame, Randy Waldrum, Melissa Henderson and Adriana Leon were even better on that real ish.
For highlights and video of the team’s celebration visit UND.com.