Notre Dame women's soccer: Carolina's ACC dominance a challenge

Kyle Knust
KKnust@SBTinfo.com

It is a statistic that is borderline absurd.

Since its inception in 1979, the University of North Carolina women's soccer program has lost 49 games.

Total.

That's no typo.

Forty-nine losses in 34 years of competition. During that span the Tar Heels have won 20 Atlantic Coast Conference regular season titles, 20 conference tournament titles and a staggering 21 national championships -- including in 2012.

As Notre Dame moves into its first season in the ACC, it steps directly into an enormous, Tar Heel-shaped shadow.

Notre Dame head coach Randy Waldrum refuses to temper expectations for 2013.

"Our goal is going to be to get back to the Final Four," Waldrum said. "Our goal is going to be to win the conference. We feel like we're as good as anybody in the ACC."

And that includes mighty Carolina.

Waldrum, who led Notre Dame to a 16-6-2 mark last year before losing to Florida State in the national quarterfinals, has a reason to be confident. His five wins over the Tar Heels during his 14-year tenure at Notre Dame are the most for any Carolina opponent.

That's not to say that Notre Dame, which is 5-14-2 against North Carolina, has the Tar Heels' number. But you've gotta start somewhere.

"I still think we've had one of the best programs in the country for 14 years," Waldrum said. "That's not going to change just because we've changed conferences. It is an unbelievably difficult conference. But that's exactly what you want.

"We want to play against the best."

The gap between North Carolina and the other ACC teams has narrowed over the last five years. It's no longer just the Tar Heels, and then everyone else.

"The league is incredibly deep right now," UNC Athletic Communications Director Dave Lohse said. "You now know that you are going to lose (ACC) games whether you like it or not. The idea that you're going to run the table or lose only one or two games is just a fantasy."

In the history of the ACC, North Carolina has lost 18 total conference games -- regular season and league tournament. Eleven of those have come in the last four years.

From 2009-2012, the Tar Heels have lost three, three, three and four league games. Their lone ACC title during that stretch was in 2009. Wake Forest won it in 2010, Florida State in 2011 and Virginia in 2012.

Since 2003, the Seminoles have advanced to six College Cups. In 2011, three ACC teams were in the College Cup: Wake Forest, Boston College and Duke.

"The thing that's really been the difference has been the postseason," Lohse said. "Other than Carolina and now Notre Dame, none of those league teams have really broken through to win it all yet.

"There's a ton of parity right now but it hasn't manifested in seeing a ton of different teams in the Final Four yet."

Ten ACC teams made the tournament last year and seven finished ranked in the top 16 of the final NSCAA Coaches poll. Waldrum knows that the top-to-bottom depth of the conference is a challenge that Notre Dame hasn't consistently seen in the Big East.

"Every week there's going to be a game and we had better be ready to play," Waldrum said. "In the Big East, you knew realistically who the top teams were. Sometimes it would be a challenge keeping the kids' motivation level up. That shouldn't be an issue in the ACC."

"I think that's the hardest part in this day and age," Lohse said. "Particularly when you play the grind of a schedule that the ACC has. You could have more talent than everybody else but talent doesn't mean guacamole if you don't come motivated and prepared for your opponent. Every team has to face up to that reality in this league."

Waldrum knows that his coaching staff is going to be challenged in a new way.

"We as a coaching staff have to be prepared to understand that this is a different environment," he said. "The expectations are to win every time we step on the field but it's not the end of the world if we don't.

"There may be more losses because the conference is harder. Many of the teams in the ACC are Final Four caliber. How do we cope with a result we're not used to getting? That'll be one of the challenges for us."

Playing in such a strong conference should offset some of the extra losses.

"If you play well in this league, the NCAA committee will reward you," Lohse said.

Waldrum believes that the overall style of play is more in line with what his squad has been playing for years.

"(In the ACC) they're built on athleticism more so than strength and power," he said. "They're trying to play attractive, high-quality soccer and I think that really better suits us."

The Notre Dame women's soccer team knows well of North Carolina's dominance in the Atlantic Coast Conference, something that hasn't always intimidated the Irish.

2013 final standings

Florida State (20-4-0 overall, 8-2-0 ACC); Maryland (14-7-2, 6-3-1); Wake Forest (14-6-3, 6-3-1), North Carolina (15-5-3, 6-3-1); Virginia (18-5-1, 6-3-1); Duke (15-6-2, 5-3-2); Miami (Fla.) (9-7-4, 4-4-2); Boston College (11-8-3, 4-5-1), Virginia Tech (13-6-1, 4-5-1); Clemson (6-10-2, 1-9-0); North Carolina State (5-14-0, 0-10-0).

Ranked in final NSCAA coaches poll

North Carolina (1), Florida State (4), Duke (8), Virginia (10), Notre Dame (13), Wake Forest (15), Maryland (16).

Top returning players

Kim DeCesare, F, Duke; Kelsey Wys, G, Florida State; Laura Weinberg, F, Duke; Victoria Hopkins, G, North Carolina State; Emily Lillard, G, Miami (Fla.).

Longest-tenured coaches

Anson Dorrence (North Carolina, 34 seasons, 743-49-29); Alison Foley (Boston College, 17, 212-103-32), Tony da Luz (Wake Forest, 16, 205-115-32), Randy Waldrum (Notre Dame, 14, 279-50-16), Steve Swanson (Virginia, 13, 181-70-34), Robbie Church (Duke, 11, 151-87-30).

Top ND home games

Maryland, Wake Forest, Duke