Notre Dame takes good gamble on Ford in semis

December, 6, 2008
CARY, N.C.  At this year's College Cup, depth isn't a luxury; it's a necessity. But Notre Dame coach Randy Waldrum went all in with one first-half gamble that paid off.

Watching his defense get pushed to the edge in the first half of Friday's semifinal by Stanford's array of quick, technical attacking players, Waldrum decided to go the bench. With a 1-0 lead in the 33rd minute, he sent junior Haley Ford into the game for freshman Courtney Barg, who had earlier scored her team's goal.

That wouldn't seem like a bold move for a team with as deep a roster as the Fighting Irish, except that Ford had only appeared in two of the team's first four NCAA tournament games. And she's a defender, in contrast to Barg, an attacking midfielder.

"I just felt like early in the game -- Courtney [Barg] and Rose Augustin and Courtney Rosen have been our three midfield players -- and I felt like we were having a little bit of trouble defensively, just with some of the quickness that they had in there," Waldrum said. "So we thought we would give Haley a chance; she gives you a little bit more range, and she's a little bit better defensively because that's kind of her role. And we've been working with her the last week or 10 days playing in kind of a defensive midfield role, just in case we needed it, since we haven't been using her in the back."

Ford isn't just any second-line player. In fact, she's played big minutes in Cary before, having taken over as a freshman for Carrie Dew after the All-American suffered a season-ending injury late in the fall of 2006. If not for a knee injury of her own that knocked her out of commission last season, she might have challenged for regular minutes in Waldrum's back line this season. But for a team that overwhelms opponents with offense, playing Ford was an unusual tactical gambit, if even for a short period.

Only she stayed on the field for the start of the second half … and the middle of the second half … and the end of the second half. Ford played more Friday than in any game since a 6-0 romp against Seton Hall more than a month ago -- and this time in a 1-0 national semifinal.

"[W]hen we put her in the first half, I thought the last 25 minutes after the television timeout of the first half, I thought we took over. And I thought Haley did a great job in helping keep that midfield organized. So we just made the decision to leave her in there the second half for some defensive reasons. … It was interesting because it's the first time in the playoffs, she's really played that many minutes for us."

On a night defined by Waldrum's uncharacteristic decision to take his foot off the throttle and concede the run of play to Stanford, the move to Ford was evidence of how much faith the coach has in both himself and his players to adjust to any situation.

And considering what the Fighting Irish will play for on Sunday, it was a job well done.

Graham Hays covers college sports for espnW, including softball and soccer. Hays began with ESPN in 1999.



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