For Irish's Lysander, practice makes perfect

December, 6, 2008
12/06/08
7:39
PM ET
CARY, N.C. -- Coming into Friday's semifinal against Stanford, Notre Dame goalkeeper Kelsey Lysander hadn't needed to make more than five saves in any game this season. By the time the first half came to an end against the Cardinal, she already had four saves.

On what turned out to be a busy night on Notre Dame's end of the field, Lysander finished with a shutout on a career-best seven saves, including a point-blank save on Christen Press' first-half header that kept the Cardinal from claiming what looked like a sure early equalizer.

And neither the extra work nor the surroundings seemed to rattle her.

"As a goalkeeper, you have one job to do, and that's to keep the ball out of the back of the net -- no matter if it's 20 shots, 100 shots, one shot," Lysander said. "It only takes one shot for them to score a goal. You're going to be nervous. It's the Final Four -- you know Stanford's an amazing team; you have to respect that. But you just have to stay focused and kind of use your excitedness to work for you instead of against you."

Notre Dame's lone goal in its 1-0 win came from the combination of standout freshmen Melissa Henderson and Courtney Barg, but those two weren't the only Fighting Irish experiencing life between the lines in the College Cup for the first time. Lysander suffered right along with her teammates the past two seasons in a championship-game defeat against North Carolina in 2006 and a semifinal loss to Florida State last December, but she endured both losses from the sideline.

And despite her having claimed the starting job from the outset this season, the light workload meant she wasn't a proven commodity for coach Randy Waldrum's team.

"Honestly, you're a little unsure, because she hasn't really been that tested through the season, and not a lot through postseason," Waldrum said. "We've been very good defensively, and we've minimized a lot of shots. We knew she would get a lot tonight [Friday]. They have too much firepower. … But I think the one thing we kept looking back at was she was able to do it against [North Carolina in a 1-0 win in September], she was able to do it with Duke and Penn State and some of the powers we played early in the year. And she just always found a way to come up with it."

And if Notre Dame's generally potent attack didn't get a chance to put on much of a show as the team hunkered down to protect its lead against Stanford, all those attacking players may still have provided the shots that turned the tide in the game -- even if the shots came on the practice fields in South Bend during the months leading up to Friday.

"I think it clearly helps," Waldrum said of the talent Lysander faces regularly in practice. "I mean, when you're taking those kind of shot opportunities against Hanks and those guys during the week, every week, she's going to get a lot more work than most goalkeepers get in their intrasquad scrimmages and things like that.

"But you can't simulate the real game itself. At the end of the day, she's got to be in this kind of an environment. And this is her first Final Four of actually playing, so there's a little uncertainty. … And I just thought she handled it just like she's handled everything else this year -- just consistent with her demeanor and her mannerisms. And I think it reflected in her play, and I couldn't be more proud of her."

Not bad for the oldest rookie on the field Friday night.

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

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