They both wear green and gold.
But that’s about where the similarities stop. One team is rich in tradition, the other is just starting to make its own. One is a team with two national championships and has already entrenched itself in its conference, the other has just arrived in the Big East.
They may be different, but on Sunday, the USF women’s soccer team will meet No. 5 Notre Dame for the first time.
USF coach Logan Fleck knows the difference.
“They are one of the best teams in the country, no doubt,” Fleck said. “They play with a real high level of confidence; it’s tough to shake them out of anything.”
Notre Dame has reason to be confident.
For the Irish players, awards are like rosaries: Everyone has at least one. For starters, there is senior forward Katie Thorlakson. Thorlakson was Soccer America and Soccer Buzz’s 2004 National Player of the Year after leading the nation in scoring with 23 goals and 24 assists Ã¢€” only Mia Hamm has ended a season with more points. Thorlakson was even up for an ESPY last year for top female college athlete.
The Irish also have an outstanding freshman forward by the name of Kerri Hanks. With unheard of 16 goals through the first 10 games, Hanks has been honored – almost weekly – by every major soccer publication.
“We got some really special players,” Notre Dame coach Randy Waldrum said. “We are fortunate that we have a lot of good weapons. It’s hard for the opposition to pay attention to just one of them.”
The Irish also lead the Big East in every single offensive category, averaging 4.8 goals and 4.6 assists a game.
Notre Dame has had two goalkeepers start for them and they are last in the Big East in saves (18). But what might sound like a weakness is exactly the opposite, the Irish have a goals against average of 0.50 as a team, a testament to their outstanding team defense.
They are also the 2004 national champions, and Sunday’s game will be the first time that the women’s soccer program has hosted a defending national champion.
They are almost unbeatable.
Earlier this season however, the Santa Clara Broncos defeated the Irish, 2-1.
Also complicating things is the fact that the Irish are right in the middle of a five-game conference road trip.
“We are at Marquette on Friday night and we got to travel all day Saturday,” Waldrum said. “That’s a tough trip to make. We know it’s not going to be an easy weekend.”
For the Bulls to stay the game, they are going to need a solid performance from sophomore goalkeeper Casey Garrett.
With the Irish averaging 21.5 shots a game, Garrett will have her hands full.
“I know Notre Dame is a very good team,” Garrett said, “but I’m not afraid to play them.”
If anyone can handle the pressure it’s Garrett, who’s fifth in the Big East with a 0.75 GAA, and second in the conference in shutouts with five.
The Bulls have something else going for them: the unknown.
“I don’t know much about (USF),” Waldrum said. “Anytime you play somebody unfamiliar to you, you always worry about the different kinds of problems they can pose.”
The two teams may be unfamiliar with each other but the coaches are a different story.
“I do know Logan Fleck, I consider him a really good friend of mine,” Waldrum said. “I know he’s a great coach and South Florida is really lucky to have him there. I know his team’s going to be very well-coached and very disciplined and organized.”
Fleck also has a special fondness for Notre Dame.
“I have great respect for them, because everything they’ve attained they’ve earned it,” Fleck said. “I like them. They recruited me out of high school so that was good.”
Fleck has spent the last few days watching hours upon hours of Notre Dame tapes, and it’s games like these, Fleck said, that are the reason he is coaching.
“This is it, it doesn’t get better than this, the only thing better than this is the pro league,” Fleck said. “If it comes out that we win the game, you want to say, like when our football team beat Louisville, you want to say that ‘I was there when we beat Notre Dame.'”
Also, as Fleck said, “It’s probably more fun than studying.”