'Those were the best games we've played all year'
This weekend, the Dartmouth women's soccer team advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament with a pair of thrilling victories in the First and Second Rounds. On Friday, the Big Green beat UW-Milwaukee, 1-0, in double overtime on a goal from Milwaukee native Katherine Kannenberg '05. On Sunday, Dartmouth topped 20th-ranked Michigan, 1-0, after Mary McVeigh '03 scored with less than five minutes remaining. The Big Green will face second-ranked Santa Clara in California on Saturday in the third round.
Second-year head coach Erica Walsh sat down with The Dartmouth's David Sherzer yesterday at Alumni Gym to talk about the two big wins, the Sweet 16 matchup that awaits and how good it feels to be the last Ivy team standing.
The Dartmouth: What impressed you the most about this weekend?
Erica Walsh: For one thing, I think we approached each game in a different manner. We've been asking the team to play a couple different styles of soccer and they've adjusted tremendously. I think that was a big key to our success.
The D: There was a big element of uncertainty entering the weekend. Not only were you playing a team you had never faced, but it was one [UW-Milwaukee] that is a relative unknown in college soccer. How difficult was it to prepare for the weekend?
EW: I think there was definitely a big element of uncertainty, but I think there was also a feeling of relief that we weren't facing Hartford, UConn or Harvard again. I think playing a new team certainly added to the excitement. After the announcement, it was a very stressful three days, trying to sort out class schedules and other issues. But once we got off campus and onto a plane, the excitement started setting in. And I think you can tell that in the way we played. We played so inspired. Those were the best games we've played all year, from start to finish.
The D: The ending of Game One was pretty amazing. Here's a girl [Kannenberg] who's from Milwaukee, she's a freshman and it was double overtime. How special was that moment?
EW: You can add to that mix that she's been injured for a large part of the season. As far as the goal goes, that's what kids dream about their whole lives. One of the comments from the Milwaukee coach was that he didn't think we would ever score. But Katherine has that ability. We've seen it so many times in practice. She has the ability to come up with great goals. Once she gets the ball on her feet, she's so dangerous, with her speed and her touch. It all came together at that moment, and I'd have to say that that was one of the most exciting moments of my career here. And I'm sure it's a moment she'll remember for the rest of her life.
The D: How did the team feel playing against a big name like Michigan?
EW: We were fortunate to have an opportunity to watch them play Friday night, and I think that eased a lot of people's nerves. Our game plan going in was to keep the ball on the floor and move the ball, as we do so well. We stuck to the game plan to a T. With the name Michigan comes an aura, but once we had a chance to sit down and watch them play, we recognized that this is a team we can play with. Obviously, it was going to be a tough battle, but we were up to the challenge.
The D: I'm sure it feels good to be one of the last 16 teams in the nation still standing, but is there an extra element of pride that Dartmouth is the last Ivy team still in the tournament?
EW: When you get to the tournament, you hope the best for your league because it means respect. And I also think they look at those things in future years when they give out bids and whatnot. But in terms of the other Ivy League teams, there's nothing better than being the last team standing. I wish the best for the other Ivies throughout the course of the tournament, but in the long run, you have to look out for yourself. The conference is as strong as it's ever been. It has a lot of respect throughout the nation. We should be proud to have had four teams in the field, but it also feels great to be the last one standing.
The D: How do you prepare for a team like Santa Clara? They're second in the country. I'm sure they present a lot of problems.
EW: We've already talked to Syracuse [Santa Clara's second-round opponent] and we'll spend the next couple days talking to common opponents and other teams they've played against. Right now, we're trying to find out what things have worked against them and what haven't. Most of all, we just need to take care of ourselves. We're hoping to get Annie Gibson '03 back for the game. We're healthier now than we've been in the last two months, so I think we're peaking at the right time. We're coming off our best two games of the whole year. I think this is a game where we need to go out and challenge, and you never know what can happen.