- Associated Press - Thursday, December 2, 2010

CARY, N.C. (AP) - Both semifinal games of the NCAA Women’s College Cup feature an upstart against a traditional power.

The question is whether Stanford and Notre Dame will benefit from their experience in past national semifinals.

“You never know,” Stanford coach Paul Ratcliffe said Thursday. “For us, I think we come in with a level of confidence that we’ve been here and we know what to expect, because it can be a daunting prospect to come to the final four your first time. But in saying that, you never know with soccer on the day.”

No. 4 seed Notre Dame (19-2-2) plays No. 3 seed Ohio State (17-4-2) in Friday’s first semifinal, followed by No. 2 seed Boston College (17-6-1) against No. 1 seed Stanford (22-0-2). The winners meet Sunday for the championship.

The Fighting Irish are making their fifth straight and 12th overall appearance in the College Cup. The Cardinal are riding a 21-game winning streak, and are in the final four for the third consecutive season. They lost to North Carolina 1-0 in last year’s championship game.

The Buckeyes and Eagles, meanwhile, have made it this far for the first time in the history of their respective programs.

“We’re very prepared,” Ohio State defender Danielle Scoliere said. “We realize what a special opportunity this is, and we plan on taking full advantage of it.”

The Buckeyes are familiar with the sport’s biggest stage because their head coach has played there. Lori Walker, a goalkeeper on three NCAA championship teams during her career at North Carolina, will become the second woman to appear in the final four as a player and a head coach.

“It’s almost just a little funny to me because I still feel like I’m a 17-year-old kid or a 21-year-old kid in many ways,” Walker said. “It’s a thrill to be back here and be in North Carolina. There’s a piece of it that’s just a little strange because I don’t feel 20 years older. The game just kind of keeps you in the moment.”

The Tar Heels are missing from the final four for just the fourth time in the 29-year history of the event, having been eliminated by Notre Dame in the round of 16.

The Irish have outscored their opponents by a combined 13-1 in the first four rounds of the tournament. Coach Randy Waldrum moved Lauren Fowlkes to forward from defense after Notre Dame’s 2-0 loss to Connecticut in the Big East quarterfinals, and Fowlkes has delivered three goals and three assists in the NCAA tournament.

Fowlkes and her fellow seniors lost in the semifinals in 2007 and ‘09, and were beaten by North Carolina in the 2008 championship game, the last time the tournament was in this Raleigh suburb.

“I think that definitely drives you a lot,” Fowlkes said. “I know for me, with it being my last shot in my senior year, it’s definitely something where you want to go away on top.”

The second semifinal features a rematch from the regular season. Stanford and Boston College played to a 1-all tie in the opener for both teams in August.

The result was an improvement for the Eagles, who lost at Stanford 3-1 in last year’s NCAA quarterfinals.

“This year it definitely showed our growth from the previous time we played them,” Boston College’s Chelsea Regan said. “I think we’re kind of going into the next game thinking that we have the potential to take it a step further and get the win.”

That won’t be easy against a Stanford team that is second nationally in scoring and third in goals against average.

The Cardinal’s long winning streak came after a 2-all tie at North Carolina on Aug. 27. They’ve outscored their last 12 opponents by a combined 36-2.

“The nerves have calmed down a lot more, being here for the third time,” Stanford midfielder Allison McCann said. “It never gets old. It’s even more exciting every single year, but we have a lot more experience this year.”

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