An Irish Eye-Opener : Soccer: Cindy Daws flanked Portland to score the goal that won the NCAA championship for Notre Dame.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Beginning in the early 1930s, the French military erected fortifications alongpart of its eastern border to protect the country from German aggression.

However, in 1940 the Maginot line proved useless when the Germans moved north through Belgium and pounced upon the line's defenders from behind.

Sunday in Chapel Hill, N.C., University of Notre Dame women's soccer player Cindy Daws circumvented another defensive wall, this time producing an Irish, rather than a German triumph.

Daws, a junior midfielder and a Northridge native, scored the only goal of the NCAA Division I title match in sudden-death overtime when she quick-kicked a shot into the University of Portland net as the Pilots attempted to form a line of defenders in her path.

The 25-yard direct kick was taken from outside the Portland penalty area and slightly to the left of center. It passed the right side of the still-developing wall and bounced once before slipping inside the right post, giving the Irish their first national title and burying Daws beneath her entire team.

"I never saw the shot go in," Daws, a Louisville High graduate, said Tuesday. "I only realized it had when there were 24 people on top of me."

Portland's cries of foul play fell on deaf ears and Daws, who has attempted such a move before, said her opponents should know better.

"I heard that it was controversial and a cheap goal but it was perfectly legitimate," Daws said. "The rules say that if you don't stop and ask the referee [to make defenders back up] 10 yards you don't have to wait for a whistle to start play."

Adding to the goal's intrigue was that the Irish (21-2-2) plotted such a move earlier in the match--without Daws in the huddle.

When Notre Dame midfielder Holly Manthei mentioned during a break in the 125-minute match that the Portland goalie was out of position while directing her teammates on Notre Dame direct kicks, Daws was further up the sideline getting her legs rubbed down by an Irish assistant.

"Maybe I was reading Holly's mind," said Daws, a two-time college All-American. "But when Michelle McCarthy got fouled and set the ball down I just walked up and kicked it at the open goal. The ref was asking if I wanted 10 yards and I was saying no as I kicked."

Notre Dame's title-match victory came on the heels of its 1-0 semifinal victory over North Carolina, which had won nine consecutive Division I championships.

Daws celebrated the Irish's impressive weekend with eight other teammates from California, including freshman Monica Gerardo of Simi Valley.

"You set the goal [of winning the national title] at the beginning of the year but you really don't know, you could be upset in the first round," said Gerardo, Notre Dame's leading scorer with 20 goals and 11 assists. "It started to sink in when we flew back and there were fans and TV cameras waiting for us."

The victory over Portland not only produced another title in the glowing history of Notre Dame athletics, but served as personal redemption for Daws, who has battled a severe foot injury since January of 1994.

Daws broke a bone in the arch of her left foot during a U.S. national team tryout. A screw was inserted during surgery to help strengthen the bone but in last season's NCAA title match, a 5-0 loss to North Carolina, she broke it again.

This time, doctors inserted a longer screw and performed a bone graft, removing bone from her hip to plug the hole in her foot.

By the time preseason practice began, Daws was up and about but nowhere near the level of play she or Notre Dame Coach Chris Petrucelli had come to expect.

Daws was held out for much of the team's first eight matches, but before the ninth against Cincinnati she had to decide whether to be a medical redshirt and gain an extra season of eligibility or to continue as best she could.

Together, Daws and Petrucelli decided to push on.

"It wasn't an easy decision but she had an impact every time she stepped on the field," Petrucelli said. "She was between 80 and 90% but even at 80% she's better than most players in the country."

Daws, who finished 1995 with seven goals and eight assists, said she did not want to sit out a season in which she thought her team had a chance for the national title.

"After two injuries and watching other people play soccer for six months I didn't want to sit out any more," she said. "I took a chance on working through the pain. There were times when I wondered if I made the right decision but it all worked out."

And eased some of the pain.

"[The ankle] hurts but when you win something like that it's easy to forget the pain and everything else," Daws said.

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