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Mens Soccer: Irish hope strong finish in Big East Tournament will propel them into a top NCAA seed

Justin Schuver | Friday, November 7, 2003

Losing was an uncommon thing for this year’s Irish, but this weekend they’ll have a chance to get back at one of the few teams that beat them during the regular season.

No. 3 seed Notre Dame faces No. 6 seed Connecticut in a quarterfinal Big East Tournament matchup Sunday at Alumni Field. During the regular season, the Huskies defeated the Irish 1-0 in Storrs, Conn.

“I think that you always just want to get out there and win,” Irish coach Bobby Clark said. “I’m not sure I’d put it as strongly as saying that we want revenge, although it would be nice to get one of those losses back.

“We’d just like to go out there and win the conference. That would really help make this a very special year.”

Notre Dame comes into the Big East Tournament with a 12-3-3 record, including 6-3-1 in conference. The Irish are currently ranked No. 5 nationally and are in the running for a high seeding in the NCAA Tournament if they perform well at the Big East Championship.

Clark said that he doesn’t want his team to think about at-large bids and instead work towards receiving the automatic bid that would be included in winning the Big East Tournament.

Each of the top four seeds nationally receive home-field advantage all the way up to the NCAA Final Four, and Clark added that is a bit of incentive for the team to do well in the Big East Tournament.

“We’re playing for home field advantage,” he said. “I think that’s especially important at a school where academics is so important. Finals will be around the same time as the Final Four, and it would be nice not to have to travel as much.

“Plus it’s always nicer to play at home in front of your own fans. I think that if a team wins the Big East, then they have a pretty good argument for one of those top four seeds.”

Even if the Irish are unable to win the conference tournament, a good performance could still help them collect one of the top 16 seeds in the NCAA’s pool of 48 teams. Those top 16 teams all receive first-round byes.

“The better we do over these next few games, the more we’ll help our seed,” Clark said. “We’d like to get a first-round bye because that’s like an automatic first-round win.”

One reason for Notre Dame’s success this year has been a stalwart defensive backfield. Through 18 regular season games, the Irish only allowed 14 goals, including 10 shutouts. Take the five goals the team allowed in a hiccup against Rutgers and the number drops even further. Irish goaltender Chris Sawyer has been a wall, with a 0.76 goals against average.

“We defend as a team right from the start of the game,” Clark said. “Good defensive teams can win you championships. A lot of defense is just being organized and working together as a unit.

“It’s also nice to have a good goalkeeper at the back of it all.”

The Huskies (8-7-3, 5-3-2) don’t figure to be a pushover opponent, however. Connecticut is this year’s host for the Big East semifinals and finals, and the Huskies would love to upset the Irish and return home for the remainder of the tournament.

Connecticut is led by freshman forward Steve Sealy, who has scored five goals and three assists for 13 points, including three game-winners. Together with forward Cesar Cuellar, who has notched four goals and three assists for 11 points, they compose the bulk of the Huskies’ attack.

Adam Schuerman holds a 1.01 goals against average and a 8-5-2 record overall as Connecticut’s number-one netminder.

This quarterfinal battle begins at 1 p.m. Sunday at Alumni Field.