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Irish hope for bigger and better things

Justin Schuver | Thursday, August 19, 2004

One goal for Michigan meant the end of a goal for Notre Dame.With the Irish poised for a historic season and perhaps even a national championship at the end of 2003, Michigan’s Mike White put a dagger in the hearts of the Irish faithful with a penalty kick that eluded goalie Chris Sawyer and gave Michigan a 4-3 victory in the decisive shutout after a 1-1 regulation tie in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Championships at Alumni Field.”It’s never nice when you go out of the NCAAs,” Clark said. “But you have to learn to take what you get. You’re especially sad for the seniors because it was their last chance at it, but you hope that the other lads can maybe use [that loss] as inspiration for this year.”The Irish have grown into a dominant program under the tutelage of Clark, who came to Notre Dame in 2000 in hopes of putting the Irish on the college soccer map.Last year might have been the culmination of that goal, as the Irish had an impressive season despite the loss to Michigan in the Sweet 16. At one point in the year, Notre Dame was ranked No. 3 in the nation, and the team pulled off three straight shutouts to win the Big East championship and earn home-field advantage through the NCAAs.The biggest goal for the 2004 Irish squad will be keeping up that momentum from last year’s successful campaign. Notre Dame must replace seven letterwinners from last year, including two MLS draft picks in Justin Detter and Kevin Richards.Five of those seven seniors – Detter, Richards, Greg Martin, Chad Riley and Devon Prescod – were also all-Big East selections. Out of the 38 goals the Irish scored in 2003, those five seniors scored 35.”That’s a lot to replace,” Clark said. “But you’re not going to look to the freshmen to replace those players, you’re going to look at the guys who are older to step up and provide that immediate impact.”The Irish have a trio of seniors who should provide leadership both on and off the field in goalie captain Chris Sawyer and defensemen Kevin Goldthwaite and Jack Stewart. Sawyer and Stewart were both named to the preseason watch list for the Hermann Trophy, awarded each year to the best player in college soccer.”That is a great honor for those guys, but all it really says is that they played well last year,” Clark said. “The real test is whether they can repeat that performance this year.”I really feel that Goldthwaite could have been on that list as well, and it shows you the real talent we have this season.”With Sawyer, a three-time all-Big East selection and all-American in 2003, between the pipes and a defense led by Goldthwaite, Stewart and sophomore Greg Dalby, the Irish could be one of the top defensive teams in the country.Clark brought in another talented freshman class, with the Irish adding seven players from five states and England. “It’s too early to say that this is going to be a great class,” Clark said, “But at the same time there’s definitely a lot of potential. This looks to be a very good class.”The Irish open their season with an exhibition game Monday at Alumni Field against Northwestern. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m., with proceeds from donations going towards Grassroots Soccer, an organization for kids ages 10-17 that is dedicated to AIDS awareness and soccer instruction in Africa.Clark is asking each fan at the game Monday to donate $1 to the cause, in hopes of matching the $2,000 the team raised at its summer camp.