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Men’s Soccer: No. 16 ranked freshman class takes to the pitch

Eric Retter | Saturday, August 19, 2006

Entering the season, 16 seems to be the number most associated with Notre Dame.

The Irish, who advanced to the Sweet 16 in last season’s NCAA tournament, begin their 2006 campaign ranked No. 16 in the nation by College Soccer News.

After the Irish successfully signed another strong recruiting class, College Soccer News gave Notre Dame’s incoming freshmen the same ranking – No. 16.

“They’re a very good class,” head coach Bobby Clark said Tuesday. “We’ve had a lot of good classes the last few years, but this certainly is another one, with some very outstanding players.”

This year’s freshman class includes two high school All-American midfielders in Justin Morrow and Michael Thomas, who scored 42 and 41 goals, respectively, in their high school careers.

Additionally, two Irish freshmen won All-State honors, as midfielder Dave Donahue was named to Massachusetts’ All-State team twice, while Tamba Samba was an All-State forward in Indiana in his senior season.

Joining them as rookies on the roster will be defender John Schaefer, midfielder John Baumgardner and goalkeeper Philip Tuttle.

While these seven players are a talented group, they may face an uphill battle if they plan to see significant minutes early on in the season. Notre Dame will return nine starters and 14 monogram winners from a year ago, including All-American midfielder Greg Dalby.

“We’ve got a very strong returning group, so we’re not in a position where we need to hurry anyone in,” Clark said. “At the same time, if anyone deserves to be in, they’ll be in.”

In the few weeks that the freshmen have been practicing with the team, Clark has seen an improvement in the play of his rookies.

“All of them have actually done pretty well [in practice through Tuesday]. They’ve all shaped up, [and] they’ve all shown promise,” Clark said.

Before the Irish played their first of two exhibitions on Thursday at Drake, Clark was optimistic the games would shed a better light on the potential impact of the youngest team members.

“At the moment they’re still learning, still learning the system,” Clark said. “Until you’ve seen them play in a real game, it’s difficult to know where they are.”

Clark also said he plans to give his new players plenty of time to learn the system and make an impression.

“I try not to judge youngsters too early, because if you judge them too early before they’re ready and before they get comfortable, you can perhaps come to the wrong conclusions,” he said.

Regardless of how much playing time they will see this season, Clark is confident that all the freshmen on the team will continue to improve and will serve as a solid foundation for upcoming seasons.

“You can learn by getting thrown into the deep end, or you can learn by working everyday at practice with quality players,” he said. “Good players will learn by competing for time with experienced players. If they’re good players, they’re going to be fine.”

Notes:

Notre Dame will play its home opener Monday in an exhibition game against St. Francis at 7 p.m. at Alumni Field. The team will ask for a $1 contribution from all those in attendance to support Grassroot Soccer, a program that aims to combat the AIDS epidemic in Africa using soccer as a means of communication.

Last season, the Irish took in slightly over $2,500 at the gate, and that number was matched by both a Notre Dame soccer alumnus – who wishes to remain anonymous – as well as the Notre Dame soccer camps, meaning the Irish were able to donate nearly $8,000 to the program.