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Offense prepares for DePaul

Joe Meixell | Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Playing possibly its toughest three games of the season in a span of eight days, No. 6 Notre Dame more than held its own last week, picking up wins over Providence and No. 14 Connecticut while falling to No. 4 West Virginia.”We could have won all three games,” Irish coach Bobby Clark said. “We played well at West Virginia, but we didn’t follow through with our chances.”The results leave Notre Dame’s record at 12-4-2 (8-3-0 Big East) at the conclusion of the regular season. With its 24 points, Notre Dame locked up the No. 3 seed in the Big East tournament, which begins Wednesday night when the Irish take on DePaul at Alumni Field. Notre Dame defeated the Blue Demons 3-0 in South Bend Sept. 10 in the teams’ only meeting this season.Notre Dame 3, Providence 0The Irish started the week with a decisive victory over Providence Oct. 14, running their winning streak to a season-high seven games – the program’s longest since an eight-game streak in 2003.The victory left Notre Dame, who entered the game tied with Providence in the conference standings, in sole possession of second place in the Big East’s Blue Division one point behind both Connecticut and West Virginia.With their shutout of the Friars, the Irish held their opponent scoreless for the fifth time in six games and ninth time for the season. Despite the impressive statistics, Clark downplayed the result.”It was not an easy 3-0 game,” Clark said. “Until we scored in the final minute, we felt we were still in a game. It was a good clear win, but it wasn’t a blowout.”Junior forward Kurt Martin scored the pivotal goal on a blistering shot with only 26 seconds remaining in the game. It was Martin’s first goal on the season. Senior midfielder Nate Norman, who contributed one of his two assists for the night on Martin’s goal, ran his team-leading assist count to seven.Junior forward Joseph Lapira increased his nation-leading goal count to 19 by scoring the team’s opening goal in the 32nd minute. It was the seventh consecutive game in which Lapira had scored a goal.Sophomore midfielder Cory Rellas, who has seen vastly increased playing time since senior midfielder Ian Etherington injured his leg on Sept. 23, picked up the first of his two assists for the evening on Lapira’s goal. Despite his limited playing time, Rellas now has five assists on the season, second only to Norman’s seven.”Since [getting more playing time], Cory has come on and really established himself as a very solid player,” Clark said. “He’s getting better every week as his confidence has grown, and that’s the exciting thing.”

West Virginia 2, Notre Dame 1By defeating then-No. 6 Notre Dame 2-1 Wednesday evening at Dirk Dlesk Soccer Stadium in Morgantown, No. 4 West Virginia not only snapped Notre Dame’s seven game winning streak, but they also ended the Irish’s run for the No. 1 seed in the Big East tournament.The loss left Notre Dame four points behind the Mountaineers – a difference the team could not make up with only one game remaining on the regular season schedule.The Irish started the game positively as Rellas tallied his first career goal for Notre Dame, scoring in the 4th minute. Freshman midfielder Michael Thomas slipped the ball through the defense to Rellas to pick up his second assist on the season.West Virginia responded decisively, picking up the equalizer only 13 minutes in. Mountaineer midfielder Dan Stratford received a pass from fellow midfielder Andrew Wright and blasted his shot home from 22 yards out. The goal was the first conceded by Irish senior goalkeeper Chris Cahill in 257 minutes – a streak that spanned three games.”The hard thing for us was giving up the lead so quickly,” Clark said. “If we had been able to go into halftime one goal to the good, it would have helped us a lot.”Wright would give West Virginia the lead for good in the 56th minute when his shot hit home from 12 yards out for his fifth goal of the season.

Notre Dame 1, Connecticut 0Notre Dame closed out its regular season with a 1-0 win over No. 14 Connecticut in front of 3,831 fans at Joseph J. Morrone Stadium Saturday evening. It was Notre Dame’s second ever win at Connecticut and its first win in Storrs since 1986. With the victory, Notre Dame locked up the No. 3 seed in the Big East tournament as the Irish finished with 24 points in Big East play – one behind Connecticut and four behind West Virginia.The only goal of the game was scored in the 65th minute by Thomas. Senior defender Ryan Miller sent a cross into the box that was flicked on by Lapira to an open Thomas who deposited the ball at the back post. The goal was Thomas’s third of the season, and the fourth straight game with a point for the reigning Big East freshman of the week.”[Thomas] is an amazing freshman, and he’s been terrific since day one,” Clark said. “Since the injury to [junior midfielder] Alex Yoshinaga, he’s had to change from an off the bench role to a starting role, and he’s taken to it like a duck to water. He’s played well all year, but the nice thing is that now he’s been rewarded with some goals.”With the shutout, Cahill held an opponent scoreless for the ninth time on the season, and he improved his record to 11-3-1. Notre Dame now will begin preparing for post-season play which begins Wednesday night when the Irish take on DePaul in the first round of the Big East tournament, and Notre Dame will draw on their past three games to aid their preparation.”All three games were like NCAA tournament games,” Clark said. “They were hard, competitive, tough games. They were fun experiences for the boys to wrap up the season.”

Note: uBy failing to score against West Virginia, Lapira was held without a goal for the first time in seven games, but he held onto his national lead in both goals (19) and points (41).