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Male Senior Athlete: Lapira wins Notre Dame’s first Hermann Trophy in 2006

Greg Arbogast | Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Energy and goals. No two words could better describe Notre Dame’s dynamo forward Joseph Lapira who became an irresistible force during his four years in South Bend under coach Bobby Clark.

By the time he hung up his Irish cleats, Lapira had terrorized opposing defenses to the tune of 41 career goals and 105 career points – both fifth-best in Notre Dame program history. Such goal-scoring prowess also helped the Lake Charles, La., native make new history for the Irish program.

Lapira’s breakout junior season, in which he led the nation in both goals and points, netted him the program’s first ever M.A.C. Hermann Trophy – college soccer’s national player of the year award.

While Lapira will be remembered primarily for that spectacular 2006 season, it was the little-seen changes in the forward’s game during his first two campaigns under Clark that made his breakout junior year possible.

“When Joseph got here, he was just a bundle of raw energy,” Clark said. “He was somebody we identified with raw talent and tremendous instincts, but like all young strikers, I think he learned a few things.

“He learned how to pace himself, how to pick his moments to make runs, learning you don’t have to make runs every single time. He also learned that even the best strikers go through dry periods and keeping your confidence in yourself and your ability [is important].”

It also helped that, from day one, Lapira was able to unleash some of that energy on the field. Injuries ravaged Notre Dame during Lapira’s freshman season, allowing him to gain valuable experience while playing in all 19 games and starting five after an injury to upperclassmen Tony Menga. Lapira showed flashes of things to come, scoring three goals – all game-winners – as well as notching two assists in his first season.

Potential turned into production in Lapira’s sophomore year as he led the team in points (19) and goals (seven) while tying for the team lead in assists with five. Lapira also began to show his penchant for important goals as his tally iced a 2-0 victory over defending national champion Indiana in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

If Lapira’s sophomore campaign looked impressive in relation to his first season in South Bend, it paled in comparison to the spectacular numbers that the forward put up during his third year under Clark. In the fourth game of the 2006 season, Lapira found the back of the net four times in a 5-4 overtime victory over Indiana. He didn’t stop scoring for the rest of the season, notching 22 goals and 50 points – both tops in the country.

In addition to the Hermann Trophy, Lapira’s efforts helped him garner unanimous first-team All-America honors, as well Soccer America’s Player of the Year and Big East Offensive Player of the Year awards.

“It’ll be very hard to ever forget his fabulous junior year,” Clark said. “That was something special. He was scoring goals like they were going out of fashion.”

Slicing up every defense in his path during his junior season, in his senior season, Lapira finally came up against an opponent that could slow him down – injuries. The senior forward pulled his calf at the end of July while training with English Premier League side Derby County, an injury that would linger until after the start of the season. During the season, Lapira also sustained a hamstring injury.

“His senior year will be remembered for me as someone who had a really tough start pulling his calf,” Clark said. “Possibly because he pushed too hard to get back, he tweaked his hamstring. He wasn’t really fully fit until the start of the [NCAA] Tournament.”

Although he could not replicate the production of his junior season, Lapira overcame his injuries enough to manage nine goals and 10 assists in his last season at Notre Dame. He also scored two goals in the NCAA Tournament while helping lead the Irish to their second consecutive NCAA quarterfinal appearance.

Such production was enough to help Lapira receive first-team All-America honors for the second consecutive season while also being named a finalist for the Hermann Trophy.

“I thought he did magnificently [his senior year],” Clark said. “It would have been real easy to go into a tailspin because things weren’t going as well as the year before, but I felt he stuck to his task really well. He kept his character. He kept his personality, and when we came to the vital games at the end of the season, he scored the vital goals.”

Lapira’s magnificent career at Notre Dame was enough to interest professional clubs on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Toronto FC drafted the ND forward with the 35th pick of the 2007 MLS Superdraft – Lapira likely would have been drafted higher had teams not known that his preference was to play in Europe – but Lapira spurned MLS for more frigid pastures. Norwegian ones, to be exact.

The former Irish standout is now plying his trade for Nybergsund of Norway’s second division, where he’s netted three goals in his first four games.

“I think his dream was always to play in Europe,” Clark said. “He’s made a good start. Hopefully, he’ll look at this as an intermediate step [to a more competitive European league].”