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Men’s Soccer: Big East schedule will provide plenty of tests

Greg Arbogast | Wednesday, September 10, 2008

South Florida was picked by the league’s coaches to win the Big East’s Red Division. No. 5 Notre Dame beat USF 5-0 this past weekend in the Mike Berticelli Memorial Tournament.

What does that say about the Irish’s chances this year in the Big East Blue Division? Not much, says Irish coach Bobby Clark.

“[The game] says we played well Sunday and South Florida didn’t,” Clark said. “These things happen. If we played South Florida tomorrow it would be a tough game. These are one-off games, and for whatever reason they weren’t ready.”

That’s not to say that both Clark and the preseason pundits don’t have high expectations for this year’s Notre Dame squad in Big East play. In a preseason poll, the Irish were picked to finish second behind No. 3 Connecticut in the eight-team Blue division. The Irish received two first-place votes while the other 14 went to the Huskies.

The Huskies’ loaded roster is led last year’s Hermann Trophy winner O’Brian White, who tallied 23 goals and notched seven assists during his award winning campaign. To put those numbers in perspective, former Irish forward Joseph Lapira had 22 goals and six assists during his Hermann Trophy 2006 season.

White has been placed on this year’s Hermann Trophy Watch List, but he has company. Teammates Akeem Priestly and Toni Stahl, both midfielders, join White on the list to give Connecticut a potent offense. All three Huskies have been named to the all-Big East preseason team.

“I would argue that Wake Forest and Connecticut were the two best teams in the country last season, and [Connecticut] returns almost everyone so they would be good you would think,” Clark said. “Just because you’re a year older doesn’t mean you’re a year better, but Connecticut is very well-coached. They’ll be a force to be reckoned with.”

While it would be tempting to assume that, like last year, Notre Dame and Connecticut will be the two primary contenders for the Blue Division title, history advises to temper those predictions.

Last season, the preseason coaches’ poll picked DePaul to finish last in the league’s Red Division, yet it was the Blue Demons standing at the top of the standings when the season ended.

“It just shows that our league is so good and that you can’t take anyone for granted,” Clark said of DePaul’s surprising performance last season.

Early results in 2008 suggest the emergence of a dark-horse in the Blue Division isn’t out of the question.

Seton Hall, picked to finish fifth in the division, is off to a 4-0-0 start and is outscoring opponents 13-3 and outshooting the opposition 87-50. Sophomore forward Sam Petrone accumulated 17 points on eight goals and one assist in his last three games.

Georgetown has also started 4-0-0 and has yet to allow a goal. The Hoyas, however, have yet to play a ranked opponent.

All preseason predictions will be replaced by reality starting this week as Big East play gets underway. The Irish start their campaign with a home game tomorrow at 7 p.m. against Marquette.