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Men’s Soccer: Seniors suffer heartbreak

Matt Gamber | Thursday, December 4, 2008

For a senior class that had reached the NCAA Sweet 16 in each of its first three seasons, a Nov. 25 season-ending loss to Northwestern in the tournament’s second round was both shocking and shattering.

“This group of seniors really set their hearts on the Final Four,” Irish coach Bobby Clark. “I just feel so sorry for the seniors. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a locker room more disappointed after game.”

The loss was the first – and only – at home for Notre Dame (12-7-2) after a regular season during which the Irish posted a 9-0-1 record at Alumni Field.

“Even though they were disappointed, they handled it very well, they handled it like sportsmen,” Clark said. “Their legacy may be that they helped next year’s team. I know it’s going to happen – there’s going to be a team that before very long will make it to the Final Four. I don’t know when, but I know it’ll happen sooner than later.”

Not all was lost, however, for a team Clark had often called his best at Notre Dame. The Irish captured the Big East regular-season title for the second straight year, a first in the program’s history.

“They played very nice soccer – as nice a playing team as I’ve ever had,” Clark said. “They’re a great group, and I don’t know when I’ve had a group with such a great attitude … All my teams have been very good, but in many ways they were a special group. They all came in very fit and worked their tails off.”

Walk-on defender Terry Lee epitomized the work ethic of the senior class, Clark said. He called the 5-foot-9, 155-pound senior “one of the inspirations behind this team” because of the effort he brought to practice on a daily basis.

After back-to-back all-Big East selections, senior defender Matt Besler was named a Preseason All-American heading into this year. He didn’t disappoint, earning individual weekly conference and national honors several times throughout the season while starting every game for the Irish.

“Without question he’ll be in the MLS combine and have a fair chance of being drafted,” Clark said of Besler. “We know he’s an Academic All-American, and I’d say he’s got a good chance at being an All-American as well – terrific senior year, but a terrific four years as well.”

Notre Dame’s leading scorer, senior forward Bright Dike (12 goals, 29 points), could be granted a fifth year of eligibility after not playing as a junior. Defender Cory Rellas and goalkeeper Andrew Quinn – who was Notre Dame’s starter this season until suffering an injury on Oct. 29 – may also apply for another year after not seeing any game action as freshmen.

Whether it has some returnees or not, the nine-man senior class is one with which Clark has cherished his time.

“These guys are just all terrific guys and they have been fantastic,” Clark said. “I just can’t say enough positive things about them.”