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Men’s Soccer: Notre Dame faces Golden Eagles

Eric Prister | Friday, November 5, 2010

For Irish coach Bobby Clark, the Big East tournament provides his squad with three opportunities — a smooth transition to postseason play, a boost in RPI and the glory of winning a tournament.

Saturday’s quarterfinal match against Marquette will be the first chance for Notre Dame to take advantage of those opportunities.

“The main thing is that it’s a dry run for the NCAA tournament,” Clark said. “It gets you from regular season mode to postseason mode, because there’s a slightly different mentality — you don’t get any second chances in the postseason.”

The No. 19 Irish (9-4-4, 6-2-1) enter the Big East Championships riding a four-game unbeaten streak after defeating conference foes Seton Hall, Pittsburgh and Georgetown and battling to a draw with No. 9 Connecticut.

Marquette (6-7-4, 3-4-2) lost three out of its last four regular season games, but upset higher-seeded Saint John’s in the first round of the conference tournament to reach the quarterfinals.

Multiple wins for the Irish in the tournament will give them an advantage in the rankings. They are currently ranked 10th in the RPI, but Clark said he believes that they can improve their standing.

“In a practical sense, it’s good to win because it gets you a good setup in the NCAA tournament,” he said. “Certainly you want to be in the top-16, but moving into the top-8 provides you with an extra home game, and if you can move into the top-4, you have home field advantage through the final four, as long as you keep winning.”

But the practical benefit is not the only motivation for winning the tournament, Clark said.

“It’s always nice to win the Big East tournament and get that trophy. It’s why you play things — to be the best. That’s easier said than done — every game is difficult.”

Clark is confident that his team will be ready to enter postseason play Saturday against Marquette, even though his team still has growing to do.

“I think we’re still growing,” he said. “We started with only three returning starters, so we’ve been trying all season to have the guys playing there best at this point in the season. We’ve played our best soccer over the past three weeks, but there’s still room for growth.

“Hopefully we can keep winning, which will allow us to keep growing. But nothing happens unless we’re ready to play Marquette. It will be a challenge.”

Notre Dame will face off with the Golden Eagles Saturday at 6 p.m. at Alumni Field.