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Men’s Soccer: Notre Dame faces high expectations

Molly Sammon | Friday, August 19, 2011

A No. 12 preseason ranking has Notre Dame looking past the NCAA tournament’s second round, where last season ended.

“I think this is a very driven squad, they know that we made the NCAA tournament, and we really felt that when it came down to it, we ended with some unfinished business,” Irish coach Bobby Clark said. “We’d like to make history for the program, and we’ll see where it takes us. They are a driven group that works exceptionally hard, and hopefully that’ll bear some fruit as the season unfolds.”

Five freshmen join the Irish and their three captains, junior midfielder Dillon Powers, fifth-year senior defender and midfielder Greg Klazura and senior defender Aaron Maund, this year.

“The freshman class has impressed me so far,” Powers said. “I think in particular, their attitude and their willingness to learn have impressed me. Soccer is quite a thinking game, maybe they don’t have the technical skills yet, but their minds are where it’s at.”

The Irish also welcome a collegiately-seasoned player onto the team, junior forward and transfer from Duke, Ryan Finley, though he will have to spend this season on the bench due to NCAA transfer regulations. Finley led the ACC in scoring last season with 17 goals and ranked first among all NCAA Division I players in goals per game with 0.94 goals per game.

Finley is the first transfer to join the Irish during Clark’s tenure.

“[Finley] certainly has a great background,” Clark said. “He’s got to settle into a new team which always takes a bit of time, but he’s got tremendous statistics. We’re hoping he can fill some of the goals that [graduated] Steven Perry got us last year.”

The Irish tied Xavier 1-1 Tuesday in an exhibition match. They defeated Butler 2-1 Thursday in the second of their three exhibition matches. Junior forward Danny O’Leary and senior midfielder Adam Mena each scored to lead the Irish.

Notre Dame will host No. 10 Creighton at Alumni Stadium Monday for its third and final exhibition game. The match will be the team’s annual donation game for the Grassroots Soccer non-profit organization that is near and dear to Clark. Clark’s son founded the organization that seeks to create awareness for young Africans about the persistence and danger of HIV.

Later in the upcoming season, the team will also host its annual Lose the Shoes tournament for a chance for students to raise money toward the cause.

The first regular season game for the Irish will be Aug. 27 against No. 17 Indiana.

“It’ll be a huge game to start the season, and we usually always start with a big game,” Clark said. “Indiana is always an exciting game as in in-state rival. Soccer is very important in Indiana.”

Though luck has been on Notre Dame’s side playing the Hoosiers in Bloomington, they struggled against their regional rival at Alumni Stadium last year, a trend Clark and the Irish want to change for a confidence boost into the new season.

“We won there last year, but we haven’t won at home against them in a while,” Clark said. “They’ve had the better of us on our home ground.”

Once back on campus, the team held a meeting discussing hopeful outcomes at the brink of a new year for the Irish.

“We really want to focus on the national championship and focusing on things that are going to get us there,” Powers said. “It’s hard to say what will get us there.”

This season, Clark wants his team to recreate the success of last year but take it a few steps further toward what would be the team’s first national championship.

“I think we were very close last year. Hopefully we can edge a little bit closer, and this year, I think that’s the aim of this moment in time,” Clark said. “If we can edge a little bit closer, we know where we’d like to be at the end of the season, it’s just a matter of getting there.”

Kickoff against Creighton is at 7 p.m. Monday.