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Eye of the Storm

Molly Sammon | Friday, September 30, 2011

The Irish broke into the top ten this week after a 1-0 victory in this season’s Big East opener against Louisville, and they want to keep it that way. Notre Dame looks to continue its conference success against St. John’s at Belson Stadium in Queens, N.Y., on Saturday.

“[St. John’s is] one of the top teams in the Big East, and one of the top teams in the country right now,” Irish coach Bobby Clark said.

The No. 10 Irish (5-1-2, 1-0 Big East) will travel to No. 15 St. John’s for the first time in six years, last appearing on Red Storm turf in a 1-0 loss in the 2005 Big East quarterfinals.

The matchup will be the 21st contest between the two programs, and St. John’s leads the overall series 11-4-5.

Luck at St. John’s has been elusive for the Irish. With seven losses and one tie on Red Storm turf, this game could mark Notre Dame’s first away win against the conference rival in program history.

The nature of the field will be different as St. John’s plays on turf, which changes the game in a way the team has been mimicking in practice all week.

“We’ve worked all week on the turf inside Loftus [Center],” Clark said. “We want to get the team used to playing on field turf. The ball bounces a little better on the turf, it’s much livelier, it’s a little harder and the game plays faster. You have to make decisions a little better.”

Each team will be fueled by recent wins when Saturday’s kickoff arrives. Notre Dame’s win against Louisville put them at 1-0 in the Big East. Although the Red Storm  (6-2-1, 1-1) lost their Big East conference opener to No. 2 UConn on Saturday, they followed the loss with a 3-2 overtime win over Princeton on Wednesday.

“They pressure you. You won’t have a lot of time with the ball,” Clark said.

To compensate for potentially less possession of the ball, the Irish will depend on their defense to provide support.

The Irish have excellent leadership on defense, including the last two Big East defensive players of the week in junior defender Grant Van De Casteele and most recently senior defender Greg Klazura, who was key in the shutout win over then-No. 3 Louisville on Sept. 24.

“It has been nice for Greg [Klazura] and Grant [Van De Casteele]. They deserve to get recognition,” Clark said. “But I think all four of the defenders have done very well.”

On offense, senior midfielder Adam Mena established himself as an integral part of the Irish offense, playing a key role in each of Notre Dame’s last five goals.

Mena contributed three assists and two goals, the only two scores in Notre Dame’s 2-1 overtime victory over Michigan on Sept. 16.

“[Mena] was very good for us in the spring season and during the summer,” Clark said. “I’m confident Adam will keep scoring goals for us.”

The Irish and Red Storm will kick off at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at St. John’s.

Contact Molly Sammon at msammon@nd.edu