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Men’s Soccer: Defense leading the way

Sam Gans | Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A season ago, Irish senior defender Grant Van De Casteele was the youngest member of Notre Dame’s veteran back four. Now, the script has flipped.

Van De Casteele entered this year as the only returning defensive starter for the No. 3 Irish (7-0-0). Yet the Notre Dame defense that he anchors has allowed just four goals through its first seven games, with four shutouts.

The only current defensive starter besides Van De Casteele that saw significant game action a year ago was junior Luke Mishu, who started six games when former Irish defender Michael Knapp was injured. Junior Andrew O’Malley played seven total minutes and sophomore Max Lachowecki did not see any playing time.

The success of the defense up to this point in the season may thus be a surprise to outsiders. It’s not to Van De Casteele.

“People say the backline is inexperienced, but when I look at the guys I’m playing alongside with, I don’t really find them to be inexperienced,” he said. “I know Luke Mishu got a bunch of starts last year when Michael Knapp was hurt, and Andrew O’Malley could have been starting any game last year – he had the skill to play last year – it just so happened that [current Toronto F.C. defender] Aaron Maund was playing in front of him, so that’s unfortunate. But I know he would have been ready at any point last year to play.”

Though Van De Casteele thought heading into the season that other defenders would be ready, none of them could match his experience.

He entered the year with 38 career starts, and as the lone senior defender, he has found his role on the squad has been altered.

“Andrew O’Malley’s a vocal player, so he’s constantly directing traffic and a lot of my communication is mainly with the center midfielders – [sophomore] Nick Besler and [senior captain] Dillon Powers – and especially with Luke Mishu,” Van De Casteele said. “And I think while my position probably hasn’t changed that much, in reality people are probably looking to me to be more of a stable and calming influence, I’d say. And I think that’s a role I’m willing to embrace, and something I think I have the ability to tackle.”

Van De Casteele grew up playing basketball and baseball before focusing primarily on soccer in high school. He was a club soccer teammate of Powers and it was actually Powers who initially informed Van De Casteele the Irish were interested in him as a prospect.

“I heard first from Dillon Powers, because he had come to Notre Dame and visited and he said the coaches were really interested in recruiting me,” he said. “So that kind of put Notre Dame more on my radar than it probably was before.”

The combination of soccer and academics ultimately led Van De Casteele, a Big East Academic All-Star, to Notre Dame. Now, the Plano, Texas, native is focused on making sure the Irish open their Big East slate with a victory on Saturday and not looking ahead to anything else.

“This is the type of team that’s going to take it one game at a time,” Van De Casteele said. “I think that come Saturday in Louisville, the team will be prepared and it will be another big game, and it’s on to the next one. Every game’s a big game.”

Van De Casteele and the Irish travel to face the Cardinals on Saturday at 7 p.m.

 

Contact Sam Gans at sgans@nd.edu