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Monaco: Irish en route to championship win (Nov. 6)

Mike Monaco | Tuesday, November 6, 2012

 

They are blueprinted in the summer, manufactured throughout the preseason and the regular season, fine-tuned in the conference tournament and tested in the NCAA tournament. Championship teams are built through months of assembly, and the Irish are ready to prove they have one.

It’s not easy to construct a championship-caliber team, but Notre Dame (14-3-1, 5-2-1 Big East) has done so. 

They’re built when you score 44 goals during the season, the second-highest total under Irish coach Bobby Clark. Four of those goals came in the high-stakes Big East Championship quarterfinal Saturday against Syracuse on the road. Ten more of those goals came during a pivotal two-game stretch during which the Irish battled a pair of conference opponents at Alumni Stadium. Notre Dame punished Pittsburgh with a 7-1 dismantling Oct. 3 in a possible trap game before downing then-No. 3 Georgetown 3-0 just three days later.

They’re built when you couple a never-ending gauntlet of top non-conference opponents with the rigors of the Big East calendar. The Irish opened the season against then-No. 21 Duke and also squared off with No. 2 Akron. Notre Dame handed the Zips their only loss of the season in a 3-1 victory Sept. 9. 

The Irish are battle-tested and battle-ready, thanks to a forward-thinking approach from Clark. The 12th-year coach emphasizes improving against the best competition as opposed to padding the resume with blowout wins over inferior teams. 

They’re built when you emerge from a grueling set of road matches against top-25 teams both with success and room for improvement. In an eight-day span the Irish faced No. 12 Louisville, No. 22 Indiana and No. 6 Connecticut all away from the comfy confines of Alumni Stadium, where Notre Dame went 8-0. The result was an imperfect 1-2 mark, but the Irish have improved and are currently riding a 6-1-1 streak since the loss to Connecticut on Sept. 29.

They’re built when you learn to overcome adversity. Notre Dame suffered the same devastation twice when senior co-captain and midfielder Michael Rose tore his ACL in the preseason, mere weeks before senior midfielder Adam Mena went down with the same injury in the season-opener. 

But the Irish have responded with stellar efforts from players from all classes. Seniors like midfielder Dillon Powers, defender Grant Van De Casteele, forward Ryan Finley and goalie Will Walsh have provided leadership and production. Juniors such as forward Harry Shipp, goalie Patrick Wall and defenders Luke Mishu and Andrew O’Malley have been stout. Sophomore defender Max Lachowecki and sophomore midfielder Nick Besler have started all 18 games after barely playing as freshmen. Speaking of rookie seasons, freshman midfielder/forward Patrick Hodan has appeared in every game and is second on the team with six goals and 17 points.

They’re built when you perform exceptionally when the spotlight is brightest. The Irish needed a win against then-No. 3 Marquette on Oct. 24 in the penultimate regular season game. The Golden Eagles led 1-0 at halftime, but Notre Dame charged back by netting three goals in less than seven minutes to defeat another robust opponent.

They’re built when you piece together a dominant defense. The Irish were inexperienced along the backline after the graduations of Aaron Maund, Greg Klazura and Michael Knapp. But Van De Casteele, Mishu, O’Malley and Lachowecki have jelled in front of Walsh and Wall to form a defense that has held opposing teams to zero or one goal in 13 of 18 games. Walsh and Wall have each made nine starts and allowed just eight goals apiece and three members of the back four – Van De Casteele, Mishu and Lachowecki – have started every game and contributed two key goals.

They’re built when you embrace a game-by-game approach, which the Irish have done at the behest of Clark. Such a mindset is critical in the postseason, when each game is win or go home, when each game is the most important to date.

Championship teams are built beginning at the end of the last season and through the NCAA tournament.

The Irish have been on the assembly line the whole year and are now ready just in time for the real test: the NCAA tournament.

Contact Mike Monaco at jmonaco@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.