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Men’s Soccer: Team earns No. 1 overall seed, falls to IU

Isaac Lorton | Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Though the season began with uncertainty and ended with disappointment, Notre Dame put together a stellar campaign and earned the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament. 

The Irish (17-4-1, 5-2-1 Big East) found out in the preseason that senior captain and midfielder Michael Rose was out for the season with a knee injury. Then, in the season opener against Duke, senior midfielder Adam Mena also went down with a knee injury and was unable to return to the pitch. Despite the devastating loss of two veteran seniors, Irish coach Bobby Clark said Notre Dame responded well to adversity.

“When you lose two top players like that and still do what we did as a team, there is a lot of satisfaction in that,” Clark said. “It was a good season. We had a lot of injuries and our senior class responded well. … We had the second-hardest schedule in the country and we only lost four [games]. … Our senior class did a fantastic job this year leading the team.

“[Forward] Ryan Finley, [midfielder] Dillon Powers and [defender] Grant Van De Casteele were fantastic this season. You have to give it up to these guys, guys like [midfielder/forward Kyle] Richard, [midfielder Bob] Novak and [midfielder/forward Danny] O’Leary, who were support guys and became very important. They filled in for Rose and Mena when they got hurt and they came together and led the team.”

The Irish went into the NCAA tournament with the No. 1 overall seed and, after downing Michigan State in the second round, met No. 16 seed Indiana in the third round at Alumni Stadium on Nov. 25. After a first half controlled by the Hoosiers, Notre Dame came out early in the second stanza to take the lead on a goal from Richard. But 56 seconds later, Indiana junior midfielder Nikita Kotlov struck back to knot the score at one goal apiece. The teams finished off regulation dead even and went into golden-goal overtime. 

Two minutes into the second overtime, Kotlov flicked on an incoming cross to sophomore forward Eriq Zavaleta, who buried a wide-open header into the back of the net for Indiana’s 2-1 victory.

Clark said the loss to the eventual national champion Hoosiers was heart-wrenching. 

“Some people call it sudden victory, but when you lose it is definitely sudden death,” Clark said. “It’s agonizing to lose in that final moment. And it wasn’t so much that we lost in double overtime to Indiana, but we felt like we didn’t do as well as we could have in that game. Our program is at that stage, not just where we want to win, but we expect to win.” 

Despite the loss, Clark saw silver linings in the season. 

“If you look back, there were so many positives,” Clark said. “At the end of the day, if you don’t win, obviously, you are going to be disappointed going out in the third round to the would-be champions. There are positives to take out of the season. We ended the regular season as the No. 1 [team] in the country and even after the loss, we were still No. 1 in [the] RPI rankings after the season.”

The Irish lost four players to the MLS Draft. The Columbus Crew selected Finley with the ninth overall pick and Powers went two picks later to the Colorado Rapids in the MLS SuperDraft. Rose and Mena were later chosen in the Supplemental Draft by the Vancouver Whitecaps.

After three years of playing alongside Powers, Irish junior forward Harry Shipp said he will miss the standout midfielder for the example he set to the whole team. 

“I am extremely happy for [Dillon],” Shipp said. “He has been exceeding expectations away from campus, adjusting to the new lifestyle. I look at him as a role model as I plan to make that transition next fall. I don’t look to him as a role model just as a soccer player but for his lifestyle.”

Shipp also said the team is seeking more than just a No. 1 ranking next season.

“We will continue to build off of last year and have a successful regular season,” Shipp said. “I think it is time, though, for us to gain success in the postseason.”

Contact Isaac Lorton at ilorton@nd.edu