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Men’s Soccer: Defensive vets to lead Irish in ACC

Kit Loughran | Sunday, August 25, 2013

With the challenge of living up to one of the best seasons in the program’s history, the Irish take to the field this week for the beginning of the 2013 season. 

Last season, Notre Dame finished with a 17-4-1 record – compiling the most wins since 1988 – and won the Big East Championship for the third time in program history. Though the Irish were eliminated in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament, 2012 marked the first time Notre Dame had entered the postseason as the No. 1 overall seed. 

However, the loss of two first team All-Americans in forward Ryan Finley and midfielder Dillon Powers creates a void to be filled by the team’s experienced veterans and newcomers as Notre Dame commences the program’s first season as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). 

Named last season’s Big East Offensive Player of the Year, Finley contributed 21 of the team’s 52 goals. Both Finley and Powers were drafted in the first round of the MLS SuperDraft in January. 

Without those same stalwarts and with Notre Dame joining a new conference, Irish head coach Bobby Clark said it is unclear just how the adjustment to the ACC will be.

“We do not know the answer to exactly how the team will adjust quite yet,” Clark said. “The ACC is a tremendous soccer conference, but the Big East has been very strong and is definitely the conference that would have prepared us the best.” 

The uncertainty and excitement that come with the transition to the ACC is accompanied by a similar thrill that comes with the surfacing of a new group of players to replace the likes of Finley and Powers. 

“We graduated some great players last season, and we were sad to see them go, but the players are excited for the opportunity to take over,” Clark said. 

Junior midfielder Nick Besler said he is confident in the new group of players stepping up to the challenge. 

“We lost some great guys, but we gained some other kids who are willing to step up,” Besler said. “They are different, and I think that’s the most exciting part – creating a team with a new identity.” 

Building from last season, Clark said he hopes to improve the team’s performance in the NCAA tournament and finish stronger than a disappointing third-round elimination. However, Clark does look to maintain the team’s leadership and spirit. 

“I hope to see the team leadership and tremendous team spirit persist this season,” Clark said. “It is such a great, fun group to coach.” 

Senior defender and captain Andrew O’Malley said the team has a great dynamic on and off the field. 

“When we’re on the field, everyone is seriously focused and understands our job is to win,” O’Malley said. “When we’re off the field, we’re a fun team and don’t take ourselves too seriously.” 

O’Malley said he is confident in the team’s defense. Led by fifth-year senior Grant Van De Casteele at central defense, junior Max Lachowecki at left back and senior Patrick Wall at goalie, O’Malley and the rest of the defense are deep in talent and experience. 

“We have the entire former backline from last season to build upon this year,” O’Malley said. “The goal of the backline is to build on the experience we have and improve even from last year.” 

While the Irish backline is fully experienced, the team’s offense has Finley’s production to fill. Senior captain and forward Harrison Shipp said making the offense a threat on the field will definitely be one of the team’s biggest obstacles. 

Shipp, along with fellow veterans such as senior forward Leon Brown and junior forward Vince Cicciarelli, will look to younger players like sophomore Patrick Hodan to assist on the attack. 

“We have a new set of players with different strengths, and it’s important to figure out the strengths and use them to our advantage in the season, especially as we prepare to play teams like [No. 9] UCLA,” Shipp said. 

With exhibition play coming to a close Monday night against Ohio State, the Irish open their regular season against the Bruins in the adidas/IU Credit Union Classic on Friday. 

Though the Irish face a tough opponent to open the season, Clark said the team is eager to face strong teams like UCLA. 

“It will be a challenge but a fun challenge,” Clark said. “We are looking forward to challenges like these.” 

Notre Dame squares off Friday at 5 p.m. against UCLA at Armstrong Stadium in Bloomington, Ind.

Contact Kit Loughran at kloughr1@nd.edu