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Men’s Soccer: Notre Dame sets sights on Wisconsin

Kit Loughran | Thursday, November 21, 2013

After earning the No. 3 seed for the 2013 NCAA Championship and a first-round bye, the No. 1 Irish (12-1-6) take on No. 19 Wisconsin (13-4-2) in the second round of the tournament Sunday at Alumni Stadium.
Notre Dame heads into the game after a tough 4-3 loss in penalty kicks to No. 10 Virginia (10-4-5) in the ACC semifinals, following the 3-3 draw in regulation Friday.
“The game [against Virginia] was officially a tie, but it really felt like a loss because we were in a position to win the game on several occasions,” Irish coach Bobby Clark said. “I think that the result of that game will spur us and drive us on all the more for the tournament.”
Despite the disappointing finish for the Irish in the ACC tournament, the team took the early loss as learning experience as they face Wisconsin.
“We’ve watched the game from Virginia, and we have gone through and picked out what we did well,” junior forward Vince Ciccairelli said. “We need to stick to what we do well [against Wisconsin]. We know what works for us, and we are focusing on playing our game.”
The Badgers face the Irish after a first-round 1-0 win over Milwaukee (15-2-2) on Thursday and a preceding 2-1 loss to Northwestern in the quarterfinals of the Big 10 tournament on Nov. 13. This is Wisconsin’s first appearance in the Big Dance since winning the national title in 1995.
“The biggest challenge in facing [the Badgers] are them coming to South Bend,” Ciccairelli said. “The environment and weather are usually an advantage here for us, but they are coming in as outsiders used to the cold.
“We need to stick to them early and show them it’s our home field.”
With that attitude, the Irish prepare to combat the Badgers’ midfield and attack, which is led by redshirt senior midfielder Tomislav Zadro, junior midfielder/forward Jacob Brindle and redshirt sophomore midfielder Luc Kazmierczak, as well as the Badger defense, guided by senior defender Paul Yonga.
The Badgers bring great talent to the field, and though playing against that talent is a concern for the Irish, it is not their primary focus heading into Sunday.
“After the successful season, winning the regular season championship and a let down in ACC tournament, we are mainly just concentrating on our strengths and not worrying about our opponents as much,” Ciccairelli said.
Focusing on its core strengths all season, Notre Dame earned not only the third seed in the tournament, but also home field advantage.
“The nice thing about a top-four seed is you get to play all your games at home, granted that you win,” Clark said. “There’s no class missed, all your familiar things for practice are available, and the home fans are there to watch. There are a lot of advantages of being a home team.
“The tricky thing is you have to win the games,” Clark said with a laugh.
The Irish entered the NCAA tournament last season ranked as the No. 1 seed, and unexpectedly lost to No. 16 seed Indiana (8-11-2) in the third round at home.  
“I think last year being ranked No. 1 was such an accomplishment that we kind of overlooked how good every team was in the tournament, so I think this year coming in a lot more humble even though top four and home field,” Ciccairelli said. “These teams we are going up against did not have bad seasons, and I think we are very humbled from last year and we know that now heading into the tournament this year.”
That sense of humility is the full force behind the Irish as they head into their first game of the NCAA Championship.
“We are taking it one game at a time,” Clark said.
The Irish face Wisconsin in the second round of the NCAA Championship on Sunday at Alumni Stadium at 7 p.m.
Contact Kit Loughran at kloughr1@nd.edu