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Zuba: Irish need to finish business (Nov. 20)

Samantha Zuba | Wednesday, November 20, 2013


The No. 3 Irish have some unfinished business, despite a successful season to date.

Notre Dame (12-1-6, 7-1-3 ACC) finished the regular season with a share of the ACC regular-season title and just one loss. For a team that moved from the Big East to arguably the best soccer conference in the country, those are ingredients for a phenomenal season.

But the high-achieving Irish can and should do more. Notre Dame plays its first game of the NCAA Championship on Sunday against either Wisconsin or Milwaukee, and the tournament will give the Irish one last chance to show what this season’s team is
made of.

Notre Dame stumbled against No. 8 Virginia in the ACC tournament and lost its No. 1 ranking. This should only add to the motivation to make a run in the NCAA tournament.

In a way, the Irish have unfinished business from last season. The Irish won 17 games during the 2012 regular season for their highest total since 1988 but fell to No. 16 Indiana in the third round of the NCAA tournament. The Hoosiers scored the winning goal barely a minute into the second overtime and handed No. 1 Notre Dame a heartbreaking 2-1 loss.

Now is the time for the Irish to buckle down for a long tournament run, possibly even a run at the championship. Notre Dame has the talent and shouldn’t waste it on low expectations.

In 2013, the Irish have posted impressive defensive statistics. Reliable senior goalkeeper Patrick Wall has allowed only 0.69 goals per game this season. Notre Dame’s defense has mostly kept the ball out of Wall’s way, but he has converted most save chances for a .803 save percentage.

And the Irish haven’t played easy opponents. Notre Dame took on a brutally challenging schedule with the added twist of extensive travel to far-flung ACC teams.

Having the endurance to shut down difficult opponents on the road will be a key strength once the tournament gets underway. No. 6 Georgetown, No. 11 Michigan State and No. 14 Wake Forest all play on the Irish side of the bracket.

The road to the championship will not be smooth or easy, but Notre Dame has strong leadership that will help the team stay focused. A core of upperclassmen can keep a team from getting distracted by the hype of a tournament, and Notre Dame has 16 seniors and juniors on its roster. They have been to the tournament before and they know how to handle themselves.

Senior forward and captain Harry Shipp provides steady leadership as an upperclassman and as an outstanding offensive player. Shipp earned the ACC Offensive Player of the Year award on the strength of nine goals and eight assists this season.

The Irish have netted 33 goals on the season, so they have proven they can score. But if the shots don’t fall, Notre Dame can rely on its defense and leadership to pick up the slack. 

It happened earlier in the season when the Irish struggled to score in the second half and convert shot opportunities. Notre Dame can play a quick, attacking offense, especially with the breakaway speed of junior forward Vince Cicciarelli, but the Irish also know how to be patient. Notre Dame can play a sharp passing game while waiting for the offense to heat up, so the Irish are prepared for any situation.

Don’t count this versatile Irish team out – they have some business to take care of.

Contact Samantha Zuba at szuba@nd.edu
The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.