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Seniors lead Irish to title

| Monday, December 16, 2013

CHESTER, Pa – For the friends and family of senior defender Andrew O’Malley, the only way the trip to see him play in Sunday’s NCAA Championship Game could have been shorter was if the final were held in his backyard in West Chester, Pa.

But PPL Park in nearby Chester, Pa., the home of the Philadelphia Union, can accommodate many more well-wishers, and O’Malley said he tried to round up as many as possible for Sunday’s game, a 2-1 victory over No. 5 Maryland that gave the No. 3 Irish their first ever national championship.

“I got as much of my family out [as I could]; I think they ran a tailgate, stuff like that,” O’Malley said. “It was really good to get a goal in front of them. The goal itself was really put up on a silver platter for me; it would have been really tough to screw it up, I suppose.”

Statistically speaking, O’Malley was an unexpected source of the championship-clinching goal. The senior captain had never scored a collegiate goal before this season, and had only scored two coming into the match Sunday afternoon.

But O’Malley said he was thankful that one of those precious scoring opportunities came while everyone was watching.

“I mean, to do that in front of people – I kind of jokingly said after the game, but I’m a little bit serious – people think I’m good now,” O’Malley said. “So hopefully I’ll just ride that confidence from other people.”

O’Malley and senior forward Leon Brown, who scored Notre Dame’s first goal of the game after replacing junior forward Vince Cicciarelli in the 10th minute, put the Irish on the scoreboard, but they were far from the only members of the senior class who contributed something tangible to Sunday’s win.

Goalkeeper Patrick Wall had three saves, including one four minutes before halftime that kept the Terrapins from taking a 2-1 lead into the break. Forward Harrison Shipp, who was named the Most Outstanding Offensive Player of the College Cup, took the free kick that O’Malley knocked into the back of the net. Brown’s scoring play began with a throw-in from defender Luke Mishu, and defender Grant Van De Casteele repeatedly saved the Irish from trouble with crucial clearances.

O’Malley said the seniors were motivated after sharing years of disappointment.

“We’d underachieved a lot as a team, and that hurts you more than anything,” O’Malley said. “Not making the tournament sophomore year, freshman year, knocked out of the tournament in the first round, last year I was hurt and had to watch the team lose; it’s some of the most painful experiences you’ll ever have as a person.”

“Senior leadership is so important to any team,” Irish coach Bobby Clark said. “We work a lot on leadership, we work on that in the spring. Seniors set the tone … Harry Shipp is a classic example of a kid that doesn’t say much, but it’s just who he is.”

Clark said he had coached teams with arguably as much talent in the past, but none with the same type of chemistry.

“A lot of years I’ve had to coach, it’s been harder work coaching than this year,” Clark said. “It’s such a good group of kids this year.  It wasn’t hard work working with this group.”

Shipp said much of the team’s success was based on the decision to actively include all members of the team.

“I think this senior class was different from previous senior classes in that we really tried to not think of ourselves as bigger or better than all the other classes,” Shipp said. “We tried to make it more equalized, and we started that last January and throughout the whole spring, summer, fall, I think we realized that if we wanted to make that next jump it was everyone together, all 30 guys on the team, not just the 11 that played or the 21 that dressed, it was all 30 guys, starting with the freshmen walk-ons and ending with me, Grant and O’Malley as captains. I think we showed that throughout the year and throughout the tournament.”

Shipp and O’Malley agree that watching the women’s soccer team win a title of their own in 2010, when the current seniors were freshmen, gave the men’s team an idea of what they could strive for.

“Seeing [the women’s team] win our freshman year, it almost makes you – I don’t know if ‘jealous’ is the right word – but it makes you want to experience that same feeling,” Shipp said. “I remember being in the dorms and everyone on campus was watching it, even if they didn’t follow women’s soccer throughout the whole year.  I hope that people back on campus really followed us over the last five games, and especially here at the College Cup.”

Contact Vicky Jacobsen at vjacobse@nd.edu


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