Notre Dame kicks off at No. 1
Kit Loughran | Thursday, August 21, 2014
After an incredible 2013 season that crowned them with their first NCAA title, the top-ranked Irish set to kick off their 2014 campaign.
The defending national champions enter the 2014 season ranked No. 1 in multiple preseason polls, including the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) and the BennettRank.
Notre Dame’s 2-1 win over Maryland in the national title game landed it an overall record of 17-1-6 in 2013.
The Irish posted a 7-1-3 conference record last season — their first in the ACC — which earned them a shared conference title with Maryland.
Irish coach Bobby Clark said his 2014 squad is looking forward, with no pressure, to repeat last season step-by-step.
“I think that last season is one for the history books,” Clark said. “It had many great memories, but this is a new season, and it won’t mirror. Our first objective is to get enough wins to get into the tournament. If you get in the NCAA tournament, you’ve had a good year, and the further you go, the better the year it becomes.
“Before we can think of the national championship again, what we have to say is, ‘Can we actually get into the tournament?’”
The players think they can defend their title, but like Clark, agree the path to victory will be entirely unique, senior forward Vince Cicciarelli said.
“It’s safe to say we are confident enough to repeat and take the title again,” Cicciarelli said. “It’s unspoken that we are not looking back, that we are looking on improving game after game and practice after practice to get to where we were last year.”
The Irish lost forward Harrison Shipp to graduation. Shipp, a 2013 Hermann Trophy finalist, led the offense with 12 goals and 10 assists.
“Harry will be missed,” Clark said. “If you’re a good team, you’re going to lose good players at graduation — it’s the nature of the beast. Our offense will not be the same as last year, and one of the challenges this season will be filling Harry’s shoes.”
However, Notre Dame has a roster of 10 returning players who started over 50 percent of last season’s games and returns 75 percent of the team’s scoring production.
“A lot of players will need to step up,” Clark said. “[Fifth year senior forward] Leon Brown will have to take on a bigger role and really become a serious player on the offensive end. Vince, who in the final game had a bad fracture, is back fit. The young freshmen, including forward Jeff Farina and midfielder/forward Jon Gallagher are showing quite well in preseason.”
While the Irish attack realigns itself, the midfield returns a solid depth to the pitch. Junior midfielder Patrick Hodan is the top returning scorer for the Irish, with 11 goals and five assists last season.
Hodan and senior midfielder Nick Besler, who had one assist, were both named fourth-team preseason All-Americans and first-team preseason all-ACC. Hodan and Besler will look to fellow midfielders – including seniors Brendan Lesch and Robby Gallegos and junior Connor Klekota – to help strengthen the midfield further.
Defensively, the Irish return fifth-year seniors Andrew O’Malley and Luke Mishu at defense, goalkeeper Patrick Wall and senior defender Max Lachowecki, as they look to fill the void of Grant Van De Casteele and maintain their solid defensive front that gave up only 18 goals in 2013.
Though the Irish have been hard at work this preseason fine-tuning their own depth, they also took time off the field this summer to volunteer in HIV facilities in Zimbabwe. The team took a three-week trip, where the players helped children in HIV clinics and played soccer with them as part of the Grassroot Soccer program.
“The experience was life-changing,” Cicciarelli said. “All the luxuries we have here in the U.S., we didn’t have there. I realized how fortunate we are as a collegiate team. It changed our outlook and showed us how important soccer is in the world and how it connects so many people, that once you’re on the field it’s just a game.”
The Irish head into their last preseason game of the season against No. 21 Wisconsin on Monday at 7 p.m. at Alumni Stadium. The game will benefit Grassroot Soccer and Notre Dame’s efforts in Zimbabwe.