ND prepares for ACC tournament opener
Kit Loughran | Friday, November 6, 2015
The past two national champions are pitted against each other in the ACC championship this week, as No. 9 Notre Dame hosts No. 17 Virginia in the quarterfinal round Sunday afternoon at Alumni Stadium.
The Irish (9-3-5, 4-2-2 ACC) enter the tournament seeded fourth after taking down Pitt, 5-0, last Saturday, while the Cavaliers (9-3-3, 4-2-2) find themselves seeded fifth following a scoreless draw with No. 5 North Carolina on Oct. 30.
Sunday’s quarterfinal matchup marks the fourth occasion the Irish have hosted Virginia since the start of the 2014 season and the third time in a postseason game.
The Irish defeated the Cavaliers, 3-0, in an ACC quarterfinal matchup a year ago, but three weeks later, the Cavaliers took down the top-seeded Irish, 1-0, in the NCAA tournament’s round of 16.
“I think we’ve gotten to know them very well in the last few years,” Irish head coach Bobby Clark said. “They’re a very daunting foe.
“We got the better of them in the ACC tournament, but they came back to get us in the NCAAs and went on to win. They are a very well-organized, well-coached team with a lot of talent. It’s going to be a classic ACC game, a very high-level soccer game. It will be little things that will make the difference, with special players and plays it will be a great game.”
Earlier this season, the Irish gave the Cavaliers their first loss of the season Sept. 25, when the Irish took a 3-1 victory at home. They outshot Virginia, 13-5, with an 8-3 margin in the second half, as well as a 6-2 advantage in corner kicks.
The midfield dominated the offensive action for the Irish that day, with senior midfielder Evan Panken, senior midfielder Connor Klekota and junior midfielder/forward Mark Gormley grabbing the three goals. Since then, Clark said his midfield has become even more dynamic.
“We are getting smarter, and our wide midfielder players have been great [in the second half of the season],” Clark said. “Evan has been very, very good, and [senior midfielder Patrick Hodan] is starting to find his nod. We need Pat to come in good if we want to win. He’s a special player, and if he could find his form, we could play well into December.”
Notre Dame enters this matchup after its shutout win over Pittsburgh last weekend. However, prior to that, the Irish fell to No. 1 Wake Forest on Oct. 23, after drawing 1-1 with Northwestern on Oct. 20 and 0-0 with Virginia Tech on Oct. 16.
“I think we have been playing well,” Clark said. “There haven’t been easy games. Even though we didn’t get a win out of the Northwestern game, we played very well in that game and then against Wake Forest. That was just a fantastic game, and the Pitt game was a nice sendoff. I feel we are really starting to play well, and this is the time of the year when it should all come together.”
Now the ACC semifinals are on the line for the Irish and the Cavaliers.
“When we first met back in August, can we say we could take something about of every game, and this team really has done a great job of getting better after every game,” Clark said. “And if I go way back to our preseason opening scrimmage against Ohio State, we’ve come a long way since then.
“Now come tournament time, you’re only going to play the good teams. It will be a great game. I really hope the students come out and support because it’s going to be a fantastic soccer game.”