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Men’s Soccer

Stempak: Experience will be key factor for Irish in 2016

| Thursday, August 25, 2016

Notre Dame returns this year led by a trio of experienced captains. The captains, graduate students Michael Shipp and Evan Panken, along with senior Matt Habrowski, top the veteran team. The Irish have eight starters returning for this upcoming season, and the experience will be a key factor to their success.

Veteran leadership has been a hallmark of NCAA championship teams in recent years. 2015 champion Stanford had a squad led by nine seniors and juniors. Virginia, who won in 2014 suited up nine seniors. And Notre Dame’s own 2013 championship team had a remarkable ten seniors or graduate students. This year the Irish field ten seniors or graduate students, just like they did in 2013.

Soccer, unlike basketball, is a weak link sport. What that means is that for a soccer team to be successful, it needs to have solid and experienced players across the board. The nature of the sport prevents a single star player to control the game on their own. Unlike in basketball where LeBron James can single-handedly will his injured and short-handed team to multiple NBA Finals victories — and a championship a year later — soccer requires tight cohesion between the various parts of the team in order to get even an opportunity to score.

Irish midfielder Evan Panken prepares to take a free kick during a 1-1 tie against Valparaiso on Aug. 22 at Alumni Stadium.Caitlyn Jordan | The Observer

Irish midfielder Evan Panken prepares to take a free kick during a 1-1 tie against Valparaiso on Aug. 22 at Alumni Stadium.

Defensively, soccer also works in this way. The back line of defenders must be on the same wavelength in order to prevent runs and passes that will give their opponents easy goals. Since a single goal can often secure a victory, an experienced defense is paramount to success. Luckily, two of the three captains for Notre Dame are defenders — Shipp and Habrowski. A stalwart back line can bring the Irish back to the top of the nation, where they were in 2013.

When the weakest link can drag the team down more than the strongest player can pull the team up, plenty of experience throughout the team is a great advantage. Age is not the only type of experience that will help the Irish be successful this season, but also proficiency in performance. Notre Dame’s top goal scorer from 2015, junior forward Jon Gallagher returns to the team this year along with Panken, who led the team in assists. With them returning to their roles, the offense should continue to roll without missing a beat.

The experience on this season’s Irish squad is rivaled only by past champions. And because of the nature of the sport as well as the nature of college athletics, the knowledge and understanding throughout the squad will prove to be very important this year.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About R.J. Stempak

R.J. Stempak is a sophomore computer science major who enjoys basketball.

Contact R.J.