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Men’s Soccer

Stempak: Seniors, captains will determine future success of Irish

| Wednesday, September 14, 2016

No. 1 Notre Dame has posted its most dominant start to a season since 2012.

Even though Notre Dame’s perfect record through six games is its best in half a decade, this team is not unfamiliar with strong starts. In each of the last four seasons, the Irish (6-0-0) has won at least three games through five, and has only one loss in that time span. Figuring out the key to this success will be vital in continuing it throughout the season en route to a potential NCAA championship.

The first clear indicator of success is Notre Dame’s team numbers on offense and defense. The Irish are ranked in the top ten in both goals scored and goals against, one of only three teams in Division 1 men’s soccer to be able to claim as much. From the beginning of the season, the team’s experienced captains have been sources of leadership and success for the Irish. Yet, as it turns out, two of Notre Dame’s seniors who are not captains are off to extraordinary seasons.

First of all, senior defender Brandon Aubrey is playing out of his mind and, quite frankly, out of his position.

Irish senior defender Brandon Aubrey fires a free kick during Notre Dame's 1-0 win in double overtime over Connecticut on Tuesday at Alumni Stadium.Kathleen Donahue | The Observer

Irish senior defender Brandon Aubrey fires a free kick during Notre Dame’s 1-0 win in double overtime over Connecticut on Tuesday at Alumni Stadium.

Aubrey’s position carries the requirement of stopping the opposing team’s attack and keeping shots from ever getting on path to his goal. Yet, instead of doing simply that for Notre Dame’s 10th-ranked defense, Aubrey is fourth in the nation with six goals on the year, one of only two defenders in the nation’s top-10 goal scorers. He is also amongst the nation’s leaders in points per game with 2.17 and tied for seventh in total points with 13. Perhaps most impressively, however, Aubrey is tied for first in the nation in game-winning goals with three. All of this production over the span of six games, and he is not even in the top-50 players in the country in shots per game.

Aubrey is by no means the entirety of the Irish offense, but the example he has set as a dynamic and multi-positional player has led the team to dominate the beginning of the season.

Another senior who is proving his worth for Notre Dame so far this year is trusty goalkeeper Chris Hubbard. Hubbard, who like Aubrey is also not a captain, is sixth in the nation in save percentage with a clip of .920. He has led the Irish to four shutouts and has successfully stopped 23 shots that have come in his direction.

Where most teams look to their captains for leadership, Notre Dame has had the luxury of fielding many talented upperclassmen who provide leadership by example on the field. And while non-captains have shined so far this year, the captains have not had poor years by any measurement. Graduate student midfielder Evan Panken is third on the team in points, and his co-captains — senior defender Matt Habrowski and graduate student defender Michael Shipp — have held down the back line for the Irish and have been vital to Notre Dame’s four shutout efforts.

Notre Dame’s 10 seniors and graduate students have all been through the ups and downs of many seasons before, and this should allow them to continue their current form as the season rolls on.

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.