Tri-captains look to propel Irish toward successful season
Joe Everett | Wednesday, August 23, 2017
After their season ended at the hands of ACC foe Louisville during the third round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament, the No. 10 Irish look to build on last season’s successes as they head into the 2017 campaign.
Although the Irish have lost several notables from last year’s squad, including midfielder Evan Panken and defender Brandon Aubrey, the team is returning seven starters and 12 monogram winners, headlined by reigning ACC Offensive Player of the Year Jon Gallagher. The senior forward led all Irish players with 14 goals, seven assists and 35 points over 21 matches last season and will serve as one of Notre Dame’s three captains in 2017 season. Fifth-year senior defender Matt Habrowski and fifth-year senior goalkeeper Chris Hubbard will join Gallagher in leading the team, and Notre Dame head coach Bobby Clark said he believes the strengths of his captains should complement one another and propel the Irish towards a successful season.
“It’s amazing, [the players] nearly always pick the same players we would pick,” Clark said. “Once again they’ve done a really good job with this group — three good, strong personalities, but quite different. Chris Hubbard is somebody everybody likes — he’s got a good way with people, and so he’ll be good for the locker room. Jon is the epitome of being a really good player. He does everything that will help make him a better player, so he’s a great example to all the players. He’s a very determined, tough, hard-nosed player that does everything well. Then you’ve got Matt, who’s a really good spokesperson, thinks well and is a real leader on and off the field. So I think they’re a really good combination, and I’m pretty confident they’ll do very well.”
With its leadership in good hands, Notre Dame heads into the regular season as the No. 10 ranked team in the country. The Irish wrapped up preseason play Monday afternoon with a 3-0 win over Valparaiso at home, with Gallagher, sophomore forward John Rea and junior forward Ian Aschieris each tallying a goal. Notre Dame also tallied a pair of road victories the previous week, as the Irish downed Omaha 2-0 in Nebraska before defeating Drake 4-1 in Des Moines, Iowa. While just preseason play, it does not hurt that the Irish have a bit of momentum heading into the Mike Berticelli tournament, as the team will look to recreate the early magic of last year, where it won its first six games and earned the No. 1 ranking. Although he hasn’t seen the team in a truly competitive game, Clark said he’s seen positive signs from the team heading into the 2017 regular season.
“I think the team’s done well,” Clark said. “I don’t think we’ve played a team that’s truly challenged us yet, but at the same time we’ll be challenged this weekend and we better be ready. We’ve done a lot of good things and we’ve had a look at a lot of players. They’re a lot of games to be played yet, so it’s too early to draw any conclusions, but we’re getting there.”
Clark and the Irish will soon have their hands full of challenging opponents, as Notre Dame’s 17-game regular season slates figures to be one of the toughest in the country. The Irish will face eight teams that qualified for last season’s NCAA tournament, including 2016 College Cup qualifier North Carolina and seven other ACC contests. Besides having to navigate likely the best soccer conference in the ACC, the Irish must hit the road in September as they square off against former Big East foe UConn and Big 10 rival Indiana, and will host Northwestern and Michigan at Alumni Stadium in early October. The schedule appears daunting for the Irish, but as history will tell, Clark said he believes the team will be better for it in the long run.
“Every year we always have one of, if not the toughest schedule in the country,” Clark said. “I just feel like you find out who you are. Your chances of winning all the games are tough, but regardless if you’re good enough to win enough to get into the tournament, then we know we can play with anyone in the country. I think that’s important. There are no easy games … I like to play good games; I like to play tough games. Obviously the ACC takes care of itself, and then you look for other teams that are good, and hopefully the guys get excited about that.”
The Irish will next take on San Diego on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Alumni Stadium.