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ND MEN’S SOCCER: Cahill’s shutouts give team crown

Kevin Brennan | Monday, September 12, 2005

The frustration built up inside Joe Lapira all game.

The sophomore forward had failed to capitalize on numerous scoring opportunities Sunday, but finally came through in the eighth minute of the second overtime period. Lapira headed in a pass from junior midfielder Nate Norman to give the Irish a 1-0 victory over St. Louis and ensure a first-place finish for the team at the Mike Berticelli Memorial Tournament.

“It was frustrating,” Lapira said. “I probably had about seven or eight balls that I should have finished easily. It just finally fell in the second overtime.”

Notre Dame kicked off the weekend with a 1-0 defeat of Boston University Friday night at Alumni Field. Early in the second half, Bright Dike found a streaking Norman, who split two defenders and fired a shot past the goalie from the top of the box.

The goal would be the only scoring the Irish would need, as junior goalkeeper Chris Cahill recorded his first collegiate shutout on two saves.

The Irish started slow against the Terriers but came to life after halftime.

“The first half was back and forth and pretty even,” Norman said. “But we dominated them in the second half.”

The team carried that momentum into the first half of Sunday’s game against St. Louis. The Irish started strong, with Lapira and several teammates challenging the Billiken defense time and time again. The Irish had eight shots in the first half compared to only three for St. Louis.

Notre Dame seemed to come out sluggish for the second period, though. Head coach Bobby Clark was surprised by the drop in the level of play.

“I honestly thought the second half we opened terribly,” Clark said. “We were shocking for the first 15 minutes. I don’t know what happened. We usually come out in the second half and really take it to them, but we lost it a little bit there.”

The Irish gradually regained control of the game, but still could not find the back of the net. Lapira, Norman, senior forward Tony Megna and junior midfielder Ian Etherington all had scoring opportunities that could not be converted.

Cahill had no doubts the Irish would score, though.

“I knew the whole time that we’d get one,” the Irish keeper said. “Our forwards had been working really hard, and I knew that they’d eventually stick one in.”

Lapira finally did just that with just under three minutes left to play. Norman and junior defender Ryan Miller were both credited with assists on the goal. Miller sent a long pass across the field to Norman. When the St. Louis defense shifted left, Lapira faded to the back post, and Norman found him for the game-winner.

Clark praised Miller for setting up the play.

“The ball that made the goal was the diagonal from Miller,” Clark said. “That was a hell of a ball. It was unbelievable.”

Norman has been a bright spot for the Irish offensive attack all year. With Friday’s goal and Sunday’s assist, the midfielder’s team-leading season points total has reached five.

The talk of the tournament was Cahill’s play in goal. Entering the year, Clark was not positive who would replace graduated all-American Chris Sawyer in goal. Cahill has emerged, however, and probably solidified his hold of the starting job with back-to-back shutouts this weekend.

“Cahill is doing amazing in the back,” Lapira said. “We had no idea who was going to start at the beginning of the year, and he has stepped it up.”

Clark likes what the tall, athletic Cahill brings to the position.

“He’s just a huge big bird in there with big wingspan,” Clark said. “He’s hard to beat, and he’s brave. He’s done phenomenally well.”

Cahill deflects all of the praise to Notre Dame’s defenders, though.

“I can’t really take all of the credit, because our back four played really well,” Cahill said.

With senior captain Dale Rellas out with a groin injury, Miller, junior captain Greg Dalby, senior Ben Crouse and freshman Jack Traynor made up the defensive back for the Irish this weekend. Clark said he thought the defenders had a superb tournament.

The coach is pleased that Notre Dame finally seems to be coming together as a unit.

“I think this team is now becoming a team in its own right,” Clark said. “And that’s always the interesting thing you have to do at the start.”

Notre Dame will open Big East play Friday with a game against St. John’s in New York. Clark looks forward to the stiff challenge that the talented Red Storm should pose.

“St. John’s will be another test, and that’s great,” Clark said. “But we’ll enjoy this one for one day anyway.”