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MEN’S SOCCER: Stating their case

Kate Gales | Wednesday, November 2, 2005

The Irish have some unfinished business, a little more motivation to win tonight’s 7 p.m. home game against Syracuse. If Notre Dame loses at Alumni Field tonight in the first round of the Big East tournament, their NCAA Tournament hopes will be in serious jeopardy.

“I guess it’s a new type of pressure, because we’ve always known we would make the NCAAs either way,” senior captain John Stephens said.

The Irish defeated Syracuse 1-0 on Sept. 18 in New York. They have a seven-game winning streak against the Orange, who are seeded sixth in the Big East conference’s Red Division. Notre Dame enters the contest the No. 3 seed from the Blue Division.

“If we have the same urgency that we approached Seton Hall with, we’ll be fine,” Irish coach Bobby Clark said.

In their final regular season game after a 3-0 loss to No. 5 Indiana, the Irish upset No. 16 Seton Hall in a lopsided 4-0 victory. Stephens called the game the highlight of the season as forward Joe Lapira tallied two goals and an assist while goalies Chris Cahill and Justin Michaud combined for the shutout.

Clark said the team is approaching this game like any other. But Notre Dame senses the urgency surrounding the matchup and the need to play well like they did against Seton Hall.

“We’ve been pretty successful this season to get where we are and we’re still in very good shape to make the NCAA tournament,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of things well this year.”

The Irish will put the regular season behind them and start 0-0-0 for the conference tournament and, if all goes well, the NCAA championships.

“Now we have to start putting it together for the [Big East] tournament,” Clark said. “I think the big thing now is we’re pretty well aware of what this game means and we’ve got to go for it. You’ve got to take it as though it might be your last game and you’ve got to get going.”

The team finished the regular season 10-6-2, very much on the borderline of consideration for the NCAA tournament. Clark isn’t looking quite that far ahead, however.

“You’d better make sure that it’s not our last game – that’s our attitude,” he said. “I think we had a great attitude last Saturday and we’ve got to bring it back again.”

The Irish ended the season winning three of their last four games. Aside from Seton Hall, they defeated Providence and Pittsburgh on the road with one-goal margins of victory.

Clark said that the team was outworked against Indiana – something unusual for the Irish, who went 2-1-2 in overtime games this year.

“We can’t get outworked [tonight] because there’s no excuse for that,” Clark said. “This is a fit team but I think for some reason we got outworked a little bit in [the Indiana game].”

Getting mentally and physically ready for tonight’s game shouldn’t be a problem, according to the fifth-year Irish coach.

“I think we’ll be prepared tomorrow,” Clark said. “The guys know what’s at stake, and I think we’ll be fine.”

Stephens said the team is eager for the matchup against Syracuse.

“I think we’re excited,” he said. “Maybe there’s a little bit of nerves. For us it could be our last game ever but it doesn’t really set in – you keep rolling with practice the way you’ve always done and you just kind of expect that things will go your way.”

The Irish won the Big East regular season title last year. In 2003, they won the conference tournament then advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament -farther than any other team in school history – only to lose to Michigan in penalty kicks.

Last season, Notre Dame was seeded fifth in the NCAAs but was eliminated by Ohio State 2-1 in a first round tournament game at Alumni Field.

Notre Dame is looking to either win the conference crown and take the Big East’s automatic berth in the NCAA tournament or win enough games to strengthen its case for the tournament’s selection committee to hand the Irish an at-large berth.

Stephens summed up Irish hopes as they enter the Big East tournament in one last attempt to prolong the year.

“It’s the post-season,” Stephens said. “It’s do-or-die.”