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Men’s Soccer: Lapira, four others take home Big East season honors

Eric Retter | Monday, November 6, 2006

No. 12 Notre Dame hasn’t played a game in more than a week, but its players haven’t left the Big East spotlight.

Five members of the Irish received some type of all-conference honors Thursday, including senior midfielder Greg Dalby and junior forward Joseph Lapira – who were named Big East midfielder and offensive player of the year, respectively.

Lapira led the nation this season with 20 goals and 45 points for Notre Dame (13-5-2, 8-3-0 Big East), while Dalby – the team’s captain and a finalist for the Missouri Athletic Club Hermann Trophy – has been the team’s anchor at midfield all season.

In receiving their honors, Lapira and Dalby became the first Notre Dame soccer players to win Big East player of the year at their respective positions. Together, they join Connecticut defender Julius James and West Virginia goalkeeper Nick Noble as the conference’s players of the year.

Irish coach Bobby Clark, however, was skeptical of the awards.

“I’m not the biggest fan of individual awards for a team sport, to be honest with you,” he said. “When individuals get awards, it’s a pat on the back for the entire squad, and that’s the way I look at it … [Dalby and Lapira] would be the first to agree with me that they had a great supporting cast.”

Both players agreed with Clark and stressed the importance of team play. Lapira credited his teammates with putting Dalby and himself in position to garner individual awards.

“I think they were pretty much the entire thing,” he said. “There wasn’t a whole lot that I did to get [the recognition] aside from just finishing off. Without the rest of the team working just as hard as we are, if not harder, then we wouldn’t have gotten it.”

While honored, Dalby felt that individual awards were more of a reflection on the team’s success.

“I don’t think [an award] validates whether a player is good or not,” Dalby said. “I think it’s flattering, but I don’t think it means you’ve arrived.”

Sophomore defenders Jack Traynor and Matt Besler were named second-team All-Big East, and senior goalkeeper Chris Cahill – who was third-team all-conference – joined Lapira and Dalby on the All-Big East roster.

“It’s a lot easier to win games when your defense isn’t giving up any goals,” Lapira said.

Lapira also commended the two sophomore defenders.

“I think Jack [Traynor], especially, is kind of an unsung hero,” he said. “He’s always stepping to the ball and working hard and he never gets credit… Besler’s always been solid, I think he’s one of the guys that’s really stepped it up.”

In 17 games, Cahill has given up just 13 goals while logging 10 shutouts.

“He hasn’t always had so much action in games, but when he does, he’s stepped up big time and he’s doing a real good job,” Dalby said.

The award announcements also stirred up controversy within the Irish team. Clark felt that senior midfielder Nate Norman and senior striker Justin McGeeney, who are tied for second on the team with 11 points each, were among those that were overlooked for all-conference honors.

“I was quite stunned that a couple kids didn’t get a mention, but it doesn’t really matter,” Clark said. “Maybe I just feel that all my guys should be first team – I’m biased.”

McGeeney and Norman were not completely snubbed on postseason awards. Both were named to ESPN The Magazine’s Academic All-District team, and their names will now appear on the ballot for the Academic All-America team.

“We have a very good all-around team,” Clark said. “And I think that that is, without question, one of the nice things about this squad.”

As one of the better players on a talented squad, Lapira saw his award as a justification of the faith his coach has in him.

“I guess it was kind of special, because before the season Boss [Clark] had stressed to me how, if I fulfilled my potential this year, I could be the Big East Player of the Year,” Lapira said. “I thought it was kind of unrealistic, but it came to fruition and showed how smart Boss [Clark] is.”

The Irish will now await news of where they will play in the NCAA Tournament, which begins Friday. The tournament brackets will be announced today between 4 p.m. and 5 on ESPNNEWS.