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Team looks to win in East Lansing once more

Dan Murphy | Wednesday, October 10, 2007

No. 3 Notre Dame hits the road for the first time in two weeks as they travel to East Lansing to take on Michigan State today.

The Spartans (7-1-2) dropped out of the top 25 after falling 2-0 to Indiana Saturday. The setback was their first regular season loss since Oct. 11, 2006 – the last time they faced the Irish. In that game, senior forward Joseph Lapira had a goal and an assist to lead Notre Dame to a 3-0 win.

Michigan State went on a 12-game unbeaten streak (not counting a loss in the Big Ten playoffs) before losing to the Hoosiers.

“They still haven’t been beat at home, so it is a big task, but one we are looking forward to,” Irish coach Bobby Clark said. “They have a very good team, and we’ll have to be firing on all cylinders.”

Clark has had Michigan State’s number since he arrived in South Bend in 2001. Notre Dame is 3-0-1 against its regional rival during his tenure. But the team’s one tie against Michigan State, as well as a close 1-0 win, came in East Lansing.

“We haven’t done awfully well up there, so tomorrow would be a good time to put together a good game against them,” Clark said.

This year, the Spartans are led on offense by junior Doug DeMartin, who has scored six of the team’s 15 goals so far this season, including three game winners. DeMartin is beginning to regain momentum after a slow sophomore season. He started his career with seven goals as a freshman, making him the second-highest scorer on the team that season.

DeMartin will have to get through what is most likely the toughest defense he has seen all year in the matchup against the Irish. Irish junior defender Michael Thomas has solidified an already stingy Notre Dame back line since he returned to the lineup last week.

Fellow junior defender Cory Rellas also had a big week last week, picking up his first goal in a 3-0 win over Michigan and contributing in another shutout win over West Virginia Saturday. Rellas was named Big East defensive player of the week for his play.

“[Individual awards] really just reflect our team success, and I think the boys know that,” Clark said. “I take them as a compliment to the entire squad.”

Senior goalkeeper Chris Cahill also racked up another player of the week award after his third and fourth shutouts of the season. Cahill has now been honored three times by the Big East this season – a program record at any position. His 0.43 goals-against average is currently the sixth-best mark in the country and less than .02 behind fifth-place Josh Ford from Connecticut.

On the offensive side of the ball, senior captain Ryan Miller has been leading the way for the Irish. Miller scored two goals last week against the Wolverines and added the game winner over West Virginia Saturday. His performance landed him on the College Soccer News national team of the week for the first time in his career.

Today’s game could play a big role in Notre Dame’s NCAA Tournament fate. A team’s regional victories as well as out-of-conference record are weighed heavily when selecting at-large bids for the tournament. The Irish are currently atop the Big East standings, but defeating a strong Spartans team could come in handy in November.