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Men’s Soccer: Shaking their Demons

Greg Arbogast | Friday, December 7, 2007

One year ago, Notre Dame was in uncharted territory when it reached the program’s first-ever Elite 8, and it showed in its game against No. 4 Virginia. By halftime, the Irish had dug themselves a 2-0 first-half hole that they were unable to climb out of in their 3-2 loss to the Cavaliers.

“People take stage fright sometimes, and we panicked a little bit at Virginia last year,” Notre Dame coach Bobby Clark said. “There were 6,000 people in the stands. [Virginia] was a good team, but we found out in the second half that we were as good if not a little bit better.”

One year later, the Irish are back in the NCAA quarterfinals as they prepare to take on No. 2 seed Wake Forest on Saturday at 7 p.m. in Winston-Salem, N.C. This time, however, Clark says his team will be ready.

“The only way to become comfortable playing in big games is to play in big games,” Clark said. “This group of players has played in a lot of big games, so they should be ready.”

Experience isn’t the only thing the Irish gained from last year’s Elite 8 game that’s giving them confidence heading into their game with the Demon Deacons. Despite the fact that the match occurred over one year ago, the disappointment from that night in Charlottesville is still driving this year’s Irish team.

“Everybody there last year hated the feeling of Virginia,” senior co-captain Ryan Miller said. “They all know how we ended and how we didn’t play well. Everybody’s prepared for the Wake Forest game, and they’re trying to make up for last year.”

No matter how prepared Notre Dame is, defeating the Demon Deacons will be a tall order. No. 2 Wake Forest enters Saturday’s match with an impressive 19-2-2 mark, and the Demon Deacons had the No. 1 spot in Soccer America for nine weeks this season. Wake Forest was in line for the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament until an upset loss to Boston College in the ACC tournament propelled the Eagles to the top seed.

The Irish will have to work to stop Wake Forest’s potent offense. The Demon Deacons average 2.56 goals per game this season, and they have scored three or more goals in a contest 12 times. Compare that to Notre Dame’s 1.49 goals per game and four matches with three goals or more.

Although Wake Forest has three players with eight or more goals, its top scoring threat is undoubtedly sophomore forward Cory Arnoux, who scored two goals in the Demon Deacons’ 3-1 win over West Virginia in the Sweet 16. Arnoux leads the team in goals (15) and points (37).

Clark said the Irish must try to keep possession to prevent the Demon Deacons from scoring.

“I’ve said all along that it’s not just the defense,” Clark said. “We have to play the game in their half of the field. You can’t just sit back there and defend and hope the defense hangs on.”

Miller said it would “take the entire team defending” to prevent unwanted goals.

“We pride ourselves on team defense, not just the back-line,” he said. “We’ll need to play team defense to our full potential.”

Luckily for Notre Dame, even if the defense falters, the Irish still have Chris Cahill. The senior keeper has been exceptional for Notre Dame in NCAA tournament games, recording four shutouts – an Irish program record. Cahill’s latest shutout came in last weekend’s 2-0 win over Santa Clara.

The winner of Saturday’s contest will play the winner of No. 3 Connecticut vs. No. 11 Virginia Tech on Dec. 14.