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Kelly: Irish face tougher ACC competition to close season (Sept. 27)

Conor Kelly | Friday, September 27, 2013

By the look of it, Notre Dame has hit the ground running in its inaugural season in the ACC.
With wins over Syracuse, North Carolina State and then-No. 1 North Carolina to open the conference season, the Irish (7-1-0, 3-0-0 ACC) have solidified their spot as one of top teams in arguably the best conference in the country.
One non-conference loss to No. 11 UCLA notwithstanding, the Irish have played outstanding soccer. The team has surrendered just one goal (to North Carolina State in a 3-1 victory) in its four wins since the UCLA game and has gotten timely offensive production, highlighted by freshman midfielder Morgan Andrews’ game-winning header against North Carolina in a 1-0 win Sept. 15 and junior defender Sammy Scofield’s buzzer-beating tally to defeat Syracuse four days later.
If the Irish are content with their successful initial foray into ACC play, they shouldn’t be. Usually, knocking off the top team in the country might afford a team like Notre Dame a little bit of breathing room.
Not in the ACC.
Despite their undefeated conference record and their victory over North Carolina, the Irish are just eighth in the nation in RPI rankings. The top four teams? Conference foes Florida State, Wake Forest, Virginia and North Carolina.
Eighth in the country, but just the fifth best team in their conference? This is the reality Notre Dame is facing.
Virginia Tech at No. 10, Maryland at No. 14 and Boston College at No. 26 round out the ridiculous slate the Irish will have to face.
When Irish coach Randy Waldrum said he wanted to be part of the best conference in the country, he got his wish.
Starting with a 5-0 win over Maryland, the Irish play all of these teams in the next month, concluding with a Halloween matchup against No. 1 Florida State in Tallahassee.
The Irish will certainly be up to the challenge. They have proven they can compete with the top teams in the country. The team has strong leadership, a stifling defense and a dynamic midfield, highlighted recently by ACC Player of the Week Andrews, who has shown why she was the top recruit in the country a year ago.
A year after an incredibly young Irish team finished 8-1-1 in the Big East, the squad will face a much greater challenge going forward.
To play and win against the country’s best teams is the hallmark of an exceptional team. To do it week in and week out will be Notre Dame’s task for the next month.
Waldrum wanted to play against the best competition out there.
He’s certainly going to get his wish.