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Kelly: Notre Dame’s luck needs to change in the postseason (Oct. 31)

Conor Kelly | Thursday, October 31, 2013


It has been a tale of two halves for Notre Dame in its first season in the ACC. 

The Irish began their conference season on an absolute tear, winning their first six ACC games by a combined score of 17-1. The team knocked off North Carolina State, then No. 1 North Carolina, Syracuse and Maryland in dominating fashion, rising to a No. 3 national ranking. I wrote in a column Sept. 26, shortly after the Irish knocked off the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill, stating that despite the strong start and victories over some of the nation’s top teams, this wasn’t the Big East. The schedule in the ridiculously deep ACC was bound to get more difficult, and the second half has proved just that.

After the Irish defeated Pittsburgh at home on Sept. 29, the team did not win another game for nearly a month. It started with a 1-1 tie with No. 23 Wake Forest at Alumni Stadium and concluded with a four consecutive losses, incredibly the longest losing streak in program history. A 2-0 upset loss to Miami on the road was followed by a heartbreaking 3-2 loss in double-overtime to undefeated and No. 1 Virginia, a 1-0 defeat to No. 5 Virginia Tech, and finally another double-overtime loss, this time 2-1 at home against Duke, a finish that Irish coach Randy Waldrum said gutted his team. Despite winning their first five games, the Irish failed to get a victory in their second five. After netting 17 goals in five wins, they managed just four in a tie and four losses.

The key now will be for the Irish to put that tough stretch behind them as the ACC postseason approaches, and the team has already begun to do that. With wins in the last week over Clemson and Boston College, the Irish have cemented their spot in fifth place in the ACC standings, slotted between North Carolina and Duke. The Irish are five points behind the Tar Heels and four points ahead of the Blue Devils, so with only one conference game remaining for all teams, Notre Dame is assured to stay where it is. This means the Irish will have to take to the road for a matchup with the fourth-ranked team in the ACC quarterfinals Sunday. Who they will play is still up in the air.

Today the Irish travel to Tallahassee, Fla. to play No. 3 Florida State, who sits second in the ACC.  If the Irish win, Virginia Tech beats Virginia and North Carolina defeats Duke, Notre Dame could be looking at a return trip to the Seminole Soccer Complex. If other combinations occur, the Irish might find themselves facing off against the Tar Heels or Hokies. Regardless, they will be facing a road matchup with a top-25 opponent. 

The question will be what team will show up for the Irish and what kind of bounces will they get. While Notre Dame’s recent struggles can be blamed partly on poor form (the 2-0 loss to Miami comes to mind), much of it has simply been poor luck and inopportune mistakes. Early in the year, Notre Dame was the recipient of good fortune on a number of occasions, most notably a mistake by the officials on a Tar Heel shot that crossed the line during the 1-0 victory over North Carolina. More recently, Lady Luck was not there for the Irish on a controversial goal call that cost the Irish the game in overtime against top-ranked Virginia.

When playing in a conference as deep and as talented as the ACC, a team needs both luck and solid play to win. The Irish have been a feast-and-famine team in that regard this year. They will need both in spades going forward.

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The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.