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Lorton: Irish are set for run at title (Dec. 10)

Isaac Lorton | Monday, December 9, 2013

Maybe it was not having the weight of the No. 1 seed on their shoulders this time around.

Maybe it was having the wee wizard leading the team.

Maybe it was just time for Notre Dame to finally punch its ticket to the College Cup.

Never before have the Irish (15-1-6, 7-1-3 ACC) played in the semifinals of the NCAA Championship, but now for the first time, the Irish will do just that at PPL Park in Chester, Pa. on Friday against No. 7 New Mexico.

No. 1 UCLA is out. Connecticut knocked out the top-seeded Bruins in the Round of 16.

No. 2 Washington is out. New Mexico (14-5-2, 7-1-1 Conference USA) saw to that with a 1-0 victory in the semifinals. 

The No. 3 Irish are the highest seed remaining, but their competition is formidable. No. 8 Virginia went on to beat Connecticut, while No. 5 Maryland defeated No. 4 California to punch their respective tickets to the Collegiate Cup. 

When looking at the statistics of the four remaining teams, the Irish lead the defensive categories, only giving up 17 goals on 214 shots for a goals against per game average of 0.77.

New Mexico is close behind in the defensive categories, giving up 18 goals on 148 shots for a goals against average of 0.86. Virginia (13-5-5, 4-3-4 ACC) has given up 23 goals on 195 shots for 1.00 goal against per game, while Maryland (16-3-5, 7-1-3 ACC) gave up 28 goals on 231 shots for a goals against average of 1.17.

Friday’s matchup between the Irish and New Mexico may turn into a possession battle and defensive struggle. The Irish do not know New Mexico as a team and have never played the Lobos before. Notre Dame will need to go out and attack, as the Lobos showed they could hold on to a one-goal lead for 53:26 against one of the best scoring offenses in the country against Washington. If the Irish fall behind early, they may be in trouble. Notre Dame takes an average of 17 shots per game but has the lowest shots on goal average, 0.377, of the four teams left. As they have of late, the Irish must convert on all opportunities, especially ones available on the counter-attack. 

The good news for the Irish is they have the most goals in the tournament of the four remaining teams. Of those 10 Irish goals, half have come in the first half and half have come in the second stanza. Notre Dame has been proving its consistency throughout the NCAA Championships.

The Irish, however, lack experience in the NCAA semifinals. 

This is New Mexico’s second time attending the College Cup, while Virginia and Maryland have reached the semis 11 times and eight times, respectively. Maryland’s eight appearances have all been in the last 16 years.

If Notre Dame can make it past the Lobos on Friday, it will face one of two ACC teams it was unable to beat during the fall campaign. Virginia is the only loss the Irish incurred during the regular season, a 2-0 loss at home on Oct.  26. The Cavaliers are also the team that knocked the Irish out of the ACC tournament in the semifinals.

The Irish tied Maryland 1-1 on Oct. 8, and both teams were unable to gain the upper hand in two overtime periods. The tie to the Terrapins was one of six ties Notre Dame had on the year.

Whatever happens on Friday, it is a momentous occasion for Notre Dame. Whether it was a bit of luck or some magic, it is the first time the program has ever been to the College Cup, and they should be proud of that accomplishment. Yet, the Irish will not be satisfied unless they return to South Bend bearing the weight of the No. 1 ranking on their backs.     

Contact Isaac Lorton at [email protected]