Men’s Soccer: Irish build on history
By Samantha Zuba | Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Notre Dame coach Bobby Clark has worked with some talented teams since he started coaching the Irish in 2001, but this season marks the program’s first appearance in the NCAA College Cup.
The Irish (15-1-6, 7-1-3 ACC) entered this season’s NCAA Championship as the No. 3 seed and won three consecutive games to reach the Final Four. In a way, Notre Dame’s postseason run is a continuation of last season’s unfinished business, when the No. 1 Irish lost 2-1 in double-overtime to No. 16 Indiana in the third round of the NCAA Championship.
“They were very disappointed last year, and there are a lot of returning players who remember the [Indiana] loss,” Clark said. “We came in as the No. 1 seed and lost in the third round. It was disappointing, so this was a very determined group. We were also entering the ACC for the first time in school history. We knew that was going to be a challenge, so there was a lot of motivation to work during the summer.”
Although last season’s early tournament exit motivates this year’s team, the current Notre Dame squad has to make its own mark in the tournament, Clark said. “You graduate players every year, and that means every team is going to be slightly different from the team before,” Clark said. “It happens naturally through graduation, so you’ve got to make your own history. How are you going to be remembered?”
Still, the 2013 Irish aren’t the first talented team to play for Clark in his tenure at Notre Dame.
In 2006, the Irish beat defending champion Maryland and made their first appearance in the NCAA Championship quarterfinals before a loss to Virginia kept them out of the College Cup.
A win against Santa Clara the following season sent Notre Dame to the tournament quarterfinals again, but the Irish lost to eventual tournament champion Wake Forest.
Clark said each team builds on Notre Dame’s past successes.
“I think there have been a lot of good teams,” Clark said. “It’s not like this is the first good team. There’s a pile of good teams and some great victories. … We’ve had good teams very close to being in this position, but it didn’t fall our way. As I said, I think every team grows.
“I think we always talk about teams growing. I think that’s the best way to respect the team that went before you, if you can add a little more shine to the jersey. I think this year’s team can put a little more gloss on it.”
2013 could be the year when the Irish reach the heights of their potential.
“As a coach, you want every team to fulfill its potential,” Clark said. “I think this team is capable of going the whole way. I think there’s no question about that. That would be their potential, but all four teams in the semifinals will be feeling the same way, so I don’t think anyone will be taking anything for granted.”
Clark said Notre Dame has built up its expectations as a program over his 12 seasons as coach. Now that the Irish have built up a successful tournament rÃ©sumÃ©, they can set their sights on bigger goals, including winning the national championship.
“I think the big thing is the expectations,” Clark said. “I think when I arrived here, we had had maybe two losing seasons, back-to-back. We hadn’t been to the [NCAA] tourney in about six years. The expectation is first to get to the tournament. If you make the tournament, I always say that’s a good year.
That’s the first challenge. then you can make the Final Four. You take it one round at a time. When you’re in the Final Four, the next goal, obviously, is winning it.”
Notre Dame has the right mindset for the upcoming task, Clark said.
“This is a hard-nosed, driven, focused group of guys,” Clark said. “That’s something this team has.”
Contact Samantha Zuba at [email protected].