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Men’s Soccer: Panken excels academically, breaks out as player

Samantha Zuba | Tuesday, December 3, 2013


Evan Panken knows how to work. Whether he’s in the classroom or on the field, the sophomore midfielder has impressed Irish coach Bobby Clark with his energy and motivation.

“He’s a hard worker,” Clark said. “He has tremendous enthusiasm, tremendous determination. … He’s just a fantastic player to have on our team, but it’s really his work ethic, his enthusiasm and determination. There is no one more determined than Evan.”

Although No. 3 Notre Dame (14-1-6, 7-1-3 ACC) doesn’t redshirt players, Panken did not play last year, so he technically qualifies as a freshman in terms of eligibility, Clark said. Panken stepped up in 2013 as a sophomore to play 1,571 minutes and start all 21 games for the Irish.

“The position opened up when [junior midfielder] Brendan Lesch tore his ACL in our first exhibition game down at Creighton,” Clark said. “We had to find someone who was going to play in that wide midfield role. Evan had done this in the spring and had done very well. … He works so hard. He just he compliments the other players in the midfield well.”

Clark said Panken’s work ethic extends to his academic endeavors. As a freshman, Panken was named a Big East Academic All-Star. Panken also received recognition from Notre Dame for his academic achievements when he was named to the Dean’s List in the spring semester. First year students qualified with a minimum 3.688 GPA.

Panken said the combination of commitments to soccer and school have strengthened his work ethic.

“I think that especially with coach Clark, he emphasizes good work in the classroom,” Panken said. “Also I just think that hard work in soccer transfers over to commitment to education as well and just making sure you get everything done on time and do it right.”

Balancing both commitments can be challenging, but the team makes the extra effort worth it, Panken said.

“I would describe it as similar to a family,” he said. “We’re all really tight, and my best friends are on the team. We spend a lot of time together. And then [it’s] just hard work and time-consuming. I mean we practice and then homework, so it’s a lot of time commitment, but I love it and wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Panken has certainly contributed to the Irish soccer family, according to Clark. In addition to four goals and one assist on the season, Panken brings a generous attitude to the team.

“Evan is one of those young men who always wants to be helping,” Clark said. “He has a very willing disposition. He works very hard and he’ll always help. If you ever need someone to lend a hand, he’s your guy.”

Panken said his teammates return the favor whenever he lends a helping hand.

“On the field, I just work hard for everyone,” Panken said. “That’s what we all do. We all work for each other, and so I like to bring energy and help set the tone.”

On Sunday, Panken helped his team with two goals, including the game winner, in Notre Dame’s 4-2 victory over No. 14 Wake Forest in the round of 16 of the NCAA Men’s Soccer Championship. Panken said he and the rest of the Irish have to maintain their focus and team-oriented attitude moving forward in the tournament.

“It’s tough,” Panken said. “There’s a lot of distractions with school and then just seeing how everyone else has done, but, for us, everyone is really motivated, and we play for each other, and we’ve had a motto all year: ‘execute the triangle,’ which basically just means stay focused, do your job, and that’s what we’ve been aiming to do.”

Beyond the tournament, Panken has tremendous upside as a young midfielder, according to Clark.

“He’ll obviously pick up more leadership roles as he goes through school,” Clark said. “I think that’ll just happen naturally. The kind of person he is, he’ll just want to improve. As a team, we want to get better each game, and it’s the same with each player. He’s a very focused young man. He’s a good student; he’s a very good student, and he works very hard. It’s everything he does.”

Contact Samantha Zuba at [email protected]