Klonsinski: Bigger and maybe better than ever
Zach Klonsinski | Wednesday, August 27, 2014
As I watched No. 1 Notre Dame take on Wisconsin in their final exhibition game Monday, one thing became clear to me: the Irish were a lot bigger than the Badgers. It was clearly noticeable even from my seat high above Alumni Stadium. I turned to the team manager filming the game next to me and pointed it out, just to make sure I was not seeing things.“Wow,” she said after a second. “Yeah, they really are, aren’t they?”
Looking out at midfield, the Badger players seemed small in all respects. Not only did the Irish tower over them height-wise, but the Notre Dame players were broader-shouldered too, with their new white home Under Armour jerseys showing off muscles that made me jealous high in the box.
Heck, they even stood farther apart at midfield during player introductions and the national anthem, stretching at least twice as far as the sardine-like Badgers who lined up opposite them.
The reigning national champions and current No. 1 team in the land looked the part even as they stood there: calm without much nervous movement among them.
Oh yeah, and then the game started.
Leading up to kickoff, the conversation in the press box centered on the debate of who would replace leading scorer Harrison Shipp, who graduated last year.
Ladies and gentlemen, every other player who scored for the Irish last season is back again and they ended the preseason on a tear Monday night.
That list includes junior midfielder Patrick Hodan, whose 11 goals last year were good for second on the team, trailing only Shipp’s 12. Hodan chipped one over the Badger goalkeeper in the first half for his second goal of the exhibition season. Graduate student forward Leon Brown tallied five goals last year and started this year’s count with one only minutes into the match. He also tossed in an assist on a beautiful give-and-go with junior midfielder Evan Panken. Panken, for his part, had five tallies last year. Senior forward Vince Cicciarelli chipped in an assist as well Monday night and returns after finishing as the third-leading scorer for Notre Dame in 2013 with six goals.
On the flip side of the field, graduate student goalkeeper Patrick Wall blanked Wisconsin for the 60 minutes he was on the field, looking just as sharp as last season when he played every minute in net for the Irish. In front of him, graduate student defensemen Luke Mishu and Andrew O’Malley helped keep the Badgers from even registering a shot until the 38th minute.
Then, as Irish coach Bobby Clark remarked after the game, the Irish had a letdown from the 38th minute until halftime, the only stretch Notre Dame’s starting 11 did not dominate in their 60 minutes of play. However, after halftime the team came out fired up and put in two quick goals, seizing back all the momentum they had let slip away before the intermission.
People, forgive the Irish if they were already thinking ahead to the season-opening tournament this weekend, where they will face two teams ranked in the top 12 in Marquette and Georgetown. Forgive them, if they, being up 2-0 going into the final minutes of the first half of the final exhibition game of the year, began to let their minds wander and perhaps lost a little fire.
Clark woke them right back up at halftime and the Irish were back to their old selves. Even the coach seemed already to be in midseason form.
Anyone could tell the game was one-sided when the Irish wanted it to be. I will not go as far as predicting a repeat national championship; there are just too many variables for that. However, after watching Monday’s game, although it was only an exhibition match, the Irish definitely look like title contenders. After a couple ties against Saint Louis and Bradley, one could have asked, “Is Notre Dame ready to defend its title?” Not so anymore.
No, ladies and gentlemen, the Irish are going to be quite all right.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.