Irish host Cavaliers in ACC Tournament opener
Zach Klonsinski | Thursday, November 6, 2014
The first part of the trifecta is complete; the second portion is ready to begin.
That was the message from Irish coach Bobby Clark as No. 4 Notre Dame readies for its ACC tournament opener Sunday against No. 15 Virginia at Alumni Stadium. The Cavaliers (10-5-2, 3-3-2 ACC) beat in-state rival Virginia Tech, 1-0, on Wednesday night in the first round of the tournament to advance and meet the Irish (10-4-3, 6-1-1 ACC).
“We’re where you want to be; you’re still involved in all three, and you’ve won one,” Clark said. “You take it as you’re well positioned, but that doesn’t mean very much. … We’ve got the regular season [title] in our back pocket, and that’s one of the hardest things to win because it’s consistency. But you’ve got to put that behind you very quickly, and I think we’ve done that.
“We’re playing a team that’s the No. 8 seed [in the ACC tournament] that could easily win a national championship.”
This will be the second time the two teams have squared off this season. The Irish and Cavaliers met Sept. 21 in Charlottesville, Virginia; the match ended in a 1-1 draw.
“It felt in the bus and the reaction around the team that it was a loss,” Clark said. “We lost a, I would say, a fairly bad goal almost immediately after going up, so that was disappointing.”In that prior matchup, junior midfielder Patrick Hodan registered his first goal of the season on a penalty kick in the 65th minute. Hodan had been quiet for the Irish up to that point after netting 11 goals in the 2013 national championship campaign, second on the team behind former Irish forward Harry Shipp.
Hodan has been anything but quiet since: in Notre Dame’s last eight games, the junior has seven of his team-leading eight goals.
“Patrick is goal scorer. He’s a predator,” Clark said. “That’s part of who he is on the soccer field. But it’s so important, and I think this has been the great thing for us recently, is that we’ve been getting a lot of other people who have been starting to come into the scoring sheet.”
The whole offense has picked up its scoring coming into the ACC tournament. Over Notre Dame’s last five games, the team has tallied 12 times (2.4 goals/game), after only registering 15 times in its first 10 matches (1.5 goals/game). Graduate student forward Leon Brown scored twice last game in a 4-1 win over Pittsburgh while junior midfielder Evan Panken chipped in one as well. Brown and Panken are the second and third leading goal scorers, respectively, for the Irish, but the team has also benefitted from the recent play of forwards Vince Cicciarelli, a senior, and two freshmen in Jon Gallagher and Jeffrey Farina.
“[Hodan’s] partner in crime on the other side, Panken, has been getting some goals,” Clark said. “Then you’ve got the two young forwards. Jeffrey Farina, he’s now at six or seven assists, which is unbelievably good for a freshman, and he’s certainly capable of scoring goals also.
“Jon Gallagher can score goals; Leon Brown can score goals. Leon could have easily had a hat trick last week against Pittsburgh.”
Still, the Irish felt like they let one slip away from them after the draw in Charlottesville, Clark said.
“I think the hardest thing was when they got a player sent off, and we felt going into the remainder of the half and into the two overtimes with being a man up, we were disappointed we didn’t take something out of that,” Clark said.
Cicciarelli was tackled hard inside the box by a Virginia defender, earning the Cavaliers player a red card and putting Notre Dame a man up and then a goal up after Hodan converted his penalty kick. Yet only three minutes after taking the lead, the Irish gave it away on a shot by Cavalier senior midfielder Eric Bird.
While the recent offensive outburst has been nice, Clark also said the Irish have to improve on the defensive side of the ball.
“I want us to get some more shutouts,” Clark said. “If we’re going to win a national championship, we’ve got to defend. And I’m not talking about the goalie; I’m not talking about the back four. I’m talking about defending as a team. The whole team defends, and the whole team attacks.”
Notre Dame won the ACC regular-season title last weekend with its 4-1 victory against the Panthers, finishing first in the Coastal Division with 19 points, three ahead of No. 9 North Carolina in the division. No. 1 Syracuse and No. 20 Clemson finished tied atop the Atlantic division with 16 points as well. The title means the Irish clinched the No. 1 overall seed in the ACC tournament, which earned them a first-round bye and a home match against the Cavaliers. The winner of the game will advance to the ACC semifinals next Friday in Cary, North Carolina.
“It’s going to be a great game,” Clark said. “It’s a game we’re really excited about, but I’m not kidding myself, I think Virginia will be equally excited about it. … You’ve got two very good teams … and it’s a game where there’s an excitement and you get an extra 5 percent, 10 percent out of every player.”
The Irish will look to keep their quest for the second part of the trifecta alive when they host the Cavaliers on what will be a chilly Sunday afternoon at Alumni Stadium. The game is scheduled to kick off at 1 p.m.