Tournament loss to Cavs halts title defense
Zach Klonsinski | Friday, May 15, 2015
It was an all-too-familiar story for Notre Dame.
The Irish dominated another game which they lost, only this time, it ended their season and the quest to repeat as national champions.
After earning a road draw and a 3-0 win over Virginia in the two teams’ prior meetings, No. 1 seed Notre Dame (12-5-4, 6-1-1 ACC) found itself walking off the Alumni Stadium pitch with a 1-0 loss to the 16th-seeded Cavaliers in the third round of the NCAA tournament after Virginia scored a goal in the 82nd minute.
“The game we lost we dominated. That’s sport, and that’s why you play games,” Irish head coach Bobby Clark said.
It was the not the first time Notre Dame was forced to settle for a bitter defeat in a game in which it was the better side. The Irish also dropped a 1-0 decision at home against Kentucky on Sept. 8 and another by the same score on the road Oct. 3 at Boston College.
“The Irish luck kind of somehow deserted us this year, but that’s ok. I was very proud,” Clark said. “I thought the team responded very well to [winning the title] the year before. … They certainly didn’t rest on their laurels, and they played very, very well.”
The Irish controlled the final game against the Cavaliers but couldn’t find room to put shots on net against a different defense than they shredded just two weeks before during their 3-0 win in the ACC tournament.
“ … I know having spoken to the Virginia coaches, after we beat them they changed their tactics right through the rest of the tournament,” Clark said. “ … They changed from playing with three defenders to four defenders, so they actually changed their tactics. That game altered their thinking a lot and quite possibly, as they said, won them a national championship.”
The Cavaliers went on to win the national championship, the second time in three years the No. 16 seed has done so — and also the second time it went through a top-seeded Notre Dame en route. Three years ago, eventual champion Indiana left Alumni Stadium with a 2-1, double-overtime win in the third round.
Despite the unsatisfying finish, Clark said he was proud of how the team handled the pressure following the program’s first-ever national championship last season.
“Every team you played last year, you got their A-game … and I thought the team responded to that very well, and I thought they came through that test well,” Clark said.
This graduating senior class leaves Notre Dame soccer among the most decorated ever. The team won a national championship, back-to-back ACC regular-season championships and the 2013 Big East tournament title, as well as earned two No. 1 overall seeds and a No. 3 billing in the NCAA tournament while compiling a 55-15-15 overall record.
“The last four years were very successful, there’s no question about that,” Clark said. “Arguably, I don’t even have to check records, but I think it would be the most successful four years in — we’ve had a lot of good years, so it could be close, but no team had won the national championship, and then you’ve won three other major trophies in two of the best conferences in the country.
“They’ll all go out and hold their heads very high.”
Senior midfielder Brendan Lesch even added a Bengal Bouts championship this spring to the class’s long list of accolades.
“That cost me a lot of money,” Clark said. “I put him on $20 a round, so he was on an incentive. I said I would put money into the Bengal Bouts mission fund per round. So he got me there. He stung me there all the way through.”
While seniors midfielder Nick Besler (Portland Timbers) and defender Luke Mishu (DC United) will continue their careers in the major leagues, others — such as graduate student goalkeeper Patrick Wall, an aerospace engineer — will make good use of their Notre Dame education.
“We’ve put over 30 kids into the MLS now, but every one has graduated, which for me is very important,” Clark said.