ND to meet Orange in ACC title game
Manuel De Jesus | Friday, November 13, 2015
No. 9 Notre Dame and No. 13 Syracuse collide in both teams’ first ever ACC Championship final appearance Sunday afternoon at Alumni Stadium.
Both teams took similar routes to the championship game. Ranked the seventh seed in the tournament, the Orange (12-5-3, ACC 3-4-1) defeated North Carolina State on Nov. 4 at home, 2-0, took down the No. 4 North Carolina 4-3 in penalty kicks at Chapel Hill on Sunday and capped off the trifecta Wednesday by beating No. 2 Clemson, 2-0, on the road.
With two consecutive wins against top-five ranked teams, the Orange now find themselves in South Bend in search of their first ACC title.
“They were in the final four [of the NCAA tournament] last year,” Irish head coach Bobby Clark said. “They lost to Louisville in a very tight game last year, so they’re a very good team.
“Any team that can knock off UNC in penalty kicks and then go to Clemson and win, it shows they’re scared of no one.”
The fourth-seeded Irish (11-3-5, ACC 4-2-2) also had their own impressive run of victories to reach the final. Notre Dame finished 1-0 against No. 19 Virginia on Sunday, who ousted the Irish last season in the third round of the NCAA tournament by the same score. The Irish then brought down No. 1 Wake Forest Wednesday in a 1-0 thriller to earn their spot in the title game.
Although Syracuse’s three-game winning streak over top-ranked opponents is impressive, Clark said the rankings don’t mean much given the ACC’s high level of competition.
“The eighth seed in the ACC last year won the national championship. … Every team in our league is very accomplished, so we weren’t shocked by [Syracuse’s win over Wake Forest],” Clark said.
“This will be, in many ways, harder than our two previous games. I think I’ve been quoted before in saying it’s almost harder to win the ACC than a national championship.”
Notre Dame completed a successful regular season, led by sophomore forward Jon Gallagher with nine goals and senior midfielder Evan Panken, who is tied for second in the ACC with eight assists. On the other end of the field, Notre Dame’s defense ranks fourth in the conference in goals against.
But these accomplishments and Wednesday’s win over the No. 1 team in the nation do not mean the Irish are finished yet, Clark said.
“I said I didn’t need to remind them that the job is only two-thirds of the way done,” Clark said. “We’ve got a team that’s gone into North Carolina and they’ve gone into Clemson and come out victors, so I think the first thing is to start preparing.”
To prepare, Clark said he wants to see the group’s chemistry grow and improve every game, especially as they move further into the postseason.
“Can we go from every game, and that’s what we always say, can we take something from every game and take it into the next game?,” Clark said. “We’ll see the video from [Wednesday] night’s game and try to take a couple of things from it and take it to the next game. That’s what we’ve done, and we do it every week and every game.
“The really good teams, they add a little bit on through the entire season, and come the matches where it really matters in November and December, hopefully we’ve grown from where we were in August.”
Of course, the game falls on the players and coaches on the field, but Clark said having a full crowd at Alumni Stadium would add another dimension to the game, especially during a championship game.
“I would love … to get a big crowd out at Alumni Stadium,” Clark said. “We had over 5,000 people on Wednesday night at Wake Forest, and it was one of the best college soccer atmospheres that I have ever been part of as a coach.
“Could we get students to come out? Could we get the community to come out? Can we make this a special occasion for this group of seniors? The only thing this group of seniors haven’t won that they could’ve won is, well we won the league twice, the national championship and we won the Big East when these seniors were freshman.
“The only thing that they haven’t won that would be really relevant would be this tournament. This is an opportunity for them of course, but I think if we could get the support from the students, it would be a terrific help.”
Notre Dame looks to win its first ACC Championship on Sunday when it hosts Syracuse at Alumni Stadium at 1 p.m.