Irish begin season against UC Irvine with national title hopes
Manuel De Jesus | Friday, August 26, 2016
Despite being voted third in the ACC as the favorites to win the conference, No. 11 Notre Dame believes it’s more than capable of getting back into the national championship spotlight as it begins its regular season campaign Friday against University of California-Irvine at Alumni Stadium as the team competes in its annual Mike Berticelli Memorial tournament, which commemorates the former Irish head coach who passed away 16 years ago.
“They shouldn’t overlook us,” junior forward Jon Gallagher, who led the Irish last season with nine goals, said. “There’s no question that we’re going to be one of the top teams fighting for that top spot in the ACC in the regular season, in the tournament and in the national championship. We’re feeling good about ourselves, and that’s all that matters. All that other stuff is irrelevant.”
The Irish start the tournament off with a contest against California-Irvine Friday followed by a match against New Mexico on Sunday afternoon. Both teams failed to make the NCAA tournament last season, but Clark was sure to emphasize not to overlook either opponent. California-Irvine last made it to the NCAA tournament in 2014, where it lost to Providence in the third round while New Mexico’s last appearance in the tournament was in 2013, where it lost to Notre Dame in the Final Four.
“This is a very good tournament,” Irish head coach Bobby Clark, who enters his 16th season as the head coach at Notre Dame, said. “There are tough games, and you shouldn’t look ahead, but it doesn’t get any easier next weekend. But that’s what we want.”
Being in what was ranked as the top conference at the end of 2015 according to NCAA RPI, Clark knows the captains will need to be the ones that guide the campaign to a successful finish in the ACC. This year’s squad will be led by graduate midfielder Evan Panken, graduate defender Michael Shipp and senior defender Matt Habrowski. Panken has had the most playing time of the captains, having started his playing career in 2013.
“The three captains are fantastic,” Clark said. “You have two fifth-year boys who have very strong personalities, and Matt Habrowski is a fantastic kid all around. So, you have three really tremendous role models for the younger players. They’re all superb students, with [Panken] and [Shipp] having already graduated with like 3.9-something in pre-med … and Habrowski will end up with a masters in engineering next December, so these are fantastic role models in every way, along with being great players.”
Panken led the team with nine assists and was second on the team for points last season with 13. Shipp was named to the CoSIDA Division I Men’s Soccer Academic All-America first team and was honored with the Notre Dame Rockne Student-Athlete award in 2013. He was also named the ACC Defensive Player of the Week after his performance against University of Alabama-Birmingham last September. Habrowski started 17 matches at center back last season, and he scored his lone goal of the season against then No. 9 Clemson, which turned out to be the game-winning goal in the 1-0 victory last season.
Now that summer camp and preseason slate are out of the way, the captains will finally get a shot to show why they were selected to lead this year’s squad to a season towards a national championship title.
“We’re going to take it one game at a time,” Clark said. “I think we’ll be ready, and the boys are really excited to play in a game that really matters and put a top team on the field.”
Notre Dame will compete against California-Irvine at 7:30 p.m. Friday, and they will get back on the field against New Mexico on Sunday at 2:00 p.m. to wrap up the tournament.