Irish prepare to host Tar Heels
Manuel De Jesus | Friday, October 28, 2016
No. 12 Notre Dame will look to end the regular season on a high note Friday against the visiting ACC Coastal champion, No. 3 North Carolina.
The Irish (10-5-1, 3-3-1 ACC) are heading into the final conference matchup of the regular season on a four-game losing streak. Just before the break, Notre Dame was ranked No. 2 in the country, but losses to Virginia, Northwestern, Duke and Michigan State sent the squad out of the top 10. Most people would be uneasy with where the team is headed going into the post-season, but Irish head coach Bobby Clark isn’t the slightest bit concerned about what has happened in the past week and a half.
After Thursday’s practice, Clark was in an optimistic mood around with the other coaches and players talking and laughing all while sipping on a cold Cheribundi.
“If you told me at the start of the season that we would have been 10-5-1 with the schedule we’ve played — I would have wanted more obviously — I would have accepted that,” Clark said with a smile. “This is a great group of guys, so I hope we can turn it into a great performance tomorrow for all these seniors. It’ll be a nice way for them to ring out their official season, but I’m hoping they’ll have a lot more games to play than just [Friday] night.”
A handful of seniors will be represented at the final home game of the regular season including forward Mark Gormley, who scored three goals during the four-game road trip over break. While Gormley has increased his production in the second half of the season, the rest of the offense has seemed to have gone cold. Besides Gormley’s three goals, the Irish have only recorded one other goal, which came from junior forward Jon Gallagher.
Clark said that the recent drop in goals isn’t a reflection of the team’s offensive ability. The problem with the offense lies in the Irish not creating enough scoring opportunities.
“The hard thing is that in the recent games, we’ve dominated them,” Clark said. “It’s been about breaking down a compact defense, and we haven’t done a very good job. We’ve gotten better in a way, better at playing it, but we’re still not finding enough scoring opportunities. I think tomorrow will be a slightly different game.”
Breaking the four-game skid against the Tar Heels (11-2-2, 5-1-1) won’t be an easy task. North Carolina is led by junior forward Zach Wright and sophomore forward Nils Bruening who have scored five and seven goals, respectively. Behind those two goal scorers, the Tar Heels are the seventh best offensive team averaging 2.2 goals per game. Their defense is just as impressive holding opponents to just .45 goals per game, which ranks third in the nation.
“The Tar Heels are a very good team,” Clark said. “They’ve won the Atlantic Coastal Conference, our side of the conference, so they are unquestionably the top team. It’ll be a challenge for our guys. I think we’re looking forward to it. All the big games we’ve played in this year we’ve played superbly well, so that’s all you can do. We’ll play well, and we’ll see where it takes us.”
Junior forward Jeff Farina made his return to the field against Michigan State on Tuesday and Clark said that he, sophomore midfielder Thomas Ueland and senior goalie Chris Hubbard, who was pulled halfway through the game Tuesday due to injury, should see some time against North Carolina if all goes well by the start of the game.
The Irish will kick off their final regular season match of the year against ACC rival North Carolina at Alumni Stadium on Friday at 7 p.m.