Irish prepare for rematch with Blue Devils in ACC tournament
Benjamin Padanilam | Friday, April 28, 2017
No. 7 Notre Dame will travel to Durham, North Carolina, this weekend to compete in the ACC tournament, taking on No. 3 Duke on Friday in the first round of the four-team championship.
The Irish (7-3, 2-2 ACC) and Blue Devils (11-3, 3-1) meet for the third straight year in the conference’s postseason tournament, with Duke having won each of the last two matchups. The Blue Devils also hold an advantage entering this year’s contest, as Duke is hosting the ACC tournament on its campus at Koskinen Stadium. Given their familiarity with their opponent and losses in previous years, the Irish have spent the week especially focused on their preparation for Friday’s game.
“We’ve lost to them the past two times — I think what we did this week was just taking what we did wrong from the last game and just basically improving as much as we could this week,” Irish senior defender Garrett Epple said. “A lot of guys took a lot of time to prepare this week. We understand what they’re trying to do. … [We’re] just preparing as much as we can — that’s all we could really do, and I think we did a pretty good job this week in doing that.”
Yet, that preparation for postseason play has been something the Irish have been experiencing throughout the season, as their schedule featured games against each of the teams currently ranked in the top five nationally.
“It gives us a chance to gain experience against the best teams in the country,” Epple said of the team’s regular season schedule thus far. “ … We know that we’re going to end up playing very good teams in the playoffs, so to get that experience early in the regular season — whether we win or lose — we’re going to learn from that. And I don’t think a lot of other teams that we’re going to play at the end of the year — they may or may not have that experience, so it definitely gives us an edge. And we know what we have to do to beat those teams moving forward.”
But the Irish will not just be relying on their preparation to make deep postseason runs in the ACC and NCAA tournaments; Epple, senior midfielder Sergio Perkovic and junior long-stick midfielder John Sexton all learned Thursday that they had earned All-ACC team honors for the season. Epple said the honors are a testament to the team’s depth and talent, and the awards just go to show that the Irish have multiple players they can rely upon to step up when needed.
“I think we just rely on a lot of guys to step up and that changes from week to week,” Epple said. “It changes from the first five games of the season to the last five games of the season, so … I [think it’s about] if someone’s not playing as well, someone else [steps] up. … I think we have a lot of playmakers on this team [and] a lot of leaders, especially on the field, and I think we rely on each other to make ourselves better and, if we’re not playing that well, we have them to kind of lean and rely on if we’re not having the best game.”
But now, Notre Dame has its sights set on turning that preparation and talent into a win against Duke, which would avenge their 11-8 loss on April 8 to the Blue Devils at Koskinen Stadium. This time around, Epple said the team just has to cut down on the simple mistakes and take advantage of the scoring opportunities they were able to produce but failed to cash in on the earlier loss.
“I think, offensively, the score didn’t really reflect how well we played or the potential goals that we had to score,” Epple said. “We had a ton of good looks in that game — we just didn’t really cash in, and their goalie … was outstanding that game. So, on the offensive end, we’re not getting too down on ourselves.
“ … Defensively, the way we played — it’s a lot of simple mistakes that we had to correct. I think they scored like five goals in the first quarter, and then we ended up having pretty good defense on them the entire game. So going into [Friday], I think we’re kind of focusing on the things we did well the last three quarters of that game and kind of translating that into Friday’s game.”
The Irish and Blue Devils will square off in their ACC semifinal matchup Friday starting at 8:30 p.m., with the winner advancing to take on the winner of Syracuse-North Carolina on Sunday at noon.