Notre Dame gains No. 1 ranking before losing in third round of NCAA tournament
Meagan Bens | Friday, May 19, 2017
2016 was a season of highs and lows for the Irish, as the team reached the No. 1 position in the NSCAA poll in early September, only to fail to reach the Final Four in the NCAA tournament.
Although the rest of the season did not mimic the beginning of the season, Irish head coach Bobby Clark noted Notre Dame (12-7-2, 3-3-3 ACC) had one of the toughest schedules in the country.
“It was one of those seasons where you are off to a phenomenal start,” Clark said. “We were number one in the country for five or six consecutive weeks,” Clark said. “I don’t know if we’ve ever done that actually. Then we had some hiccups. To be fair, we arguably play the top schedule in the country. The ACC itself is the strongest soccer conference in the country. We just had some hiccups in that spell and we never quite got over it to be honest. We made both the ACC tournament, we beat Duke in the first round and then we fell to a very good Wake Forest. Then we were a top-16 seed so we got a bye in the first round of the NCAAs and then lost to Louisville. Louisville was a good team and that night they were better than us.
“ … In many ways, nothing is going to satisfy the group unless they win the ACC tournament and win the national championship. I think they were a pretty gritty squad. They started the season superbly well. They didn’t give up. At the end of the day though anything short of that is going to be a disappointment. I like the fact that this team and program looks at success at being the best.”
Notre Dame started the season with only one loss in the team’s first 12 games, but after a 1-0 loss to Virginia on Oct. 14, the Irish only won two of their final eight games.
Despite the disappointing end to the season, Notre Dames’s success stemmed from the notable performances and leadership on and off the field from the upperclassmen, according to Clark.
“[Senior] Brandon Aubrey went as a first round draft pick to Toronto. He was a center back, no question he was a top player for us,” Clark said. “For a center back he scored nine or 10 goals, for a defender thats pretty phenomenal. [Junior] Jon Gallagher was the ACC offensive player of the year. There were a lot of other steady senior players, you can look through the class, [graduate student] Michael Shipp was steady as an attacking right full back. [Graduate student] Evan Panken, he was a fifth year lad, he came back and played very well. The whole senior class consisted of really good guys. That class, their attitude and support throughout was phenomenal. [Senior] Patrick Connolly, is a three time winner of the spirit award, first time had someone win it three times, and he is just a phenomenal young man. [Senior] Chris Hubbard is coming back for a fifth year with [senior] Matt Habrowski. Matt is a leader, he was a captain last year, and Chris is very steady goalkeeper, along with other guys like [senior] Mark Mishu and [senior] Andrew Cupero.”
Although Notre Dame will miss some key players from last year, Clark believes the team is more than capable to fill the vacant slots.
“Well, if you are good team and you are graduating players, there’s always going to be holes,” Clark said. “But if we’ve done our homework, we should fill the holes. We will obviously miss Aubrey but you hope that [junior] Patrick Berneski can fill in that hole. He will be a rising senior, he saw quite a lot of time as a sophomore when we had injuries, he didn’t quite see as much time this year, but I think he is ready to step up into Aubrey’s shoes. [Sophomore] Sean Dedrick played as a left full back last year, but I can see him moving to right back because he is a natural right footed player. At the moment, at least over the spring, [sophomore] Felicien Dumas can fill that other full back spot.
… Outside of that we have people that we will miss. Evan Panken, he was our left sided midfield player but [freshman] Jack Casey, [junior] Kyle Dedrick, [sophomore] Sean MacLeod are all midfield players from the underclass. I think they can all fill there. Jeff and John Gallagher have been the starting forwards, but the other person that would come in there is [senior] Mark Gormley, I think that is still up for grabs for who is going to be the forward. [Sophomore] Ian Aschieris has done well in the spring as well as [freshman] John Rea. That position preseason will partially determine who will actually become the forwards.”
As long as the team maintains their health and energy, Clark said their will be another promising season ahead.
“We’ve had a pretty good spring,” Clark said. “I’d say we are quite sharp. But a lot of it will depend on fitness and staying healthy. So hopefully we can stay healthy and the boys will follow the fitness program over the summer and come back fit and excited. I never try to let myself get carried away. But if everything falls into place, it can be a pretty good sight.”