Irish prepare for College Cup competition
Joe Everett | Thursday, November 16, 2017
For the 20th time in program history, Notre Dame has earned a bid into the NCAA championship.
The Irish (11-6-2, 3-3-2 ACC) drew the No. 12 seed when the tournament field was unveiled Monday — their sixth-straight top-16 national seed — and are set to host the winner of Wisconsin and University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC) on Sunday inside Alumni Stadium. This will be Notre Dame’s 16th NCAA tournament appearance in its 17 years under Bobby Clark, and the veteran head coach shared his mindset as the team prepares for Sunday’s matchup.
“I always say every season that if you make the tournament, it’s a good season,” Clark said. “That’s your first objective: Make the tournament. Then, after that, you can start adding on. It becomes a very good season, then a great season, and then a fantastic season, adding a superlative on every week from now on. For the moment, we’ll put it down as a good season, and hopefully we can get up to a fantastic season, but there’s a few superlatives in the middle that we’ve got to take one at a time. But it’s going to be hard, it’s a tough road.”
With the College Cup consisting of 32 conference champions and 16 at-large bids, the idea of “easy games” takes even less credence than before for Clark, who says all 48 teams are always confident and dangerous.
“Every team that’s in the NCAA tournament is feeling good about themselves for one reason or another,” Clark said. “It’s either because they’ve had a very good regular season, or it’s because they’ve won their tournament. Either way you’re playing a good team. We’re going to be playing either UIC, who’s gone 11 games without losing — that’s pretty impressive — or you’re playing the winner of the Big Ten [conference tournament], one of the top conferences in the country. It’s the same for everybody — everyone who’s alive and going in the tournament is feeling good about themselves — you’ve got to know that. We’re feeling good about ourselves — we’re exactly where we want to be. We’re in the tournament and we’ve got a [pretty good] seed.”
UIC (11-5-3, 6-2-1 Horizon League) and Wisconsin (10-4-5, 4-3-1 Big Ten) are set to play Thursday night at the McClimon Memorial Track and Soccer Complex in Madison, Wisconsin. The Badgers earned the home match by winning the Big Ten conference tournament, defeating No. 2-seed Indiana 4-2 in penalty kicks after knocking off both No. 4-seed Maryland and No. 1-seed Michigan to get there. On the other side, UIC secured its automatic berth to the College Cup by winning the Horizon league for the second straight season, defeating top-seeded Green Bay 2-0 in the title game. Preparing for and studying each team in advance, Clark praised the play of both squads and said that the Irish will face a stiff test no matter who they face on Sunday.
“We’ll go up and watch the game up in Madison, so we’ll get a better idea of [both teams],” Clark said. “We’ve already watched game tape on both. The last two days I’ve watched Wisconsin [in the Big Ten tournament] and they looked really good. Today, I’ll be watching UIC, and then we’ll go up and watch them live. The first thing that’s impressed me with Wisconsin is that they’re very good, and I know [Irish assistant] coach [Michael] Casper watched UIC, and he’s come up with exactly the same sentiments. Whichever team comes through, we’re playing a very good team.”
Up to this point, it’s safe to say that Notre Dame has already registered a successful season. However, if the team aims to repeat the magic of its 2013 national championship run, Clark says the Irish can’t take anything for granted, and that anything is possible.
“We’ve done well, but it doesn’t really matter,” Clark said. “Virginia won it as the 16 seed recently and Indiana won it as a 16 seed, so while it’s always handy to have a top-16 seed because you play one game less, at the end of the day, you’ve got to win some tough games.”
The Irish and the winner of Wisconsin–UIC will kick things off Sunday evening at 6 p.m. inside Alumni Stadium.