Notre Dame completes a strong final season under Clark
Alex Bender | Friday, May 18, 2018
Notre Dame has always fared well under the leadership of long-time head coach Bobby Clark. Over his 17 seasons with the Irish, Clark amassed 216 wins and a 2013 NCAA title. This past season, Notre Dame put together yet another strong season, and while things may not have ended perfectly, Clark was able to retire with a run to the third round of the NCAA tournament.
Coming into the year, expectations were high, but the Irish knew what challenges lay ahead. Notre Dame plays in one of the strongest conferences in the nation for soccer in the ACC, something Clark saw as both a test and an opportunity.
“Every year we always have one of, if not the toughest schedule in the country,” Clark said August 23. “I just feel like you find out who you are. Your chances of winning all the games are tough, but regardless if you’re good enough to win enough to get into the tournament, then we know we can play with anyone in the country. I think that’s important. There are no easy games. … I like to play good games; I like to play tough games. Obviously the ACC takes care of itself, and then you look for other teams that are good, and hopefully the guys get excited about that.”
At times this season, the Irish found themselves not achieving the results they had become accustomed to in recent years. In a stretch across much of October, the team found itself struggling to pick up a win, yet Clark was pleased in his team’s play and believed things would turn around.
“That’s tough, but we’ve moved on, and I think we’ve learned some things,” Clark said October 24. “In a funny way I was quite pleased with how the team played in all three games. Obviously not happy with the results … but we’re still in a very good position if we can finish of the year [well].”
Following that stretch, the Irish did in fact turn it around, doing enough to reach the semifinals in the ACC tournament, a path that included defeating No. 3 North Carolina on the road, and earned themselves an NCAA bid. Clark spoke to the benefits a big win like that over the Tar Heels (17-4-1, 6-1-1) can have for a team.
“It gives you confidence to play the No. 1 RPI team in the country and play them up straight,” Clark said November 6. “It’s as hard if not harder to win the ACC tournament than to win the national championship. The ACC prepares you to play in a lot of tough games because every team member in the league is very strong.”
Ultimately on the season, Notre Dame would finish at No. 14 nationally. Its year concluded in late November at the hands of a heartbreaking loss to No. 20 Wisconsin in the round of 32, and while it may have been a tough pill to swallow, Clark reflected on what had been a great four years for his seniors.
“It’s been a great class — you can see how disappointed they all are,” Clark said November 20. “It was a tough, tough night for them … the seniors were terrific. It’s been a great group, and it’s always sad that they can’t take it a little further, so I’m very sad for them.”
Nine days after the Irish season concluded, Bobby Clark announced his retirement. He will be succeeded by Chad Riley, a former Notre Dame standout player and assistant coach who spent the last few seasons as head coach at Dartmouth. Riley will hope to carry on the success his predecessor had at Notre Dame, and while he will have to replace the departures of senior forward Jon Gallagher, graduate student goalkeeper Chris Hubbard and others, the Irish — aided by an eight-man signing class — should return enough pieces to again be competitive in 2018.