Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 8, 2012 Issue

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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ND Sports A Clean Slate The Irish men’s soccer team is off to its best start in 25 years with an undefeated non-conference record By Dan Murphy Four minutes into a second overtime period in Ann Arbor last week, Irish captain Dillon Powers lofted a free kick across the Michigan goal box that found the head of senior Ryan Finley. Finley redirected the shot through a crowd of defenders for the first and only goal of the rivalry matchup, and in doing so gave Notre Dame its best start on the soccer field in a quarter century. The dramatic win over the Wolverines improved the third-ranked Irish to 7-0, completing a perfect pre-conference run for a team that wasn’t quite sure what to expect from itself at the outset. Their 9-5-3 record a season ago was weighed down by an inability to create their own luck. They only lost by more than a goal once and let a handful of prime chances slip through their grip in a frustrating year. They started this fall by losing two key fifth-year seniors, forward Adam Mena and midfielder Michael Rose, to anterior cruciate ligament tears. “It was heart-wrenching for me as a coach,” 12th-year head coach Bobby Clark said. “But it maybe let the boys know how much they should appreciate the season that they have.” They certainly aren’t taking any thing for granted. The last time Notre Dame had this much success on the soccer field was in 1987. That year’s team started 14-0-1 before finishing 17-3-1. Still, this version of the Irish is just beginning to learn how good it might be. “I don’t want to say we don’t believe in ourselves, but we did come out tentative. It’s hard to explain why that happens,” Powers said after beating then-No. 4 Akron at home in early September. The Zips scored a goal during the first four minutes of that game against a Notre Dame team that looked a little wary to let it loose. The Irish dominated play in the second half and came away with a 3-1 win thanks to goals from sophomore Leon Brown, Powers and Finley. The senior duo of Powers and Finley has combined to score seven of Notre Dame’s 13 goals through the first seven games. While the Irish have done a good job of spreading the wealth so far, there is no doubt that Finley, a former All-America player at Duke, provides the offensive firepower, and Powers is a steady catalyst in the midfield. They’ve also played a big role in adding an aggressive edge to the pitch when needed. Powers said the victory over Akron, which is only two years removed from winning the 2010 national championship, was a confidence builder. Clark said there’s a long list of potential confidence builders on his team’s schedule this season, but he’s not concerned with the group getting too far ahead of themselves. “I think this group has a quiet confidence,” he said. “Nobody’s looking past Louisville [on Sept. 22]. I think this group is ready to take them one at a time. When you have a schedule like our schedule, you’re not going to be looking past anyone.” Louisville is the first of many Big East opponents expected to be a tough test for the Irish this year. Notre Dame is one of five teams in the conference’s Blue Division that is starting Big East play without a loss. There are six ranked teams left to play on Notre Dame’s schedule this season, including No. 2 Connecticut and No. 14 Marquette on the road. Starting the final week of September, the Irish play four teams in a row that have lost only one game combined to date. “I think the challenge here is how we tackle the road games,” Clark said. “This is good preparation for us if we’re fortunate enough to make the NCAA Tournament.” Clark, like his players, is still figuring out how the good this group can be. He said he spent the past week fixing some issues with Notre Dame’s defense — a back line that has allowed one goal in its last four games. Any “ifs” about Notre Dame’s chances to make it back to the NCAA Tournament, after missing out on an invite a year ago, are fading fast. Reinforcements Arrive For Lady Irish The young Notre Dame women’s team is off to its second rocky start in a row under head coach Randy Waldrum, but help has recently arrived in South Bend. The Irish started the year 3-3-1 while trying to break in a new starting lineup that features as many as six freshmen. A week ago, on Sept. 15, reinforcements arrived when junior Mandy Laddish and freshman Cari Roccaro rejoined the team after a month in Japan with the U.S. U-20 National Team. Roccaro and Laddish both played regularly with the American team that won gold in Japan after winning only once in a three-game preliminary round robin. They avenged a 3-0 loss to Germany with a 1-0 win in the championship game. “I’ve won a national championship before, and that was amazing, but there is something special about being able to say we’re the best in the world,” Laddish said. “Especially after we went through a bunch of adversity.” The junior captain said she hopes to use those lessons of dealing with problems with the Notre Dame team now that she is back in South Bend. Roccaro, one of the nation’s top recruits, spent only 10 days on campus before heading to Japan and said she is still getting her bearings in her new home. It didn’t take her long to feel comfortable on the field, though. She was one of seven players who scored in a 7-0 shutout against Cincinnati in just her second collegiate game on Sept. 16. Waldrum said he is still trying to figure out whether he wants his star freshman on defense or at forward in the long term, but she’s expected to be part of the starting lineup throughout the season. The Irish are 2-0 since Laddish and Roccaro returned, winning conference games against Cincinnati and Louisville to start Big East play on a strong note. Waldrum said he could see their impact on the team after their first day of practice. “You could see a difference in the way we can keep the ball a little bit better in the midfield,” he said. “Mandy just adds a lot of experience and composure there. She’s a skillful player. Irish Roundup Volleyball (7-5) The Irish ended their non-conference schedule on a high note with a 3-1 win over Kansas at home on Sept. 16. Sophomore Toni Alugbue made the Big East Honor Roll for the third consecutive week by posting 20 kills and 10 digs against the 11-2 Jayhawks. After losing to three ranked teams earlier in the month, the Irish will use the Kansas win as a major confidence heading into Big East play. The Irish beat Xavier in five sets earlier in the weekend to kick off the Golden Dome Invitational and later lost to Loyola Marymount before bouncing back against Kansas. Cross Country As usual, the Irish dominated the annual National Catholic Championship race in South Bend. The men's and women’s teams both finished first out of a field of 34 teams. Senior Jeremy Rae finished seven seconds ahead of the rest of the field to claim his first individual title in the race. Senior Rebecca Tracy crossed before any other runners in the women’s race as well, marking the ninth straight year a Notre Dame runner has finished in first place. Men’s Tennis Junior Greg Andrews started his collegiate season undefeated at the OFCC Invitational meet in Olympia Fields, Ill. Andrews defeated three ranked players in singles matches and also teamed up with Spencer Talmadge for a 9-7 doubles win over a team from Cal. Andrews won the tournament’s most outstanding player award. Senior Blas Moros also made the all-tournament team. The Irish play their first home matches Oct. 5-7 in the Tom Fallon Invitational. Golf Notre Dame’s men’s golf team started the season by getting to know their new ACC neighbors with an eighth-place finish at the Tar Heel Invitational. Irish head coach Jim Kubinski said he was disappointed with the team’s 23-over-par finish in the three-round tournament. Senior Paul McNamara III shot a two-under 70 on the opening day in Chapel Hill, N.C., and led the team with a 27th-place finish overall. The women’s team started its year with a third-place finish at the Mary Fossum Invitational in East Lansing, Mich. Freshman Lindsey Weaver (sixth place overall) posted the lowest score for the Irish in her first collegiate tournament. — Dan Murphy

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