Dec. 14, 1997
Young Men's Soccer Team Claims Winning Season
By Bernadette Cafarelli
NOTRE DAME, Ind.--When the Notre Dame men's soccer team began the 1997 season, the Irish had two things in mind -- repeating as BIG EAST champions and returning to the NCAA tournament to duplicate the success of the 1996 campaign.
But as Notre Dame found out, winning the second time around always is harder. In '97, the Irish advanced to the semifinals of the BIG EAST Championship and finished the season with a 10-9-2 mark and 5-5-1 mark in its third season as a member of the BIG EAST Conference.
Coming off one of the most successful seasons in school history in which Notre Dame won its first-ever BIG EAST tournament crown and its first-ever NCAA tournament game, eighth-year head coach Mike Berticelli knew that with the loss of five senior starters, the '97 season would be a somewhat of a rebuilding year. Those five players helped the Irish enjoy the most successful four-year period in the school's history as Notre Dame earned three NCAA tournament berths and won three conference tournament crowns.
The young and talented Irish squad won 10-plus games for the sixth time in eight years and set the groundwork and foundation for upcoming seasons. The Irish were led in scoring by three seniors, Ryan Turner (12 goals, five assists), Bill Savarino (four goals, six assists) and Scott Wells (two goals, eights assists).
"This is a team that worked extremely hard throughout the season," says Berticelli, "and one that improved each and every week. We ran into a tough stretch at the end of the season, but we overcame adversity and were able to qualify for the BIG EAST tournament for the second consecutive year."
After dropping seven of its final nine contests during the regular season and finishing fifth in the BIG EAST regular-season, the Irish advanced to the semifinals of the league championship following a 2-0 win at Seton Hall in the quarterfinals. The victory avenged a 2-1 setback Notre Dame suffered on the road to the Pirates during the regular season.
Notre Dame's hopes of repeating as BIG EAST tournament champions were dashed when '96 national champion St. John's, the league's '97 regular season champion, ousted the Irish from the tournament with a 4-1 loss in the semifinals.
Once again, the Irish played a demanding schedule and were one of the few teams this season which faced three teams -- Indiana, SMU and St. John's -- that were ranked in the top five nationally. Notre Dame spent 10 weeks in the rankings as the Irish climbed to as high as 18th midway through the month of October.
Notre Dame lost four games at home on Alumni Field, the most at home since the the Irish began playing at the facility in 1990. The Irish had always dominated their opponents at Alumni Field, but in '97 they struggled, losing four times in 10 outings. Two of the losses were in overtime as the Irish dropped a 3-2 decision to Buffalo and suffered a 2-1 setback to Georgetown. The other two losses came against top-ranked Indiana (4-0) and another BIG EAST foe, Syracuse, 1-0.
The Irish began the season with a 6-2-2 mark through its first 10 games. Against BIG EAST competition in its first four games, Notre Dame registered a 4-0-1 record and did not allow a goal in any of those five contests. It wasn't until their sixth league contest versus the Orangemen, that the Irish gave up their first goal of the BIG EAST season.
Greg Velho once again turned in stellar performances all season in goal. He played every minute of all 21 games and allowed just 27 goals throughout, while posting a 1.23 goals against average and .777 save percentage.
The defense also was bolstered by sophomores Alan Woods and Matt McNew, senior David Cutler and junior Phil Murphy, a three-year walk-on who started all 20 games he played. McNew was one of five players to start 21 games.
In the midfield, junior Matt Johnson and senior Joe Gallo, both 21-game starters, proved to be extremely steady and consistent in this area of the field. Both helped out offensively and defensively.
Freshman Reggie McKnight was the only rookie to play in all 21 contests. He was the team's fourth-leading scorer with four goals and three assists. Another freshman, Connor LaRose, came on strong at the end of the season and started the final four contests for the Irish. He, McKnight and several other underclassmen, will be part of the future of Notre Dame soccer.
Losing just three players this season and with a strong nucleus returning, the Irish will look to get back to the NCAA tournament in 1998.