April 28, 2014
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - No Notre Dame men's soccer campaign is complete without the annual spring alumni weekend and awards banquet and this year's was extra special as the team celebrated its first national championship.
The program welcomed back over 250 alumni, family and friends for an action-packed weekend that commenced Friday with the annual match against the Mexico Under-20 squad. The latest installment of this rivalry surely didn't disappoint as Notre Dame took a thrilling 3-2 decision in front of a capacity crowd at Alumni Stadium.
Who better to recap this glorious evening than Fighting Irish head coach Bobby Clark...
This was one of the most special nights I have ever experienced during my time at Notre Dame. Alumni Stadium was crammed past capacity with over 4,000 fans and dozens more were locked out. The sun was shining when the Mexican fans sang their national anthem and the Mexican green and red colors were everywhere. It was a picture perfect evening for soccer.
The game sprung into action immediately and there were flurries around both goals with both Connor Klekota and Evan Panken hitting shots high. However, the most decisive moment of the first half happened in the 36th minute when a curling, left footed free kick from Patrick Hodan found the head of freshman Matt Habrowski. This was Matt's first goal in an Irish uniform and it was a special one.
Mexico opened the second half with tremendous determination. Their pressuring did not allow Notre Dame to settle and find their passing rhythm and it was no surprise when Alejandro Diaz stabbed home the equalizer from inside the six-yard box. This really got the large Mexican crowd on their feet and Notre Dame had to weather a Mexican storm but they gradually started connecting passes and in the 72nd minute an excellent sequence found Vince Cicciarelli just inside the Mexican penalty box. The big forward muscled past two defenders before hitting a low angled shot past the Mexican 'keeper to put Notre Dame 2-1 in front.
Three minutes later Mexico bounced back. An Irish clearance ricochet off another player straight to Guillermo Martinez and he hit a low shot past Pat Wall to tie the match at 2-2. The game was now going back and forward and in the 86th minute Patrick Hodan picked up a ball just outside the penalty box and he hit a sweet curling shot past the Mexican goalkeeper to make it 3-2 for Notre Dame.
The Irish played out the game to record the victory, which means that Notre Dame has a healthy 6-2-1 record against Mexican Youth National teams over the last nine years.
The victory over Mexico gave Notre Dame a final record of 7-1-1 for its spring exhibition season. The Irish opened the ledger with a 2-2 draw against the Columbus Crew and then traveled to Pontiac, Mich., where they fell to Michigan (1-0) and defeated Oakland (2-1). Notre Dame swept a doubleheader at Evansville (3-0, 2-0) before posting wins over Western Michigan (3-0) and Valparaiso (1-0). Notre Dame then took part in a marquee showdown with in-state rival Indiana in Fort Wayne, Ind. The battle between the last two NCAA champions went to the Irish, 1-0.
The successful spring certainly has all signs pointing towards yet another successful fall campaign for the Fighting Irish. But, Saturday's awards banquet was about reflecting on and celebrating the amazing 2013 national title run along with the history of the program.
"It was a special evening," Clark said. "It was a mixture of serious parts and fun with the history that was brought forward. We spent some time reflecting on Dennis Grace (the former Irish head coach who passed away in July). One of his former players, Dan Coughlin (`85), did a tremendous eulogy on him and that started the banquet.
"Rich Hunter (the program's first varsity head coach) was there. He was unable to be here last year when we dedicated the bench to him outside of Alumni Stadium. He was back and it was great. Bill Sullivan (`79) did a wonderful job talking about Rich Hunter and how he got the program started. So we had something from the first coach, the second coach and of course we had the Berticelli Award so we covered all three of those eras. It was a lot of fun and a very good weekend; my wife said it was the best banquet ever. And the finale was Beth Hunter, our administrator, presenting the national championship rings and that obviously was a highlight."
Senior forward Harrison Shipp, who now plays for the Chicago Fire, was named the Notre Dame Monogram Club Team MVP after posting team-high totals in goals (12) and assists (10). Shipp will have to make room in his trophy case to accommodate the team MVP plaque after hauling in several accolades during his stellar senior season.
Shipp was named the ACC Offensive Player of the Year, he was a unanimous first team All-America selection and was a finalist for both the MAC Hermann Trophy and the Senior CLASS Award in addition to receiving an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship. He was tapped as the Most Outstanding Offensive Player at the NCAA Championship while also copping all-tournament team honors. Shipp copped ACC first-team honors and was named to the ACC Championship All-Tournament Team.
Shipp never missed a match during his Notre Dame career and he also excelled in the classroom. He graduated with a degree in finance from Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business with a 3.88 cumulative grade-point average and was a Dean's List honoree each of the last six semesters. Shipp garnered first-team Capital One Academic All-America accolades and was the Capital One Academic All-American of the Year for Men's Soccer, the first such Notre Dame men's soccer player to earn that award. He was honored as the NSCAA Scholar-All-America Player of the Year and was named to the NSCAA Scholar All-America First Team. Shipp also received the ACC Men's Scholar-Athlete of the Year award.
Succeeding in the classroom certainly is a characteristic of the Shipp family. Harrison's younger brother, Michael, took home the team's Knute Rockne Scholar-Athlete Award. Michael, a sophomore defender, boasts a 3.97 cumulative grade-point average as a pre-med major in Notre Dame's College of Science.
Seniors Kyle Craft, a midfielder, and Adam LaPlaca, a goalkeeper, were presented with the Spirit Award, which is given to an inspirational member of the Fighting Irish team. Craft and LaPlaca provided tremendous leadership to this year's squad and were role models for the younger players.
Former Irish standouts Greg Klazura (`12) and Michael Rose (`13) received the Mike Berticelli "Bert" Award. The award is named in honor of former Fighting Irish head coach Mike Berticelli, who passed away suddenly in 2000, and goes to the alumnus who has done the most to promote Notre Dame soccer in the past year.
Klazura and Rose currently are working with Grassroot Soccer (GRS) in Zimbabwe. GRS has a special connection to the Notre Dame program as Dr. Tommy Clark, the eldest son of the Irish head coach, is the founder and CEO of the organization. GRS is an international non-governmental organization that uses the power of soccer to educate, inspire and mobilize communities against the spread of HIV.
Speaking of past Irish players, the always-entertaining alumni games took place Saturday afternoon.
"Coach (Greg) Dalby's team actually won the alumni game," Clark said. "I think he press-ganged a lot of local younger alumni to come out to play against our guys who didn't play the night before against Mexico. It was a late winner to make it 2-1 for the old guys so that was a lot of fun for them.
"It was a busy weekend all around with over 4,000 at the game and 250 at the banquet. It was a lot of fun."
-- ND --