July 22, 2002
Notre Dame second-year head coach Bobby Clark has earned a reputation of turning programs around. Long regarded as one of the top collegiate coaches in the game, he took over an Irish program in January of 2001 that had suffered back-to-back losing seasons for the first time in school history.
Clark quickly went to work in implementing his system, a style of play that, in time, suited his players and paid dividends in terms of success on the playing field. Last year's 12-7 campaign, and first NCAA tournament appearance in five years, signaled the bright future of the Notre Dame men's program under its second-year mentor and 15-year veteran of the collegiate ranks.
With nine starters returning and six of its top returning scorers back, Clark and the Irish are looking toward the start of the 2002 campaign with great optimism as they continue to build on their success of a year ago. With the system now firmly in tact, Clark and his Notre Dame squad are pointing toward new challenges and goals this year.
"Early on last season, I think the team was somewhat bogged down learning and adjusting to the system and a new style of play," Clark says. "Midway through the season, however, the team began to take ownership of the system and I think we became a better team as the season progressed. I was very pleased with the way we trained during the past winter and spring."
Notre Dame tied for second in the final BIG EAST regular-season standings with a 7-3 league mark - the most wins and its best finish since becoming a conference member in 1995. The Irish also advanced to the semifinals of the conference championship for the first time since 1997. The BIG EAST led all conferences with a record six schools earning an NCAA berth in the 48-team field last season.
Clark and his squad will look to maintain its strong showing in one of the nation's premier leagues during the upcoming campaign.
"We play in one of the strongest conferences in the country; that was proven last year with the number of teams who advanced to the NCAA tournament," Clark says. "Our aim is to finish every year in the top of the BIG EAST because I truly believe that if we can do that, then we can be a contender for a national championship. Obviously our goal is to win the league, but one of our first goals is going to be for us to finish in the top four. That I believe will guarantee an NCAA berth based on the strength of our league."
Notre Dame has a strong nucleus of returning players, including nine starters back. The Irish lose just two starters, defenders Andreas Forstner and Griffin Howard, a second-team all-BIG EAST selection. Based on the success of a year ago, coupled with the experience of their returning players, the Irish will be the target of opposing teams this season.
"We want to have a target on our backs," Clark says. "We want to be the team that everyone gets excited about beating. I remember seeing the faces of our guys after we beat Indiana last season. I want to see the same reaction from teams when they beat us; I want us to be the biggest win of the season for our opponents.
"Obviously we are going to have a bigger target on our backs this season, but it comes with the territory, and that's the kind of pressure that I want us to have."
The signature of any Clark-coached team is its blue-collar mentality, and its willingness to work together and not play as individuals. Everyone on the team understands his role and what he must do in order to make the team better.
Notre Dame will have greater depth this season in all areas of the field, but one of the strengths of this year's team will be in its many scoring weapons. With its six top scorers returning, including first-team all-BIG EAST honorees forward Erich Braun and Justin Detter, Notre Dame will look to capitalize on its scoring prowess this season.
Notre Dame will have a potent scoring attack up front with the return of its two leading scorers from last season, Erich Braun and Devon Prescod. The frontline duo accounted for 54.5 percent of its goal-scoring offense as they tallied 18 of the team's 33 goals.
Braun, a three-year starter, has led the Irish in scoring in two of the last three seasons. A first-team all-BIG EAST selection a year ago and All-America candidate in '02, he topped the Notre Dame scoring list with a personal best 12 goals and three assists for a single-season career-high of 27 points.
|Senior Erich Braun will return to the front line for the Irish where he has led the team in scoring for the past two years.|
The Irish tri-captain has deceptive speed and quickness around the goal area and possesses an aggressive goal-scoring mindset.
"I'm expecting Erich to have a season worthy of All-America recognition," Clark says. "He is a natural goal scorer who knows how to finish around the goal areas. I am confident that he is going to be a terrific leader both and off the field as captain for us this year.
"The only criticism I have of Erich is that he gets down on himself when he misses a goal-scoring opportunity. When he settles down and relaxes, he is as good as any player in the country."
Prescod proved to be Notre Dame's most improved players a year ago. The fleet-footed juniorforward dynamo was the team's second-leading scorer with six goals and a team-best six assists after scoring just one goal in his freshman season.
He has good speed up front with the ability to beat defenders with his breakaway speed and crafty moves and is one of the team's better finishers around the goal area.
"Devon had a fabulous year last season," Clark says. "He was fantastic for us every time he took the field. The only thing I would like to have him do this season is take more shots; at times, he is too unselfish. If he continues to work as hard as he did last season and in the spring, the next two years for him are going to be very special."
Senior Rafael Garcia had an excellent spring season and has emerged as an individual who could figure strong into the Clark's plans this season. He has tremendous athletic ability and is one of the team's best all-around athletes in terms of his pure athleticism and his ability to run the field. Garcia, who played in 12 games last season, has the potential to be another scoring threat for the Irish up front.
"Rafael had a great spring," Clark says. "I believe he has finally found his role within our system. We need him to be another scoring option for us this season when he is on the field."
Freshman Tony Megna is a talented and skilled striker who has the ability to come and contribute as a goal scorer. He missed his entire senior season because of a back injury, but is expected to be ready for the start of the preseason.
"Tony is a very good striker and definitely has the ability to come in and help us right away," Clark says. "He can make things happen on the field and gives us another scoring weapon up front."
|Senior midfielder Justin Ratcliffe looks to lead the Irish again this season. He finished the 2001 season with two goals.|
In Clark's system, the midfield corps is required to be aggressive both offensively and defensively. Last season, the Irish were very active in the midfield area and that paid dividends in terms of its offensive production.
Experience will once again be the key, as Notre Dame will benefit from the versatility of several key returnees who give the Irish tremendous depth in this area of the field.
Senior Justin Ratcliffe is a three-year veteran who has seen a lot of playing time throughout his career. The Irish tri-captain wins a lot of balls in the air and has tremendous defensive abilities. He was one of three players who started all 19 games a year ago and finished with two goals. It's an added bonus for Notre Dame when they can get him involved offensively.
"We like to play Justin in the middle of the field because he wins a lot of balls," Clark says. "He is a very strong central defender with very adept passing skills."
Junior Chad Riley, a two-year starter offers experience and versatility in the midfield. As a freshman in 2000, he played forward and led the team in scoring, but last season made a position switch to the midfield. Riley was one of the squad's assist leaders as he dished off six in '01.
|Midfielder Chad Riley finished the 2001 season with six assists.|
Riley has a tremendous work ethic and is technically sound in all facets of the game. A proficient goal scorer, he will look to become more active and involved offensively this season.
"Chad is a soccer fanatic and any extra free time that he has he puts into becoming a better player," Clark says. "He's is always looking at ways to improve his game for the benefit of the team because he is such an unselfish player. We changed his role last season and I think he did well in the position. This year, I think you'll see Chad become more active in the goal area and becoming more of a scoring threat for us."
Junior tri-captain Greg Martin, a nine-game starter last season, experienced a position change as he moved from fullback to the central part of the midfield. He struggled somewhat with injuries and the adjustment of his new position on the field. With a year's experience and the familiarity of playing in that area of the field, Clark is confident that Martin will have a great impact this season.
"Greg had a tough season last year," Clark says. "He had a fabulous spring and has appeared to adjust to his new position. He is very quick and moves the ball well on the field. It was exciting to see him regain his enthusiasm."
Junior Justin Detter followed up a tremendous rookie season with an outstanding sophomore campaign in which the 19-game starter tallied four goals and dished off five assists. He has the potential to be one of the top attacking midfielders in the country and will rank among Notre Dame's top scorers again this season.
|Justin Detter looks to follow up his tremendous sophomore season in which he scored four goals and registered five assists.|
"Justin has unlimited ability with tremendous potential," Clark says. "He's still learning and developing his game. Justin is a horse on the field and is strong both in the air and on the ground."
Third-year player Filippo Chillemi ranks as one of the team's most improved players. As a sophomore, he played in 16 contests and earned one start. Clark will look to take advantage of Chillemi's strong passing abilities and excellent first touch with the ball as he looks to become more involved offensively this year.
"Filippo has progressed by leaps and bounds since the end of last season." Clark says. "He can be a big-time player for us because of his versatility on the field. He has come a long way in the last year and his work ethic is terrific. All Filippo needs to do is hunt down more scoring opportunities for himself."
Senior Alan Lyskawa also is an experienced player Notre Dame is looking for to become more involved in its offensive scheme. A technically sound player, he has filled a variety of roles for the Irish during his career.
"Alan makes good decisions on the field and passes the ball extremely well," Clark says. "He is almost too nice of a player on the field. What I would like to see Alan do is become more greedy and look to take his shot and have confidence in his ability to score some goals."
Senior Paul Rodriguez spent the winter and spring studying in Mexico. He saw limited playing time last season (just two games), but spent a lot of time down in Mexico honing his game.
"Paul is excited about his final season," Clark says. "He had a great experience down in Mexico and played a lot down there. I sense that he is very excited and ready for the start of this season."
Three freshmen - John Stephens, Nick Tarnay and Jon Mark Thompson - also will battle for playing time in the midfield.
Stephens is a feisty midfielder who is extremely competitive. He has good technical skills and plays with a great deal of confidence. A mentally tough player, he has a strong soccer background as he has played for one of the top soccer club teams in the Midwest.
Tarnay has athletic versatility to play as either a midfielder or defender on the left side of the field. He has a good left and is another product of the Notre Dame Elite Soccer Camp in 2001.
Thompson is a skillful and technical player with good vision and an excellent first touch with the ball. A proven scorer, he finished as his school's all-time leading scorer with 60 goals and 31 assists. Thompson also attended the Notre Dame Elite Soccer Camp in the summer of '01.
The losses of Andreas Forstner and Griffin Howard certainly leaves a void for the Irish in the backfield, but the return of junior Kevin Richards and sophomores Kevin Goldthwaite, Jack Stewart and Luke Boughen certainly gives Notre Dame a great foundation.
Richards is coming off a tremendous sophomore season in which he started all 18 games he played at wide fullback. A tactical defender, he steps up to the ball extremely well and is able to close on players he is defending. Richards possesses great speed and quickness and is a player who has shown great improvement over the past two seasons.
"Kevin has been one of the team's most improved players and I am looking for him to have another tremendous season," Clark says. "His overall game is very deceptive because of his size, but his quickness is his greatest asset. Kevin's greatest contribution to this team is his unselfishness."
Goldthwaite had an outstanding rookie season as he earned nine starts while playing in all 19 contests, while scoring four goals and dishing off five assists. He is an attacking defender who gets forward extremely well. Goldthwaite has a good knowledge of the game and a strong left foot that allows him to be a threat as a goal scorer.
"Kevin gives us an abundance of athleticism," Clark says. "He has a tremendous left foot and tremendous shooting range from anywhere on the field. Kevin is a scrappy and competitive player with unlimited potential."
Stewart will play in the middle of the defense as a central defender. Clark believes that his second-year player has the potential to be one of the top players in the league, as well as nationally, at that position. He played in 19 games for the Irish during his rookie season and earned 12 starts.
Stewart's assets are his strength in the air and his quickness to the ball. He uses both feet extremely well and his speed to his advantage.
"Jack has the potential to be one of the best central defenders that I have ever worked with," Clark says. "He's very good in the air and has the ability to play both long and short in the field. Jack has good speed and all the necessary prerequisites; the only thing he has do now is continue to develop them."
Another second-year player expected to have an impact this season is Luke Boughen. He saw action in nine games last year as a central midfielder, but the Irish coaching staff moved him in the spring to play alongside Stewart as a central defender. It's a move that proved to work out well for Notre Dame.
Clark points out that Boughen is the type of player who is continually going to get better with increased playing time and experience. He is a very smart and heady player with a good knowledge of the game.
"Like Jack Stewart, Luke has a very good repertoire of short and long passes," Clark says. "Luke and Jack played very well alongside each other in the spring and they teamed up to be a very solid tandem."
Sophomores Christopher High and Gianni Mauro did not see playing time in their freshmen season, but are players who have made strides in all facets of their games since joining the team. They will look to contend for playing time this season.
Freshmen Ben Crouse and Dale Rellas each have the opportunity to come in and contribute immediately.
Crouse is a hard-nosed defender who gives the Irish several options as to where he can play on the field. He appears most comfortable playing on the left side of the field and will be used as a central defender.
"Ben can cover a lot of area on the field and is especially effective playing the left side of the field," Clark says. "He is a very competitive player who has the opportunity to come in and see playing time immediately.
Rellas, who attended Notre Dame's Elite Soccer Camp in the summer of 2001, is one of the team's tallest players. He will contend for playing time as a central defender and draws comparisons to former Irish standout Griffin Howard.
"Dale's strength is playing in the middle of the field," Clark says. "He moves well with his feet for a player his size, and like Ben, his strength is playing in the middle of the defense."
Notre Dame has a talented core of goalkeepers, including two players with extensive playing experience and a freshman who will give the Irish tremendous depth at this position.
|Goalkeeper Chris Sawyer started 14 of the 15 games last season for the Irish and had six complete-game shutouts.|
Sophomore Chris Sawyer, a second-team all-BIG EAST selection and a member of the Soccer America All-Freshman Team and senior Greg Tait will anchor the Irish defense. Last season, the two combined for a 0.98 goals against average, after allowing just 19 goals and recording eight shutouts. Freshman Justin Michaud is expected to serve in a backup role.
Sawyer had one of the finest campaigns for any first-year Irish goalie and player after earning the starting nod in the sixth contest of last year. A physical player with a good presence in the goal area, he started 14 of the 15 games and earned victories in 10 of those contests. Sawyer registered 0.56 goals against average and .857 save percentage as he played nearly 75.0 percent of the team total minutes. He had six complete-game shutouts, while allowing just eight goals and making 48 saves.
"Chris worked very hard last season," Clark says. "He waited for his for his chance and made the most of his opportunity. Chris has unlimited potential and a great future here at Notre Dame."
Tait started all 11 games for the Irish in 2000 and began last season by earning starts in the first five contests. He played in six games altogether and logged 438 minutes. In those six matches, he allowed 11 goals for a 2.26 goals against average and made 18 saves for a .621 save percentage.
Tait is an agile player with deceptive speed and a long arm reach, which enables him to cover a lot of the goal area.
"Greg was very supportive of Chris last season even after he lost the starting job," Clark says. "Greg works very hard in practice. He continually pushes himself and Chris each and every day in practice. It's a really healthy competition between the two goalies and a great situation for us to have. I have great confidence in both of then when they are on the field."
Michaud attended Notre Dame's Elite Soccer Camp in the summer of '01 and demonstrated great leadership ability on the playing field as well as excellent hands in the goal area.