NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Nearly eight months to the day that it walked off the PPL Park pitch with the national championship trophy, the top-ranked University of Notre Dame men's soccer team returned to the field to begin the latest chapter of its title defense.
Wednesday was the first official practice day for the 2014 campaign, but the team has put in a tremendous amount of work since that mid-December afternoon in Chester, Pa. The Irish stormed through their spring slate with a sterling 7-1-1 mark, including a 3-2 win over the Mexico Under-20 national team, and competed in three matches during their three-week summer journey to Zimbabwe.
Those practices and games were the initial foundation for the team in its quest for another title, yet there always is something special about the first session of fall camp.
"We've been waiting all week for this and everyone was a little antsy and I'm sure Boss (head coach Bobby Clark) was most of all," senior left back Max Lachowecki said. "It was fun. The weather was perfect and everyone likes the new (Under Armour) gear. The most important thing is getting all of the freshmen acclimated and making sure they know the drills. A lot of us have been here for a while and know everything so that also adds to the anxiety of wanting to get started yet having to wait and make sure they (the freshmen) know everything first."
The team will conduct five practices on campus before departing Friday for St. Louis. Notre Dame opens preseason play at 8 p.m. (ET) on Saturday against St. Louis University and the Irish will then travel to Bradley for Tuesday's exhibition match against the Braves.
"We don't have a lot of time and we possibly play a game earlier than I would like to, but it's the nature of the preseason," Clark said. "The first positive sign is that this team came in even fitter than last year if that was even possible. That shows that it's a highly-motivated group. There always is a lot of enthusiasm and energy in the first practice and the trick now is to maintain that tempo and enthusiasm through the rest of preseason and into the season."
"It's important to focus on the details and make sure we're really getting the fundamentals down before we go into competition on Saturday night," Lachowecki said. "It's good to have the preseason games to see where you are and to get different guys in. Getting to go to Africa made it possible for some guys who didn't get to play as much in the fall some chances. Right now we're focusing on what we're really good at and that's our work ethic and fundamentals."
FIGHTING IRISH EXPOSURE
Every Notre Dame home match during the 2014 campaign will be available online. Fighting Irish Digital Media will stream eight home contests, including the exhibition finale versus Wisconsin on Aug. 25, for free on WatchND.
Notre Dame's ACC showdown at Virginia on Sept. 21 will be aired on ESPNU and home matchups with league foes North Carolina (Sept. 26) and Boston College (Oct. 3) will be streamed on ESPN3/WatchESPN. The Oct. 17 battle at Duke will be showcased on the Regional Sports Network.
-- Sean Carroll, Assistant Athletic Media Relations Director