Aug 14, 2013
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - When the University of Notre Dame men's soccer team is setting its sights on a deep NCAA Championship run in November and December the first day of practice will seem like another lifetime, but that was the day the foundation officially was laid. Wednesday was that day.
The Fighting Irish, who are ranked seventh in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) preseason poll, took to the practice pitch for the first time this morning under bright blue skies and unseasonably cool temperatures. It may have seemed like a fairly routine training session directed by head coach Bobby Clark and his staff, but the opening of fall camp always is an exciting time to see how the players have matured over the summer.
"We've been waiting for today for about four months", Clark said. "This is why it's fun being a coach because we get to work with the players. The players were excited and the coaching staff was excited and the weather even cooperated nicely. It was a beautiful day and it was a good start for the team."
The first practice of a season can bring many different emotions to a student-athlete. For members of the Fighting Irish squad Wednesday's session brought normalcy from a recent schedule that usually didn't involve cleats and a ball.
Since returning to South Bend last weekend the team has been through a myriad of activities - dorm move-in, university-related meetings, conditioning tests, senior-led workouts and photo day. A couple annual events provided the players an opportunity to bond with each other and their fans. The Meet the Team barbecue was held at South Bend's Kroc Center and that allowed the student-athletes to connect with their fans from the local community. Clark welcomed the players, coaches and support staff to his house for the season-opening dinner, which always is a favorite for those in attendance.
But the real reason why the 29 members of the Fighting Irish squad arrived on campus two weeks before classes commence occurred Wednesday morning.
"Getting on the field in front of the coaches for the first time today was kind of a big relief for everyone," senior captain Andrew O'Malley said. "There have been a lot of meetings, a lot of sitting around and a lot of not playing soccer. Everyone really wanted to get out here and get some touches on the ball."
These next two weeks will be extremely valuable for the team because they only have to concentrate on soccer-related tasks since they will not have to crack open a text book. This is when distractions are limited and team bonding is at a premium.
"These first two weeks of preseason are pretty much everyone's favorite time of the year," O'Malley, a central defender, said. "You have 24 hours a day together and all you do is play soccer. It's kind of a best case scenario for everyone."
The squad will have two practice sessions Thursday and one on Friday before departing for Omaha, Neb., where they will open the exhibition slate Sunday versus No. 6 Creighton. As they head back east the Irish will stop in Des Moines, Iowa, for a preseason showdown against Drake on Wednesday.
Notre Dame will conclude exhibition play Aug. 26 with a home tilt against Ohio State. The regular season gets underway Aug. 30 versus No. 9 UCLA at the adidas/IU Credit Union Classic in Bloomington, Ind.
"The players love this time with nothing else to worry about except for their sport," Clark said. "It's a fun time. We'll have two-a-days and game video, but you're not worried about getting to the library in order to get a paper done. But, we have to use our time very well. It seems like a lot of time before our first game, but there's a lot to do."
-- Sean Carroll