Aug 21, 2013
Every season presents new challenges and excitement, but the 2013 Notre Dame men's soccer campaign brings obstacles on multiple fronts for a squad that is coming off one of the top seasons in team history. The Fighting Irish will look to replace two first team All-Americans, who were among a solid group of experienced veterans, all while navigating their first season in arguably the nation's top conference - the ACC.
Notre Dame's 2012 resume is an impressive one. The Fighting Irish captured the most wins since 1988 (17-4-1), won the program's third BIG EAST Championship crown and garnered the top seed in the NCAA Championship for the first time. Notre Dame's 52 goals were the most since 1994 and departed forward Ryan Finley was responsible for 21 of those scores. Finley garnered first team All-America honors in addition to being the BIG EAST Offensive Player of the Year and a finalist for the M.A.C. Hermann Trophy. Midfielder Dillon Powers, a two-time team captain, also copped first team All-America accolades before joining Finley as a first-round pick in the MLS SuperDraft.
With those accomplishments firmly cemented in the Notre Dame record book, the Fighting Irish look ahead to the upcoming season with a roster that features eight returning starters, including three all-BIG EAST honorees.
"We got close to where we wanted to be last season" Notre Dame head coach Bobby Clark said. "Obviously we didn't quite make it all the way, but it was satisfying to leave the BIG EAST as champions and that was a special moment. We were disappointed with how last season ended and that makes the returning players hungry for this season.
"We don't need a lot of motivation for the upcoming season. The fact that we're now in the ACC is a very exciting moment for the program, the school and also for the individuals. The ACC has been the premier men's soccer conference in the country. We're leaving a very good conference, but we are going into the best conference. That'll be a challenge for us and there will be great excitement with us entering the ACC. It's an excitement that'll hopefully bring the best out of the team."
Fittingly enough, Notre Dame will open ACC competition against the one conference opponent the program has never faced - North Carolina. The Fighting Irish will play host to the Tar Heels Sept. 8 at Alumni Stadium and that will mark the school's first official ACC contest in any sport.
ACC teams have claimed five of the last eight NCAA titles and current conference members have combined to win 15 national championships. The league has placed at least one team in the College Cup each of the last 12 seasons and an ACC team has appeared in the championship game on 22 occasions.
The Fighting Irish have varying history with the other members of their new conference. Notre Dame is clearly familiar with fellow newcomers Pittsburgh and Syracuse, while Boston College and Virginia Tech also used to compete against the Irish in the BIG EAST. Notre Dame is 35-22-6 against current members of the ACC, including a 25-8-3 mark during head coach Bobby Clark's 12 seasons with the program. When including his stints at Dartmouth and Stanford, Clark is 30-10-4 versus the other teams that compose the league.
Here is a position-by-position breakdown of the 2013 Fighting Irish ...
Despite losing a key presence in Finley, Notre Dame returns four veterans at the forward position, including senior captain Harrison Shipp. Shipp has not missed a match during his collegiate career and leads the current group of Fighting Irish players in goals (11) and assists (14). Last season, he registered six goals and six assists en route to third team all-BIG EAST honors.
Shipp and fellow senior Leon Brown will take care of the underneath forward spot, while senior Alex Priede and junior Vince Cicciarelli are the options at high forward. Brown and Priede were the starters last season, while Shipp and Finley came on midway through the first half and would play the remainder of the match. Priede notched four goals and one assist in 2012, while Brown chipped in one goal and three assists. Cicciarelli battled injuries last season and was limited to just one game, but he will certainly be a factor this season.
"Obviously we have to get some goals up front," Clark said. "Harry Shipp is a four-year player for us and is back for his senior year as is Leon Brown. Vince Cicciarelli appears to be coming back to his best and hopefully he stays healthy. He did awfully well in the spring and he will have a chance, along with Alex Priede, to take over the high striker role."
There are holes to fill in the midfield, but the Irish boast a good mix of experienced veterans and some younger players that are eager to burst onto the scene this season.
Nick Besler paired up with Powers last season in the central midfield and the junior will be relied on to be the leader of the group this season. Besler started every match in 2012 and produced one goal and two assists and earned third team all-BIG EAST accolades.
Junior Robby Gallegos and sophomore Connor Klekota are the candidates to join Besler in the center of the midfield. Gallegos has appeared in one match during his career, while Klekota did not see game action during his rookie campaign.
"Nick Besler is now in his third season and last year he was a main anchor for us," Clark said. "Both Robby Gallegos and Connor Klekota performed well during the spring season. Brandon Aubrey, an incoming freshman, will be an understudy to Nick Besler. Brandon has a strong pedigree coming from Texas."
Patrick Hodan is coming off a solid freshman campaign in which he totaled six goals and five assists and received all-rookie honors from the BIG EAST. While Hodan will occupy one of the wide midfield spots, junior Brendan Lesch figures to be the other starter out wide. Lesch has only played in 10 career matches after suffering through injuries during his first two seasons at Notre Dame.
The Irish have seven other midfielders on the roster, but none of them have ever appeared in a match. Senior Kyle Craft and sophomores Evan Panken and Danny Lojek are all in contention to see minutes in the wide areas. Rookies Oliver Harris and Mark Gormley bring additional depth to the wide midfield position, while Harris can also play in the middle. Aubrey and fellow freshman and Patrick Connolly also provide reinforcement in the center of the midfield.
"Patrick Hodan had a terrific year as a freshman," Clark said. "Hopefully Brendan Lesch can stay healthy this year. He's had an awful time with injuries the last two seasons. Evan Panken showed well in the spring as did Danny Lojek and Kyle Craft."
Entering last season Notre Dame's most inexperienced group was its defense and just one year later it's now the team's most veteran unit as the Fighting Irish return all four starters on the backline. Senior captains Grant Van De Casteele and Andrew O'Malley will pair up once again in the central defense, while fellow senior Luke Mishu will be at right back and junior Max Lachowecki is slotted in at left back. The Fighting Irish went 13-1-1 last season when that quintet was in the starting lineup.
Van De Casteele, a fifth-year senior, is entering his fourth season as a starter and will bring a 60-game starting streak into the 2013 campaign. He also has been valuable on the offensive end of the pitch as he has netted four career goals, including the lone tally in a 1-0 win at Indiana last season. His backline mate O'Malley was plagued by injuries last season that caused him to miss seven matches, including both NCAA tournament contests.
Just like O'Malley, Lachowecki also was a first-time starter last year and burst onto the scene in a major way. He posted two goals, including the game winner in a 1-0 victory over Oregon State, and two assists and was selected to the BIG EAST All-Rookie Team. Mishu earned the full-time right back spot last season and delivered three assists.
Connor Miller did an admirable job when filling in for the injured O'Malley and he will be ready if called upon again for duty in the central defense. Miller, a senior, is the only reserve defender with match experience on the Fighting Irish squad. Junior Trevor Gonzales brings versatility and can be positioned anywhere on the backline, while sophomore Michael Shipp, Harrison's younger brother, adds key depth at right back. Freshman Matt Habrowski can play in the middle or on the left side and fellow rookie Mark Mishu, Luke's younger brother, will compete at center back and right back.
"We have a lot of experience in the middle of the defense with (Grant) Van De Casteele, (Andrew) O'Malley and (Connor) Miller," Clark said. "It would be nice if we can have Van De Casteele and O'Malley healthy together. We never seemed to have a long enough spell with them fit last fall with Andrew going through a series of injuries.
Senior Patrick Wall figures to be the starter in goal after splitting time with Will Walsh last season. Wall went 9-1-0 with three shutouts and posted a 0.97 goals-against average to go along with a .762 save percentage in 2012.
The talented trio of senior Adam LaPlaca, sophomore Brian Talcott and freshman Chris Hubbard will backup Wall. LaPlaca has played in one match during his career, while Talcott did not see game action during his rookie campaign.
"It's a strong contingent of goalkeepers," Clark said. "Pat (Wall) is the favorite to start, but he'll be pushed by the other three goalkeepers. Those guys will be snapping at his heels."
-- Sean Carroll, Assistant Athletic Media Relations Director