Nov. 18, 2002
NOTRE DAME, Ind. -
For the first time in history, Alumni Field will be the site of men's soccer NCAA tournament action as Notre Dame (11-5-3) will play host to Mid-American Conference champion Akron (10-7-2) on Friday, Nov. 22, at 7:30 p.m. The teams will meet for the second time this season after the Irish downed the Zips 1-0 on Oct. 6 in Akron, on the strength of a Jack Stewart goal in the 72nd minute. The pairings for the 48-team field to the 2002 NCAA Division I Men's Soccer Tournament were announced on Monday afternoon. The winner of Friday's game will advance to the event's second round and will travel to Bloomington, Ind., on Wednesday, Nov. 27, to take on third-ranked Indiana (14-3-2).
"We are very excited to be in the tournament," said Irish head coach Bobby Clark. "It will be nice to be in South Bend for the first round, but it will be a tough game. Akron will be a very difficult opponent; they are a big, physical team. We snuck out of there with a win earlier this year so they will be looking for revenge."
The at-large berth marks the sixth NCAA postseason appearance for the Irish. Clark has guided his team to the NCAA tournament in each of his two seasons at Notre Dame, marking the second time in school history the Irish have earned consecutive NCAA berths. Last season, his squad fell 1-0 to Maryland in College Park, Md.
Notre Dame, ranked 22nd in the NSCAA coaches poll, finished fourth in the BIG EAST regular-season standings with a 6-3-1 mark and was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the conference's soccer championship, dropping a 2-1 overtime decision to Georgetown.
Notre Dame and Akron will be meeting for the 10th time, with the Zips posting an unbeaten mark (6-0-2) against the Irish until this year's matchup. Prior to this season, the teams had not played since 1989. Akron is 2-0-2 in four previous trips to Notre Dame. The Zips, winners of eight of their last nine matches, gained entrance to this year's tournament by winning the Mid-American Conference tournament to gain the league's automatic berth. A year ago, Akron became the first MAC team ever to earn at-large entrance into the NCAA tournament.
Indiana, who earned a first-round bye in this year's championship , was the NCAA runner-up a year ago, though it dropped a 1-0 decision to the Irish at home during the regular season.
The round of 16 (Nov. 30-Dec. 1) and the quarterfinals (Dec. 7-8) of the NCAAs will be played at campus sites, while the College Cup will be hosted by Southern Methodist University, Dec. 13-15 in Dallas.
The Irish are one of five BIG EAST teams in this year's tournament. Three squads from the league are among the top seven seeds: St. John's (4th), Boston College (5th), and Connecticut (7th). The Irish posted victories over both the Eagles and the Huskies in the regular season and topped Seton Hall, which also gained entrance to the NCAAs. Four '02 non-conference opponents of Notre Dame also earned postseason berths: Creighton, Furman, Bradley, and the Zips.
Prior to the '01 campaign, Notre Dame last appeared in the NCAA tournament in 1996 after winning the BIG EAST tournament crown to earn the league's automatic berth. That season, the Irish advanced to the second round of the NCAAs with a 1-0 win over second-seeded UNC Greensboro in the first round.
The '88 Irish team was the first squad to earn an NCAA postseason berth and that followed with appearances in '93 and '94 after winning the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now Horizon League) tournament crowns. Notre Dame has a 1-5 all-time mark in NCAA tournament competition.