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Clark’s Corner: Irish Prepare for Crucial ACC Tilt

Sep 19, 2014, 3:03 PM EDT

The 2013 Fighting Irish lost two games en route to winning the program’s first national championship. The first was a late October defeat at the hands of Virginia in Alumni Stadium. The second? Virginia again, in the ACC Tournament semifinals.

No. 5 Notre Dame gets its first shot at redemption this weekend as the Irish travel to Charlottesville to battle the No. 7 Cavaliers.

Virginia made it all the way to the College Cup last year, losing to Maryland in the semifinals. Only one senior started for the Cavaliers in that game, so the team figured to hold much promise coming into this year.

Slotted third in preseason rankings, Virginia has recovered from an early loss to Tulsa on the road to largely validate this hype. The Cavaliers have won three straight, including their ACC opener against in-state rival Virginia Tech. The Cavaliers are paced by senior captain Eric Bird, a second-team All-ACC and third-team All-America selection last year. Bird leads a squad that, while heavy on experience, contains some new faces, including Penn transfer Sam Hayward, who leads the team in goals with two.

”They’ve changed their system, at least in the tape we’ve watched,” Irish head coach Bobby Clark said. “They’ve played a 4-4-2 in the past, but this year they’re doing a 3-5-2 like some teams did in the World Cup. So that’s different. They’ve got quite a few new personnel, but also a lot of the same faces.”

Notre Dame is in the midst of a brutal three game stretch that includes ACC opponents No. 23 Syracuse and top-ranked North Carolina in addition to Virginia. The Irish snuck by Syracuse last weekend, 1-0, and understand that winning at Virginia will prove just as challenging.

“From last year’s games, we’ve got a very healthy respect for Virginia,” Irish head coach Bobby Clark said. “They’re very good at coming from behind. They’re very good, very athletic. They had our number last year, and it’ll be even harder this year.”

Notre Dame hasn’t traveled to Charlottesville since the quarterfinals of the 2006 NCAA tournament. Assistant coach Greg Dalby was a senior captain on that Irish squad.

The Irish’s balanced offensive attack will have its hands full with a Virginia defense that has surrendered just two goals so far this season. Leon Brown leads Notre Dame with two tallies; Evan Panken, Connor Klekota, Vince Cicciarelli, and Brandon Aubrey all have one.

Notre Dame’s back line of Andrew O’Malley, Max Lachowecki, Luke Mishu, and Aubrey has played every second of every game so far, as has goalkeeper Patrick Wall and midfielder Nick Besler.

The Irish and Cavaliers are slated to kick off at 12:00 P.M. on Sunday. The game will be streamed live from Klockner Stadium on Watch ESPN.



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