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Clark’s Corner: Irish Gear Up for Crucial ACC Tilt

Sep 26, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT

After opening its conference slate with two matches on the road, third-ranked Notre Dame returns home to face No. 8 North Carolina in what promises to be a heavyweight battle between two storied programs.

The Tar Heels will be the Irish’s third consecutive ranked opponent and fifth so far this season. This grueling schedule is a direct result of playing in the ACC, which currently boasts four top-ten teams (No. 2 Virginia, Notre Dame, North Carolina, and No. 9 Louisville).

“Winning the ACC last year was possibly a bigger accomplishment than winning the national championship,” Irish head coach Bobby Clark said with a smile. “It’s a very strong conference.”

Three of the four squads that advanced to the College Cup in 2013 were from the ACC – Notre Dame, Maryland, and Virginia. Clark wouldn’t be surprised if this season resulted in a similar scenario.

“If you’re in the top six at the end of the year in the ACC, you’ve got a good chance at winning a national championship,” Clark said.

High-caliber players and pristine pitches have catapulted the conference into its lofty status in recent years.

“The ACC has been built up over the years,” Clark said. “Teams in the ACC attract top recruits. The facilities are very good; all of the stadiums are excellent. Good players like to play on good fields.”

North Carolina certainly possesses its fair share of “good players.” The Tar Heel offense is powered by seniors Andy Craven and Rob Lovejoy, both of whom missed the entire 2013 season due to injury. The duo has combined for five goals and four assists thus far.

North Carolina’s back line is anchored by senior Boyd Okwuonu, the reigning ACC Defender of the Year.

“He’s not the biggest, but he’s quick,” Clark said. “He’s got good feet and has a lot of confidence to get out of situations.”

The Tar Heels return nine starters from their 2013 squad, with Craven and Lovejoy being the only newcomers. Tasked with opposing such a veteran lineup, Clark will stress patience and a quick start to his squad.

“You’ve got to be patient and look to pick up goals wherever you can get them,” Clark said. “I think getting the first goal is very important in these games, because if you can get the first one, the other team has got to come out a little bit to try to equalize. And hopefully that gives you a little bit of space. If you lose the first goal, it becomes quite difficult to break them down.”

“We’ll need a lot of concentration. There will be periods in the game where they’ll be on top. That’s what happens when you play good teams. When these moments come, we’ve got to keep our composure and defend very well. And when we have our moments of domination, we’ve got to get something on the board if we can.”

With the football team away for the weekend, Clark is hoping some attention shifts to the goings-on at Alumni Stadium.

“I hope there will be a good fan base from our students,” Clark said. “It would be great to really fill Alumni Stadium and get a passionate group behind us. We’re looking forward to getting off to a good home start.”

The Irish and Tar Heels will kick off at 7:30 PM. The game will be streamed live on Watch ESPN, with Mike Monaco calling the action.

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