Oct 29, 2014, 12:31 AM EST
With the first round of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament just a week away, No. 5 Notre Dame readies to play its final regular season home game on Wednesday night against No. 12 Michigan State.
The Spartans represent Notre Dame’s fourth consecutive midweek opponent from the Big Ten. The Irish’s previous two opponents from the conference – No. 20 Northwestern and No. 2 Indiana – tested the team mightily, with Notre Dame beating the Wildcats, 1-0, and falling to the Hoosiers by the same score. Michigan State will be yet another tough challenge.
“They’re well coached and just really well organized,” Notre Dame skipper Bobby Clark said. “They play a tough schedule, so they’ll certainly not be intimidated by coming to Notre Dame.”
The Irish ended the Spartans’ season last year with a 2-1 victory in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament. Michigan State returns much of their lineup from 2013, including junior midfielder Jay Chapman and senior forward Adam Montague.
Chapman is the heartbeat of the team, a First Team All-Big Ten performer last year. The imposing Montague is a three-time all-conference selection and one of the nation’s premier finishers. Clark knows his club will have its hands full.
“Chapman is an excellent player, and Montague up front is very, very good as well,” Clark said. “They’ve got a pile of players that can play.”
While Chapman and Montague give the Spartan attack much potency, Michigan State’s calling card is its defense. The Spartans boast one of the nation’s stingiest defenses, allowing an average of 0.51 goals per match, good for seventh-best in the country. Clark respects the success Michigan State has had on this end, but is confident in his club’s ability to create scoring opportunities.
“It’s going to come down to if our guys can find little advantages,” Clark said. “Can we find the seams? I know they’re a very good defense, but I’m comfortable we’ll make chances, and I think there’s confidence there to score as well.”
Notre Dame’s offensive attack has been paced recently by junior midfielder Patrick Hodan, who has netted six goals in the last six games. While Hodan’s importance to the Irish cannot be understated, it will take a team effort to conquer the Spartans and survive later on in the postseason.
“If you’ve just got one man, it’s easy to shut him down,” Clark said. “But I think we’ve got a lot of people that can score.”
Indeed they do – a whopping eleven players have notched goals for the Irish. With so many capable scorers, Clark is cautiously optimistic as the Irish enter the homestretch of the regular season.
“At this point in the season, we should be in a groove,” Clark said. “Guys should be ready and comfortable with taking chances. They should now really be a team.”
“The team has put itself in a terrific position. We always talk about winning the treble – the league, the conference tournament, and the NCAA tournament. We’re in exactly the same position we were in last year. We’re in a good place, but there’s a lot of work still to be done. But this team can be better than last year.”
Notre Dame and Michigan State will kick off at 7:00 PM in Alumni Stadium. The match will be streamed live on WatchND.
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