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Notre Dame men set for nation’s most rigorous schedule

NOTRE DAME, Ind. (Via University of Notre Dame) – Following weekend reporting to campus, a battery of routine physical tests, and even putt-putt competitions in the name of team bonding, the University of Notre Dame men’s soccer team officially began preparation for its 2016 season on Wednesday.

The Irish held a pair of practice sessions on old Alumni Field, the longtime former home of the Notre Dame varsity soccer programs, to jump start training for their first exhibition scrimmages on Aug. 14 at SIU-Edwardsville in Illinois.

“That’s one of the hardest things, the short time of preseason,” Notre Dame head coach Bobby Clark said prior to the start of fall camp. “The first practice will be on Wednesday and the first game on Sunday. The thing that is so important is that they come in fit, as there is no time. If we try to get them fit in preseason then all we are going to do is get their muscles tight and we’re going to get injuries. The early testing should tell where they are from a physical standpoint, and if past seasons are anything to go by they have always come in really good shape. Most of them would have played a good bit through the summer, among themselves, but this will be the first time back as a team again.”

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Returning Notre Dame players, as well as early enrollee freshman Tommy McCabe, took part in the nine-match spring slate that spanned March-April earlier this year on the way toward returning to game speed. Although the six other Irish freshmen were not on campus during the spring schedule, a recent change in the NCAA summer calendar has helped insure that the Notre Dame newcomers do not miss a beat once August arrives.

“It’s a little easier now what has happened with the freshmen,” Clark said. “The NCAA changed the rules so that we can now take a couple of freshmen in to do summer classes, and the other guys can also come in and work camp. That’s tremendous because it gets them to know the upperclassmen that are around, and they get to know their way around campus. They will have spent three or four weeks on campus. Although we can’t work with them they can work with our fitness coach (Matt Howley), so it shows the standard and the expectations of our program. That sets them away even when they go home after camps, they know if they still have some work to do they can work on it.”

Eliminating that learning curve as much as possible should bode well for Notre Dame (11-5-6 in 2015), ranked ninth in the preseason National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) top 25 poll. Veteran leaders like the team’s tri-captains, Matt Habrowski, Michael Shipp and Evan Panken, represent three of 12 monogram winners from last season that return to the Irish fold in 2016.

“One of the great things about preseason for me is, obviously the coaches have to lead the practices and be teachers, but the real teachers in preseason for me are the upperclassmen,” Clark said. “The new guys wait for me or coach BJ Craig, coach Michael Casper or coach Vern Gingerich, to tell them what’s right and what’s wrong. Through all the practices the upperclassmen have been exposed to our styles, techniques and tactics, so if they are being the teachers then you learn so much quicker. I put a lot of onus on the upperclassmen to be added teachers as we go through preseason.”

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Solid preparation throughout the roughly two weeks of fall camp will certainly be to Notre Dame’s benefit as 2016 progresses. Faced with one of the toughest schedules in Division I soccer, the Irish are set to collide with NSCAA preseason No. 1 and defending national champion Stanford (Sept. 2), No. 5 Wake Forest (Oct. 8), No. 6 Syracuse (Sept. 23), No. 8 North Carolina (Oct. 28), No. 15 Indiana (Oct. 4) and No. 17 Virginia (Oct. 14) during the regular season slate. Connecticut (Sept. 13) and California (Sept. 4) both received votes in the preseason coaches poll.

“It’s a great schedule, I would say the toughest schedule in the country,” Clark said. “That has been fairly consistent over the last few years, and it won’t be easy. The only poll that really counts is the final one, and we don’t talk about them. We only talk about the next game. It is nice because at the moment the NSCAA poll, it’s your peers that vote for the teams so we’ve got that respect.

“With preseason polls, that respect was earned by previous teams, so this team has to earn its own respect at the end of the year,” Clark added. “What we are doing with this group at the moment with preseason polls is capitalizing on the work that has been done by our predecessors here, but now we have to take it to the next level. Every team makes its own history, and this group has that opportunity.”

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