ND looks to upset top-seed Rutgers
By KERRY SMITH
Despite a season of ups and downs, the Notre Dame men's soccer team gets it done when it counts.
Facing a do-or-die situation in Wednesday's regular season finale against the Seton Hall Pirates, the Irish needed a win or a tie to break into eighth place in the Big East, securing a spot in the Big East tournament this weekend.
Overcoming traveling complications that caused the team to barely make it to the game on time, the Irish, led by forward Andrew Aris, turned a four-game losing streak around to earn a come-from-behind tie with the Pirates.
"We were relieved, excited and tired after the game," said defender Stephen Maio. "We had trouble with our flight — we made it there with only 40 minutes to spare before we had to play. It was a long game with real sloppy conditions so we were happy with the tie."
The tie moved the Irish up in the rankings from the ninth spot in the conference and narrowly edged the Providence Friars out of a tournament berth.
The Friars tied with the Irish for eighth place, but the final spot was awarded to the Irish because of their 4-0 victory over the Friars in the regular season.
With the regular season behind them, the Irish are focusing on their first challenge on the way to a Big East championship: the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers.
The Scarlet Knights, ranked 17th in the nation, come into the tournament boasting the top seed.
The Irish and the Scarlet Knights enter the quarterfinals with a history of mixed results.
Rutgers beat Notre Dame in their only regular season matchup this fall by a 1-0 decision.
The contest was close, however, and even though they couldn't put the ball in the net, the Irish found many holes in the Scarlet Knight defense, putting 16 shots on goal — twice the number the Knights registered against the Irish.
"We know that head to head, we can play with them," said Maio.
"In the game we played against them we outshot them, but we didn't capitalize on our chances. We really only gave them two chances to score and they were both very similar situations. Once we shut down that option they didn't have another opportunity to score. So now we know what we have to do to keep them from scoring."
The last time the two squads met in the Big East tournament was in the 1996 championship game in which the Irish had the upper hand and came away with the 1-0 victory.
Rutgers has an impressive Big East tournament record since it entered into the conference in 1995.
Hosting its fifth quarterfinal game in as many seasons with the Big East, the Scarlet Knight have gone undefeated in opening round matches, with a 4-0 record.
The Irish, in their fourth consecutive tournament bid, hope to break the Scarlet Knight's winning streak.
Anchoring the Rutgers' defense is goalkeeper Jon Conway. One of the best goalkeepers in the nation, Conway has led the Scarlet Knights to an 11-4-2 record with seven shutouts, one of them against the Irish.
"We're not too concerned with the goalie specifically. Any goalie is beatable," said Maio. "He is very good, but we also made him look good."
Conway's 35 percent goals against average in the Big East leads the conference.
Defense is the focal point for the Irish in the second half of the season and continues to be heading into Saturday's contest.
"We're concentrating on our defense and working on not committing any mistakes," said Maio.
"We need to stay focused and make sure that they don't score on us. Games at Rutgers are typically close — if we can get up a goal on them we think we'll be able to hold them in order to win."
All Sports Stories for Friday, November 5, 1999