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Monday, May 20, 2024
The Observer

Men's Soccer: ND seniors reflect on shootout

When South Florida's Sebastian Thuriere stepped to the penalty kick line for the Bulls' fifth attempt in Sunday's shootout, eight Irish seniors stood on the sideline and one stood in the goal. The game had ended in a 2-2 tie and Notre Dame was up 5-4 in the shootout, which would decide who moved on to the Big East semifinals.

All nine seniors watched as Thuriere's shot bounced harmlessly off the top crossbar, and immediately afterwards all nine celebrated the extension of their college careers.

"It meant everything," senior captain and midfielder Dave Donohue said. "To get into the Big East semifinals it was huge. To get into the NCAAs it was huge."

A loss in the shootout would have ended Notre Dame's Big East tournament run and probably would have excluded them from the national tournament.

Senior captain and midfielder Michael Thomas made the first of Notre Dame's five kicks in the shootout.

"I told [Irish coach Bobby Clark] before the game that we were to go into a shootout that I wanted to go first," he said. "I knew that it could be my last game as a Notre Dame player. I just cleared everything away and put the ball in the back of the net."

Thomas' display of leadership is not rare on a team with so many veterans, the captains said.

"Our senior class is large," senior captain and defender Cory Rellas said. "We've done a pretty good job of leading this year, everyone in their own way. We're setting a good example for the younger guys so they can become leaders down the road."

Rellas was in the unusual position this year of being a captain but unable to take the field after suffering a season-ending knee injury 20 minutes into the team's first game.

"It's very different being a leader on the field," Rellas said. "Once that was taken away I've tried to be a leader off the field, answer questions for the guys, help prepare."

Rellas' injury gave senior defender John Schaefer a chance to fill in, and Schaefer has made the most of it. He has started every game since then and even notched a goal.

The seniors have made a big impact on offense this year as well. Senior forward Bright Dike leads the team with 10 goals and 23 points. Thomas is behind him with six goals and 18 total points.

Both goalkeepers for the Irish are seniors as well. Philip Tuttle and Andrew Quinn have traded goalkeeping duties this season, starting 10 and nine games, respectively. Tuttle played in goal Sunday.

"Every senior plays his own role," Thomas said. "Everybody in the senior class really wants it for this team."

The Irish now see themselves with a chance to make the NCAAs after a win over No. 5 UConn on Oct. 31 and Sunday's tie with the No. 8 Bulls.

"If we would have lost [Sunday], we were sure we pretty much wouldn't have gotten in the tournament," Thomas said. "We went into it like it was our national championship game."

Notre Dame will face another top-10 team Friday in No. 7 Louisville. A win could help the Irish build their NCAA résumé, and a Big East championship — something the seniors have yet to win in their college careers — would give the team an automatic bid.

"I'd like to think we'll definitely be in the NCAA tournament but the only thing we can do is keep winning," senior captain and midfielder Justin Morrow said. "The only thing we can do now is win.

"It's the end of the season, every game could potentially be my last. You have to take that in mind and play like it."