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Sunday, April 21, 2024
The Observer

Settling into his natural position, Genenbacher's long throws give Notre Dame an extra dimension

Junior midfielder Kyle Genenbacher rises to clear the ball during the game between Notre Dame and Indiana at Alumni Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023. Credit: Meghan Lange | The Observer

Kyle Genenbacher occupies a unique place in Notre Dame’s leadership structure heading into the 2023 College Cup.

The junior is old enough to remember playing a very real role in the team’s most recent College Cup appearance in 2021. He’s also young enough to have been a freshman on that team, still figuring out his place in the squad.

Genenbacher doesn’t shy away from his unique experience. He was one of just three freshmen to play in Notre Dame’s 2021 semi-final game against Clemson. And as a substitute playing a new role, some nerves were to be expected.

“Freshman year was a bit of an odd situation for me,” Genenbacher said. “I wasn’t playing in my position that I had grown up playing academy in. They had me at right wing, a bit different for me. Obviously I had a couple of nerves going into the game but having the older guys to help you through that, just to ease the nerves. Once you’re playing you don’t really see much.”

But over the last two years, Genenbacher has grown from a versatile bench option to one of Notre Dame’s most reliable stalwarts, playing nearly every minute of every game at right back. The benefits of his experience in different positions still show. He’s as comfortable dribbling forward as he is in one-on-one defensive situations. But Genenbacher has excelled in his natural position.

One of the most unique elements of Genenbacher’s game though, doesn't show when the ball is at his feet. The junior is Notre Dame’s long-throw specialist, with his ability to access the penalty area from the sideline turning any Irish throw-in into a goal-scoring opportunity.

Arm talent isn’t often a skill that’s easy to see in soccer matches, for obvious reasons. Until he arrived at Notre Dame, Genenbacher’s throw-ins had simply looked like any other player. But the Irish have created real set-piece patterns from his raw strength, adding another element to both Genenbacher and the team’s game.

“I’ve always been able to throw the ball really far, but I had never actually made it into a set piece [routine] before,” said Genenbacher. “Every team I’ve ever been on it’s always just been ‘oh, just try and get it in quick, throw it behind the last centerback to your striker’ so throwing it into the box has been a new skill for me at college. But being such a threat against some of these teams, especially when we can’t get something going during the game, it’s nice to have that as well.”

Genenbacher is part of an Irish defense that has thrived on its experience. Goalkeeper Bryan Dowd is a senior. Starting opposite Genenbacher at left back is Paddy Burns, also a senior. Josh Ramsey is a junior with the veteran composure of a player who’s started virtually every game of his collegiate career. Notre Dame’s backline never looks rattled, a trait that Genenbacher attributes to the years of collective experience they share as a unit.

“It’s really important, especially in box moments,” Genenbacher said. “Just having that composure, the ability to get it out. But I also feel like we have a couple guys that are ready to step in whenever we need, when one of us goes down I feel like we have a really good depth on our team.”

Kyle Genenbacher has played in a College Cup match. But he’s never started — or won — such a game. The first stat is certain to change on Friday. Powered by their junior right back’s long throws, the Irish hope the second changes as well.

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