No one truly knows how good their team will be in August, but Notre Dame head coach Bobby Clark has a good sense of where the Fighting Irish will be by the end of the season thanks to a strong group of upperclassmen in South Bend.
The Fighting Irish boast a strong senior core, led by forward Jon Gallagher, who was the top scorer on the roster last season with 14 finishes into the back of the net. Gallagher, defender Matt Habrowski and goalkeeper Chris Hubbard are the captains of the group that hope to come together to hit high expectations.
“The captains are always important, just from a leadership point of view,” Clark told SBI. “They’ve all done a really good job. We have good leadership. I think we’ve got a good senior class, not just the captains. They’ve done a really outstanding job through the summer and the preseason, but you really don’t know until you hit some bumps in the road. That’s when you find out who you really are.”
While most of the upperclassmen will be important to the success of the team, a lot of the attention will be focused on Gallagher, who is on the preseason watch list for the MAC Hermann Trophy.
“He’s a very good player. He doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone,” Clark said. “He’s one of those people who does all the right things and he just need to not get too worried about that stuff. We all know who he is. The most important thing for him honestly is that he settles down and doesn’t worry too much about accolades and what he’s doing. He doesn’t get dazzled by the prospect of honors. Jon’s a good player. I think he’ll keep his feet firmly on the ground.”
Filling in the space behind Gallagher on the scoring depth chart might be a bit of a challenge for the Fighting Irish since the second-best returning scorer Blake Townes only scored twice last season, but the collection of strikes should come from everywhere on the field if the team buys into the concepts Clark preaches.
“Right through the whole team we have a lot of good players. We’ll find out how good,” Clark said. “We have a lot of really good individual players, there’s no question about that, but for me the most important thing is how they work together. If we’re going to be successful, we have to work together. Individuals on their own will only take you so far, but if you want to be really good it’s how well the group works together. My big hope is they’re able to function well as a team.”
The team as a whole will face challenges throughout the season, as the Irish play one of the toughest schedules in the nation once again. After opening with San Diego and Cal Poly at home, Notre Dame makes road trips to UConn, Indiana, Akron in addition to the always strenuous ACC slate.
“It’s always good to play the best. We don’t dodge anyone,” Clark said. “If you’re playing 17 regular-season games, you want to play good games and we’re really excited for that. Every year we’ve been one of the top schedules in the country and last year we opened with Stanford and Cal. We’re always playing good teams and you don’t have a problem having to get your team up when you’re playing good teams. That takes care of itself.”
Expectations are always high, especially in a highly competitive ACC that produces some of the best nationally-ranked teams every year, but the only way for the Irish to truly see what they have is to play the games and test themselves against the best of the best.
“Nobody really knows who the good teams are. It often depends on what day you catch them and how they catch you,” Clark said. “We’ll see, but I look down our schedule and I look at every team. I always say to the boys you could win every game and lose every game. It’s usually somewhere in the middle. We just have to come out prepared to play every team in the country.”