Frustration characterized the 1995 soccer campaign for sixth-year Notre Dame head coach Mike Berticelli and his squad. For the second straight year, injuries played havoc with the Irish lineup as many new and untested faces were asked to play key roles during the season. In its inaugural season as a member of the BIG EAST, Notre Dame was picked in the pre-season coaches’ poll to finish third in a league that has come to be regarded as one of the nation’s top soccer conferences.
Berticelli and his staff figured that the 1995 season would be somewhat of a rebuilding year after losing 12 seniors from a team that won the school’s second consecutive Midwestern Collegiate Conference tournament championship in its final season in the league and earned a second straight NCAA tournament berth. Yet, with the return of standout forward Bill Lanza, who missed the previous year with an injury and several key starters, Berticelli felt there would be enough to help his squad gain a third consecutive NCAA tournament berth. Despite a 3-0 start, inconsistency plagued the Irish in ’95. Notre Dame had its first losing season since 1990 (Berticelli’s first at the Irish helm) as Berticelli’s squad finished with a 9-10 mark and tied for 10th following the BIG EAST regular season with a 4-7 mark and failed to qualify for the eight-team post-season championship. Lanza, who finished the year tied for team-high scoring honors with six goals and 11 assists (23 points), was bothered by a hip injury that sidelined him for five games. Lanza was Notre Dame’s first and only BIG EAST player of the week honoree a year ago as he copped the honor following a two-goal and three-assist effort against DePaul in the season-opening 8-0 win for the Irish. Senior Josh Landman who had seen relatively little playing time (10 games) prior to the campaign was sidelined after five games with a stress fracture. Landman started three games and proved himself to be an offensive scoring threat for the Irish, scoring four goals and dishing off two assists.
Sophomore Ryan Turner was expected to join Lanza up front to form an awesome frontline tandem. However, the second-year forward, who scored four goals and dished off seven assists n his rookie season, was never able to suit up for the Irish as he was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his lower back during pre-season in August. As they did the previous season, the Irish struggled on the road. For the second straight season, Notre Dame managed just one road win; the lone victory was against Northwestern, 2-1, on October 1. Notre Dame began the 1995 season with three straight shutout home wins as the Irish outscored their opponents 18-0.
Lanza and Landman were multiple-goal scorers for the Irish in the 8-0 shutout of DePaul. The game versus the Blue Demons was Lanza first since the season opener in 1994 against Penn State. Landman scored the first two goals of his career in that contest. Five players – four sophomores and a freshman – earned their first career starts in the contest against the Blue Demons.
In a 7-0 blanking of Valparaiso, the 23rd straight win for the Irish over the Crusaders, Notre Dame exploded for six goals in the second half. Landman had his second straight two-goal effort in addition to adding an assist, while freshman Ben Bocklage scored the first two goals of his collegiate career in the contest. That game would signal Bocklage’s scoring ability as he finished the season tied with Lanza for scoring honors netting a team-high nine goals and dished off five assists.
The BIG EAST era in Notre Dame men’s soccer commenced on September 10 with a 3-0 win over Syracuse. Behind a goal and two assists by Lanza, Notre Dame ran its record to 3-0. Bocklage got the Irish on the board first as he dove and headed in a Lanza assist 20:22 into the contest for his third goal in two games. Lanza gave the Irish a 2-0 advantage less than 15 seconds later as he stole an Orangemen pass and maneuvered his way through a host of Syracuse defenders. Junior midfielder Chris Mathis tallied the final Irish score with less than five minutes to play in the contest off of Lanza’s second assist of the game. Following the victory, Notre Dame jumped into the Intercollegiate Soccer Association of America (ISAA) rankings as the Irish were sixth in the poll – highest ranking in school history. However, one of the team’s toughest contests loomed just five days away as the Irish faced seventh-ranked Rutgers in Piscataway, N.J. Before a Rutgers Stadium regular season record crowd of 5,636 spectators, the Irish shocked the Scarlet Knights early on by jumping out to a 2-0 advantage. Chris Mathis opened up the scoring for Notre Dame 7:15 into the contest off an assist from Lanza. Two minutes later, Tony Capasso took a Landman feed and broke free to give Notre Dame a 2-0 lead 9:21 into the game. Less than two minutes later, Rutgers got its first goal of the game as the Scarlet Knights scored twice before the half and three times in the second for a final 5-2 victory, handing Notre Dame its first loss of the season.
Following that loss the Irish would go on to lose their next three contests. After a 4-1 setback at Seton Hall, Notre Dame dropped two overtime decisions, 4-2 to fifth-ranked Indiana and 3-2 to BIG EAST rival . The Irish jumped out to a 2-0 lead over the Hoosiers 13:22 into the contest on goals by Lanza and Bocklage, before Indiana came back to tie the contest at the 65:51 mark. Indiana scored the game-winning goal 5:35 into the first overtime session. Against Boston College, Kontantin Koloskov netted both of Notre Dame’s two goals in the first half. The Irish held the Eagles with just one goal until 34 seconds left in the contest when Notre Dame defender Matt Zimmer fouled a Boston College player in the penalty box. After converting on the penalty kick to send the game into overtime, the Eagles scored the game winner 8:19 into the first extra 15-minute session.
Notre Dame won four of its next five games, including two BIG EAST decisions over Georgetown (3-2) and Providence 1-0. Against the Hoyas, Bocklage and Mathis each had a goal and an assist in the contest. After falling behind 1-0 to Georgetown, Capasso tied the score 1-1 at 40:40 when he drilled a Koloskov pass into the net. Mathis gave the Irish a 2-1 lead when he knocked in a shot from the top of the box off a Bocklage assist at the 49:28. Bocklage put Notre Dame up 3-1 when he connected from the top of the box. Freshman goalie Greg Velho was solid in the net as he came up with eight saves in the contest. In the victory over the Friars, Bocklage tallied the contest’s only goal 3:38 into the second half. Notre Dame outshot Providence 22-9, but PC’s goalkeeper was outstanding as he made 12 saves.
With a 7-5 mark overall and 3-3 in league play, the Irish headed into a tough three-game road stretch that would determine their fate in qualifying for the BIG EAST tournament. Unforturnately, the road trip did not improve Notre Dame’s chances in making the tournament as the Irish lost all three contests. A 4-0 win over Western Michigan halted a three-game slide, but a more important contest on the road at Connecticut loomed. A win over the Huskies would still keep Notre Dame’s hopes for berth in the BIG EAST championship alive. The Irish, however, could not rise to the occassion dropping a 4-0 decision. It was their fouth straight BIG EAST loss and the third time in the last five games that they were shut out. Notre Dame earned its final victory of the 1995 campaign with a 4-1 decision over Villanova in the home finale. The win marked the 250th for head coach Mike Berticelli in his 20th season at the collegiate ranks. A 3-0 loss to eventual national champion, Wisconsin ended the Notre Dame season.
Although there were few bright spots for the Irish during the season a number of individuals played key roles. Koloskov proved to be one of the team’s most consistent players as he finished with seven goals and seven assists. Capasso had his best offensive season with eight goals and two assists. Mathis also proved to be a threat offensively as he scored six goals and dished off five assists. Defensively, the Irish were somewhat inexperienced and that showed in key games. Junior Brian Engesser, however, was a stalwart in the backfield. The backbone of the Notre Dame defense the past two years, the 1995 team MVP has started all 63 games he has played in during his career. He missed the first game of his career on October 26 against Western Michigan after being issued his fifth yellow card in the previous game. Velho, Notre Dame’s rookie goalie, played well in registering a 6-4 record. He started 10 of the 14 games he played. Velho gave up 18 goals and had a 1.74 goals against average. While making a team-high 52 saves, he registered a .743 save percentage. The 1995 season proved to be a bitter disappointment for the coaches and players, especially as the Irish embarked upon their first season in the BIG EAST. But it is a feeling that lingered long into the winter and spring. Hopefully, the memories of defeat will be catayst for success in 1996.