Chris Sawyer and Justin Detter hoist the 2003 BIG EAST Championship trophy.

2003 Men's Soccer Season Review

Aug. 3, 2004

Notre Dame entered the 2003 season with high expectations, as head coach Bobby Clark and his staff were comfortable with their returning players, excited about a top-rated freshman class and poised to take the next step forward as a soccer program. The team motto for 2003 – “Making History” – proved to be perfectly in line with what the team eventually accomplished. By the end of the season, the Irish had advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 for the first time, earned the program’s highest-ever ranking (third) and claimed the BIG EAST Championship. While Clark was named the region coach of the year, his player took home a trunk full of awards – including All-America honors for senior Justin Detter and junior Chris Sawyer. Every season has its beginning, however, and after facing Saint Louis and Michigan in exhibition matches, the Irish headed to Bloomington, Ind., to kick off the 2003 season at the adidas/IU Credit Union Classic vs. UAB. After a 0-0 scoreless tie vs. the 20th-ranked Blazers, Notre Dame earned its first goal of the season and first victory with a 2-1 double overtime decision against #11/17 California. Senior Devon Prescod, back to full strength after an injury limited his production in ’02, scored both goals for the Irish. Prescod would eventually tally seven game winning goals for Notre Dame in 2003. Notre Dame’s first home match of ’03 was one they would rather forget, a 3-0 loss to eventual national runner-up St. John’s. Though the Irish played the Red Storm even (and missed several solid scoring chances), St. John’s scored on three of its nine shots to send the fourth-ranked Irish a message – we will be waiting for you in postseason play. The Mike Berticelli Memorial Tournament was next on the schedule and the Irish earned the tournament title with a 2-1 overtime victory over Fresno State (with Detter providing the winning goal) and a scoreless battle with Akron. While Indiana was a participant in the Berticelli Tournament, the Irish did not face the Hoosiers in the tournament schedule. Indiana did return to Alumni Field four days after the tournament to take on Notre Dame in what would turn out to be a instant classic in the series. A crowd of 2,131 packed into Alumni Field to witness the battle, with each team held scoreless until the final four minutes of the second overtime. Freshman Nate Norman intercepted a lazy Indiana pass in the Hoosier zone and streaked toward the penalty box. Indiana’s Danny O’Rourke was forced to pull the Irish rookie down, giving Notre Dame a free kick at the top of the box. Set piece specialist Chad Riley stepped in and sent his kick around the Indiana obstacle. Kevin Goldthwaite just got his toe on the ball and pushed it past a surprised Jay Nolly (IU GK) for the winning score. Getting back to BIG EAST action after the thrilling victory over the Hoosiers, Notre Dame earned its first league win with a 1-0 victory over West Virginia. Now ranked 13th in the nation, Notre Dame posted its third straight win with a 2-0 decision over Bradley. Senior Greg Martin and Detter both scored unassisted in the game, while junior GK Chris Sawyer extended his shut out minute streak to 438 minutes. A fourth consecutive win and 2-0 mark in the BIG EAST followed when the Irish downed Georgetown 2-1 on Prescod’s third game-winning goal of the season. The Irish would then hit the road for its first match away from Alumni Field in a month, running into a pesky Syracuse team on its home field. Even as the Irish statistically dominated the Orange (22 shots to just 10 for the home team) and Jack Stewart notched his only goal of the season to put Notre Dame ahead, Syracuse posted an equalizing goal on a penalty kick. The teams played two scoreless overtime periods and the Irish win streak ended at four games with a 1-1 tie. On the way back to Northern Indiana, the Irish earned their third BIG EAST win of the year with a 2-0 victory at Pittsburgh (goals by Detter and Riley). Now ranked as high as fifth in the nation, Notre Dame was dealt another set back when Rutgers exploded for four goals over a 10-minute stretch of the first half in a BIG EAST game at Alumni Field. The Irish were unable to fully recover from the blow and suffered their second loss of the season at home 5-2. Taking a break from conference play, Notre Dame seemed to get back on track at Cleveland State on Oct. 14 – dominating the game for a 6-0 victory. Prescod posted his first career hat trick in the contest, while Detter scored twice and assisted on another. Now 8-2-3 and 3-2-1 in the BIG EAST, Notre Dame took to the road once again over fall break – facing a challenging set of three games at Connecticut, Providence and Virginia Tech. Not only would home field advantage in the first round of the BIG EAST Championship be decided during the trip – the Irish would be facing Virginia Tech for the last time as conference opponents. The trip started a bit uneasy, as Notre Dame could not muster a goal on 11 shots at UConn. The Huskies scored a 41:15 to claim a 1-0 victory and edge themselves ahead of Notre Dame in the conference standings. The Irish offense did show up at Providence, however, with Martin and Prescod each scoring one goal in a 2-0 road victory. The fall break trip would end with a match up against second-place Virginia Tech. In one of the best BIG EAST regular-season games of the year, Notre Dame claimed a 2-1 overtime victory from the Hokies to move into second place in the BIG EAST standings at 5-3-1. Detter scored twice in the contest, including the game winner on an unassisted play at 96:10. Sawyer was also outstanding in goal for Notre Dame, stopping eight Hokies shots on goal. The third three-game win streak of the season was achieved the next weekend when Notre Dame dispatched Villanova 2-0 to assure themselves home field advantage in the BIG EAST quarterfinals. The Villanova game was senior night for the class of Greg Martin, Justin Detter, Devon Prescod, Kevin Richards, Roger Klauer, Filippo Chillemi and Chad Riley. The match featured two seniors scoring goals (Detter, Prescod), while freshman Ian Etherington copped his first two career assists. The regular season ended with a 1-0 victory at Michigan State. Now ranked as high as seventh in the nation, Notre Dame ended the season with a 12-3-3 record and would host Connecticut in the BIG EAST Championship quarterfinals. The Huskies were looking to return to Storrs, Conn., (the site of the BIG EAST semifinals and final) to play for the conference championship on their home field, but Notre Dame had other plans in mind. Playing perfect ball control soccer for a majority of the contest, the Irish shut out the Huskies 2-0 (the familiar scoring duo of Detter and Prescod nabbing the goals) to earn the right to face Providence (surprise winners at Virginia Tech) in the semifinals. Providence entered the semifinals playing some of the best soccer in the conference, but the Irish were on their own hot streak – having won five games in a row. No matter how hot both teams were before they stepped on the field in Storrs, they were soon cooled down by frigid temperatures and harsh winds. A 15-20 mph cross wind made the 32-degree temperature seem close to unbearable, but Notre Dame dug deep to score in the 67th minute and advance to the BIG EAST Championship game. Detter knocked in his 12th goal of the season on a set piece play for the winning tally. If there was any question that Notre Dame belonged among the elite in the nation, they answered any questions in the BIG EAST Championship game against future national-runner up St. John’s. After a great scoreless first period, senior Kevin Richards streaked up the right side and drilled a shot to the opposite post for his first goal of the season at 77:59. The Red Storm moved up in an attempt to get an equalizer and even pulled the goalie on a corner kick with just a few seconds remaining. Notre Dame’s Luke Boughen cleared the kick and Chad Riley outraced SJU goalkeeper Guy Hertz to the ball at midfield, eventually putting away the insurance goal with 18 seconds remaining. The 2-0 victory provided just the second BIG EAST Championship in Notre Dame men’s soccer history and the first since 1996. Detter was named the tournament’s most outstanding offensive player, while Sawer nabbed the defensive award. The ’03 BIG EAST Goalkeeper of the Year, Sawyer shut out all three opponents in the BIG EAST Championship. Now ranked third in the nation (the highest ranking ever for the program), Notre Dame was issued a bye in the first round of the NCAA Championship for the first time in school history. UW-Milwaukee advanced in the first round for the right to face the Irish and a dominating second half of play pushed Notre Dame into the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history. Detter set a school record for points in a NCAA game with two goals and an assist in the 4-1 triumph, while Prescod and Martin added a single goal each. Seeing action for the first time in the third round of the NCAA Championship, Notre Dame welcomed Michigan to Alumni Field for the right to appear in the Elite Eight. The Irish and Wolverines had previously met in the preseason – a game which ominously ended in a tie. Notre Dame struck first in the Sweet 16 meeting, with Detter putting the ball in the net at 16:57. Michigan quickly answered at 20:11 on a Mike White score to tie the game. The score would remain deadlocked a 1-1 throughout the second half and two overtimes. Although the Irish uncorked six shots in the second overtime and forced Michgan goalkeeper Peter Dzubay to make seven saves in the second half and overtime periods – Notre Dame could not get the winning goal in the net. Michigan somewhat stifled the Irish attack with an extremely aggressive manner of play, committing 33 fouls in the contest compared to just eight for Notre Dame. With no winning score posted in the overtime periods, the game moved into the dreaded shoot out scenario. Chillemi, Riley and Martin were all successful for Notre Dame, as were the first three attempts by Michigan. Prescod stepped up next for Notre Dame but was snuffed out by Dzubay. The Irish were given a second chance when UM’s Michael O’Reilly sent his shot over the cross bar. Dzubay stepped up once again, however, denying Detter on the final attempt for Notre Dame. White, who scored the Michigan goal during regulation, beat Sawyer for the game-winning conversion. Michigan advanced to the Elite Eight with a 1-1 tie, 4-3 on penalty kicks. Although the loss at home to Michigan was a tough blow to a great Irish senior class, Irish head coach Bobby Clark was able to put the 2003 season in perspective just moments after the loss to the Wolverines. “We took another step forward,” Clark said. “The first season we lost in the first round, then last year we lost in the second round. Now, we lose in the third round. We are headed in the right direction. “I am disappointed for the seniors. They have done a lot for this program and will be long remembered for taking Notre Dame soccer to the next level.”