Oct. 23, 2004
The fifth-ranked University of Notre Dame men’s soccer team earned its first-ever BIG EAST regular-season title with a 1-0 victory at Rutgers (5-8-3, 2-5-2) on Saturday evening. With a regular-season contest still on the schedule vs. Connecticut on Oct. 30, Notre Dame (12-2-2, 7-1-1) has earned 22 points in the league standings and cannot be caught by any other conference team.
Senior Luke Boughen was the player in the right place at the right time for Notre Dame on Saturday, as his goal at 36:31 provided the Irish with their seventh win in the last eight matches. The goal was Boughen’s second of the season while Ian Etherington picked up his team-high fifth assist of the year on the play.
“The team was excellent tonight,” Notre Dame head coach Bobby Clark said after the game.
“It was one of our best performances of the year. Rutgers season record is very deceiving, they are one of the best teams we have played this season.”
Rutgers ended up out shooting the Irish 13-10 in the contest, but All-American goalkeeper Chris Sawyer was up to the challenge. Sawyer made five routine saves in the contest to pick up his ninth shutout of the season (he also combined for one with teammate Justin Michaud). Sawyer and Notre Dame’s stellar defense have held their opponents to one or zero goals in 15 of 16 matches this season. Notre Dame’s opponents have scored more than one goal just once, when #1 Indiana touched the Irish for two on Sept. 15.
The regular-season league title is the first for Notre Dame since joining the BIG EAST in 1995. By finishing first, the Irish will host a first round match in the BIG EAST Championship on Nov. 6 along with the next three teams in the conference standings. The regular-season title also puts the Irish into the discussion of the best teams in the nation, as the BIG EAST Conference is widely recognized as one of the top three men’s soccer leagues in the country. The seven victories in league play are the most for Notre Dame since 2001, when the Irish posted seven wins en route to ending the regular season in second place.
“I am very happy for our group of seniors,” Clark said of the BIG EAST regular-season crown.
“They have worked very hard to get us to this level. I also am very proud of this team. This road trip was one of the hardest in the BIG EAST this season and to finish 2-0-1 is a huge accomplishment.”
The win over Rutgers is the first for Notre Dame in seven years, as the last Irish victory in the series occurred in the BIG EAST Championship match in 1996. The 12 wins so far this season mark the fourth-straight season that Bobby Clark has won at least 12 games with the Irish.