Paul Kennedy continues the Men's Elite 8 Countdown
Everyone knows about Notre Dame star Joseph Lapira, the Ragin' Cajun who came out of nowhere to win the 2006 Soccer America Player of the Year award and Hermann Trophy and earn a callup from the Irish national team last spring, becoming the first amateur to represent Ireland in 43 years.
Last year, he dominated, scoring 22 goals for the Irish, who advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division I Tournament for the first time.
This year, Notre Dame is back in the Elite 8, thanks to Lapira and a lot of help from the rest of the Fighting Irish's outstanding senior class.
To be sure, Lapira's numbers are down -- nine goals and 10 assists -- but he has been sensational in the NCAA Tournament, scoring or setting up all four goals in the Fighting Irish's first two games.
Lapira is one of five senior starters for Notre Dame, which plays at Wake Forest Saturday in the quarterfinals.
"This group of seniors really want this," said Notre Dame coach Bobby Clark. "They worked really hard from the minute we lost last year at Virginia [the quarterfinals]. The group as a whole, especially the seniors, has worked really hard."
Here's a look at Lapira's classmates:
RYAN MILLER. The right back from Barrington, Ill., recovered from a knee injury in his freshman season to become a four-year starter for the Irish. This has been his best season. He's second behind Lapira with six goals and four assists and earned first-team All-Big East honors. The extra year has allowed Miller to pursue a master's degree in accounting, but he might hold off entering the work force to pursue a career in MLS.
ALEX YOSHINAGA. Yoshinaga missed the majority of the 2006 campaign, which included the NCAA Tournament, with a collarbone injury. He scored the first Irish goal in a 2-1 win over Oakland in the second round and followed that up with an assist on the first Notre Dame tally in the a 2-0 victory over Santa Clara in the third round. Yoshinaga is part of the Irish pipeline from San Diego that included former stars Greg Dalby and Ian Etherington.
CHRIS CAHILL.The Kentucky product didn't play a game his first two seasons at Notre Dame but started every game in goal in 2005 and has been the primary starter every since. This year, the 6-foot-6 Cahill was a second-team All-Big East selection. With the 2-0 win at Santa Clara in the third round, Cahill set a Notre Dame record with his fourth NCAA Tournament shutout.
KURT MARTIN. After playing a reserve role this first three season, Martin won a starting job in 2007 and has contributed two goals, both scored on the second weekend of the season. The McAllen, Texas, product plays as the Irish's second forward behind Lapira.