Feb. 21, 2002
A sense of opportunity. That will be the prevailing mindset of the 2002 Notre Dame men’s lacrosse team.
Facing somewhat of a rebuilding year following the most successful season in the program’s 21-year history, and losing six starters from season’s squad which reached the semifinals of the NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Championship, the feeling amongst the coaching staff, returning players and newcomers is the fact that many new players will figure into the Irish gameplan this season.
Last year’s magical 14-2 campaign certainly brought Notre Dame to the forefront of the lacrosse world as the Irish completed an amazing run throughout the entire 2001 season. A school-record five players earned All-America honors to continue Notre Dame’s streak of having at least one player earn All-America distinction since 1993.
Replacing several talented players who undoubtedly etched their mark into the program poses challenges for 14-year head coach Kevin Corrigan. But the Irish mentor, who has guided the Irish to 10 NCAA tournament appearances, is ready for the challenges that face him this season.
“Every season has its own challenges,” Corrigan says. “Every season is unique unto to itself, which is something that you learn in college coaching. Each team is different because every year you lose roughly one-quarter of your team. Not only do you replace them, but you replace them with new players that change the dynamics of your team.”
Last year’s NCAA run set a standard for future Irish teams, which will be the benchmark the squad this season. There will be more competition than ever for starting positions on the field due to the loss of six starters, but that has created a competitive atmosphere around the Notre Dame camp.
“There is a lot of competition this season,” Corrigan says. “Everyone on this team knows that he is going to have an opportunity to contribute. I’m not sure what to anticipate this season, especially at the beginning when we are going to be experimenting with some different lineups, but I am excited about the challenges and what this team can achieve.”
Notre Dame loses six of its top eight scorers from year ago, including its scoring leaders – attackmen Tom Glatzel, David Ulrich and Jon Harvey. Not many teams could match the Irish’s offensive firepower of a year ago as Notre Dame averaged 11.81 goals per game. With the loss of its entire starting attack unit, the prevailing question early on for Corrigan and his staff will be who will step up and score goals. The concern for Notre Dame early on will be finding goal scorers.
Corrigan will have to replace his entire starting attack unit that proved to be one of the most prolific scoring groups in school history. The younger players in that area of the field will certainly have the opportunity to contribute, but the team does not have the luxury of a proven goal scorer up top.
“We are rebuilding in areas all over the field,” Corrigan says. “Early on, scoring goals may be a problem for us. Last year, we were able to put pressure on our opponents offensively because we had so many scoring threats and could be very aggressive in that area. This year, we won’t have so many scoring weapons and threats heading into the season, and that may force us to be a little more deliberate on offense.
Senior midfield John Flandina returns as a catalyst on offense. One of four captains this season along with teammates Chad DeBolt, Devin Ryan and A.J. Wright, Flandina, a two-year starter, has developed into a very complete player. Last season, he was the team’s fourth-leading scorer as he netted 20 goals and dished off seven assists. Flandina is going to be someone that the Irish coaching staff is going to rely on to carry the offense, especially early on in the campaign.
Ryan also returns as one of two returning starters in the midfield. He showed great consistency last season in scoring 15 goals and dishing off two assists.
Senior Owen Asplundh will certainly have the opportunity to contribute and compete for a starting job as will sophomores Matt Howell and Dan Berger and junior Kyle Frigon.
Tough defense has been the trademark of Irish teams under Corrigan, and this year’s team will clearly rely on the play of this unit early in the season. Wright and DeBolt, juniors John Souch and Eric Simon and sophomore Mickey Blum will be the backbone of Notre Dame’s defensive unit. All three of these players will have to maintain their aggressive style of play as Notre Dame also faces the task of replacing its starting goalkeeper, who enjoyed a stellar three seasons as a starter.
“We are going to have to play good defense to keep ourselves in position to win early in the year and allow our offense to develop without the pressure of having to come from behind,” Corrigan says. “Last year we had no fear of a 6-5 or 15-13 game, but this season, we want to avoid any of those high-scoring contests. We are going to need to be a little more deliberate, and that may mean taking less risks at both ends of the field.”
Junior Nick Antol appears to have the inside track on the starting job in goal, but will be challenged by sophomore Stewart Crosland.
Despite its lack of experience, Corrigan is confident in his goalkeeping because of the experience of his returning defensive unit.
Competition will exist in every area of the field and that is something that could end up becoming a very big positive for this year’s team. From the top to the bottom of the Irish roster, there is sure to be a spirit of competition at each position for playing time both in games and in practices.
“There is certainly going to be competition throughout out entire roster,” Corrigan says, “I think that is going to be a good thing because what it is going to do is create some depth for us and allow us to have some options. But that is something we will just have to evaluate as we go along. We are not going to go into it saying we are going to be one thing or another, we are going to see what we evolve into.”
Last’s season’s success has set a standard of expectation for the Irish. Returning players feel a responsibility to work and achieve as much as they can.
“The players we have back know what takes to win and know what it feels like,” Corrigan says. “They experienced a high level of success and understand what it takes to achieve that standard, they want to build on the momentum we established as a program last year.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do with this group. We are going to surprise some people, there are many people out there who don’t think we are going to be able to rebound and have a great year on the heels of last season.”
Corrigan anticipates that his young Irish will face some difficult games early on which will be important to setting the tone for the entire season. Wins and losses may not be as important as establishing an identity and belief that this team can play well at a high level and be competitive.
Notre Dame’s staring attack unit from a year ago accounted for 90 of the team’s 189 goals. That dominance and experience the Irish had up front for two seasons is certainly something that cannot be easily replaced. This is the position and area of the field where Corrigan faces his biggest rebuilding tests where new names and faces are expected to emerge.
The interesting part for Corrigan is that there are a lot of different players who are capable of contributing. There is a core of talented players, but the only thing they lack is significantly playing experience.
“We have a lot of different players who are capable of contributing,” Corrigan says. “As the season goes on, we are going be significantly better as a team in this area of the field. There is certainly going to be opportunity for individuals who did not play much last season to see a considerable increase in playing time this season.”
Owen Asplundh is the only returning senior at attack. His playing time over the course of the first three seasons has been limited to a reserve role, but he is an individual who is definitely in the mix for a starting job. Asplundh played in six games last season and scored two goals.
“Owen has done a good job of making the adjustments and improving his play in the areas that are going to benefit us this season.” Corrigan says. “He certainly can be a factor for us this year. Owen has as much experience as any of our returning players. We have a lot people who can help us out in this area.”
Perhaps the one player who has emerged since the end of last season and established himself as a key player in ’02 is Matt Howell. During Notre Dame’s European tour following the season in May and throughout the fall preseason, he was the one player at attack who left an impression on the Irish coaching staff.
Howell saw a steady increase in playing time last season as the season progressed. He saw action in eight contests while scoring one goal.
“We were very pleased with progress that Matt made during the course of last year and since our season ended,” Corrigan says. “Matt was hurt early in the fall of his freshman year, but once he was practicing on a regular basis, he just continued to get better as he became familiar with our offensive system.”
Junior Kyle Frigon was a first-year member of the Irish squad a year ago and played in 11 games, scoring three goals and dishing off one assist. He’s a player who got better and better with each practice and game and someone who could emerge as a big threat for Notre Dame on the playing field.
“We were extremely pleased with the progress Kyle made during last season,” Corrigan says. “As he saw playing time and became accustomed to offensive scheme, he was able to find his own niche within our system. I expect that he will be a big part of our offense this season.”
Sophomore Dan Berger also is expected to compete for a starting job after playing in six contests last season. He has made steady progress since his rookie year and is a player with considerable all-around talent who displays a great vision on the field. Berger has put himself in position to be a starter because of his ability to make plays on the field.
Another second-year player looking to play a bigger role this season is Paul Cappelli. While only playing in four games as a freshman, he’s worked on all facets of his game in order to increase his playing time this season.
“Paul’s a player who enjoys playing in the crease,” Corrigan says. “He needed last season to adjust to the college game and to develop his all-around skills. We expect that he will see increased playing time this season.”
Look for freshman Chris Richez to step in and contribute immediately. He’s one of the top rookies in this year’s class and a tremendous all-around athlete who could have a major impact on the field this season.
“Chris is a raw talent who is just going to continue to get better and better,” Corrigan says. “There’s no doubt that he is going to contribute on the playing field. He’s athletic, big and strong. His greatest asset is his ability to drive hard to the cage with the ball and to create scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates.”
Another first-year rookie who could find himself in the mix is Dan Straka. He was hurt during the fall, but is a player the coaches believe can contribute in the spring.
“Dan was hurt all fall and it was disappointing that we didn’t get to see everything from him that we wanted to in order to see where he can help us out in the spring,” Corrigan says. “We do, however, know that he has a lot of talent and skill. I believe that he is going to contribute this spring, but just needs to define his role a little bit more.”
Rookie Brian Giordano was a pleasant surprise in the fall. A versatile player, Corrigan believes that he may play up front or in the midfield. Giordano is an individual with considerable potential in the future to help out this team.
“Brian was a pleasant surprise in the fall,” Corrigan says. “He’s a good shooter and a good player without the ball. He can help us out in a number of different ways, either at attack or in the midfield. Brian has very good skills and just needs to adjust physically to the college game.”
While Notre Dame did not lose its entire starting midfield unit, it did suffer significant losses with the graduations of Steve Bishko, Todd Ulrich and Chris Young, three of the team’s top scorers who enjoyed considerable success during their playing careers.
Headlining the list of returnees in the midfield are seniors John Flandina, Devin Ryan and Chad DeBolt. Flandina and Ryan were starters a year ago, and both are expected to play a greater role offensively this season especially with the Irish having to rebuild their entire attack unit.
Flandina was a 16-game starter last season and a player who has not missed a game in his collegiate career. He will play a key offensive role in the Notre Dame lineup this season because of the significant losses suffered at attack.
“John is going to be a really important guy for us this year,” Corrigan says. “He is going to get a lot more attention than he has gotten the last couple of years. John does so many things well, but his greatest asset is his ability to handle the long-stick well. Last year, he was able to play as a non-featured player where he was able to use his talent and take whatever came to him in the course of a game. This year, he is going to be a featured player in our lineup because he can do a variety of things very well.”
Ryan has come into his own as a player, especially at the offensive end of the field. He scored 15 goals (eight more than what he scored in his first two seasons combined) and dished off two assists last season.
“Devin really expanded his role within the system a year ago,” Corrigan says. “He showed that he can be an offensive threat and has improved all facets of his game. Both he and John Flandina are two underrated defensive players. Devin has learned to play very well to his strengths and understands his limitations.”
DeBolt is an extremely aggressive midfield player who uses that to his advantage. His style of play fits in well with Notre Dame’s defensive philosophy. Also a member of the Irish football team the past three seasons as a walk-on, he’ll once again be the player to handle a majority of Notre Dame’s face-off duties. DeBolt was successful on 53.1 percent of his face-off opportunities a year ago as he won 135 of his 254 attempts.
“I can’t say enough about what Chad DeBolt means to this team,” Corrgian says. “He an unselfish player who is very team-oriented. The combination of Chad playing both football in the fall and lacrosse in the spring is a combination that cannot be duplicated.”
Look for second-year player Kyle Frigon, to step up his game and have a greater role offensively. He played in 11 contests last season and scored a goal and dished off an assist. By season’s end, he felt very comfortable within the Irish system and was beginning to assert himself offensively, especially around the cage area.
“Kyle was really a pleasant surprise for us a year ago,” Corrigan says. “He became more an more comfortable within our system as the season progressed and I look forward to him having an increased role this season.”
Junior Travis Wells increased his role and playing time a year ago. He’s a player who has worked extremely hard since his freshman year to make himself into a better player both offensively and defensively. Wells scored three goals and dished off an assist while playing in all 16 games a year ago.
“Travis is coming into his own as an excellent two-way midfield player for us,” Corrigan says. “He’s a guy that keeps developing at both ends of the field.”
Nick Petcoff also will assist DeBolt with the faceoff duties. Petcoff saw significant minutes a year ago while playing in 15 games. He won 53.9 (42-77) of the face-offs he took. Petcoff is going to be a key defensively in the midfield for the Irish this season.
“Nick has really come a long way since his freshman season,” Corrigan says, “and is going to be someone who will have a significant role on this team.”
Brian Flatley returns to the Notre Dame after missing last season. He gives the Irish depth and experience in the midfield.
Sophomore Steve Clagett gained considerable playing experience in his rookie season as he saw action in 15 games and scored one goal. He’s a midfield player who must continue to develop both his offensive and defensive skills.
Second-year players Owen Mulford, John Mulflur and Chris Masterson are expected to see increased playing time this season as they look to expand their roles on the field. Mulford played in 10 games a year ago, while Masterson and Mulflur each saw action in four games.
Eight rookies – Craig Bishko (the brother of former Irish All-American Steve Bishko ), Collin Fatti, Tyler Krummenacher, Matt Malakoff, Frank Matarazzo, Taylor Matthews and Will Shearer, join the Irish midfield unit and are expected to provide considerable depth in this area of the field.
There’s no doubt that defense will carry Notre Dame early on in the season especially with the team’s unpredictability on offense. Despite the loss of Mike Adams on defense, the Irish return an outstanding defensive corps. Notre Dame’s defense begins with senior captain A.J. Wright, who has enjoyed tremendous success over the past two seasons. Since his freshman year, he gained considerable confidence on the playing field. He’s a big, strong, athletic and powerful player with outstanding skills.
“A.J. has continued to make himself a better player each season,” Corrigan says, “and that’s a credit to his hard work and determination. “He wasn’t considered a premier player in high school, but he has worked himself into position to be one of the top defensive players nationally this year. A.J.’s skills and mindset set him apart from other defensive players.
Junior John Souch continues to rank among the best long-stick midfielders and defensive players. Souch, who played in all 16 games in his second season, has shown tremendous progress since his rookie year and is a player who Corrigan expects to have an even greater impact on the team this season.
“I just can’t say enough about what John Souch has done both on and off the field to make himself into the player that he is,” Corrigan says. “He’s worked extremely hard to become one of the best long-stick midfielders in the country and a top-notch defensemen. I expect him to have an outstanding season this year.”
Sophomore Mickey Blum, who played in 12 games and earned six starts, will once again be competing for a starting job in the lineup. He’s a tough, hard-nosed player with a penchant to make big defensive plays because of his aggressive attitude on the playing field.
“We’re really looking for Mickey to step up this season,” Corrigan says. “He’s a very talented player who worked himself into position to see a lot of playing time for us and be a contributor on the field.”
Junior Eric Simon is as improved as any player on the team. After playing in all 16 games last season, look for him to become even more involved in Notre Dame’s defensive scheme. He’s shown tremendous consistency over the past year and works as hard at improving his game as anyone on the team.
“Eric had a great fall,” Corrigan says. “I admire what he’s done over the past couple of years to make himself into a better player so that he can help this team out. He’s become very accomplished on the field and is a guy that knows how to make big plays.”
Seniors Chris Fallon and Matt Leisen are two individuals who have worked hard to earn playing time on the field. Fallon saw action in 14 games last season, while Leisen played in 10 contests. Fallon is a versatile player because of his intelligence and ability to handle the ball. Both he and Leisen have done a tremendous job of improving all areas of their game in order to make the Irish a better team.
Junior Mike Fries, who played in four games a year ago, and Brooks Hartnett (three games played) are also expected to have greater roles this season. They give the Irish tremendous depth defensively. Sophomore Brennan Creaney, who saw action in five games as a freshman, is also expected to compete for more playing time.
Newcomers John Hagerty and Kevin Schoneck are two players with tremendous potential. With Notre Dame’s defensive depth, they will have the luxury of being able to ease their way onto the playing field as they make the adjustment to the collegiate level.”
The loss of three-starter Kirk Howell has left Corrigan with the task of finding a new starting goalie. Junior Nick Antol and sophomore Stewart Crosland will be vying for that starting job.
Antol was the backup to Howell for two seasons. After not playing at all his rookie season, he played in eight games last year and finished with 14 saves (allowing six goals), registering a .700 save percentage and 5.11 goals against average in 70:50 of playing time.
Crosland will compete with Antol for the starting job in goal, although he did not see playing time last season.
“There’s going to be a lot of competition between Nick and Stewart for the starting job here,” Corrigan says. “We had a great comfort level the past three seasons with Kirk there, but I have great confidence in the abilities of these two players. We’ve got a very good defensive unit ahead of them, so I don’t think that they are going to have to continually bail us out of situations.”
Freshmen Sean Quigley and Dan Schnorr give the Irish depth in goal, but are not expected to see playing time this season.