May 9, 2016

By: John Heisler

The scene on the Arlotta Stadium turf Sunday following the University of Notre Dame men’s lacrosse team’s victory over Army qualified as purely idyllic:

— As the temperature inched its way toward 70 degrees, a few clouds scuttled the otherwise blue skies as the Irish players and their family and friends congregated after the 13-7 win that finished the regular season.

— A handful of players brought out flowers and Mother’s Day cards, and there were smiles and conversation all around.

— A Notre Dame student band, “Real Life Irony,” played a post-game concert from the berm, senior students took a team photo with the Irish senior players and no one seemed to want to leave.

That’s what happened after the Irish wiped away any residue remaining from their two-game skid. They did it in fine style, outshooting the Black Knights 46-28, building a 10-goal lead and leaving little doubt as to the result by midway through the second half.

Notre Dame’s offensive ball-handling at times has left something to be desired, but that wasn’t the case Sunday: “Some of the goals we scored today were easy because the ball was right there,” noted Irish coach Kevin Corrigan.

The Notre Dame defense–after its share of tough moments late against North Carolina and Duke–collaborated with goalie Shane Doss to twice hold Army without a score for more than 20 minutes of clock time.

Freshman Ryder Garnsey accounted for four of the tallies (on his way to a season high-tying six points), including one the Atlantic Coast Conference dubbed “spin cycle” in which the rookie took a pass from Mikey Wynne and–as he flew past the cage–flipped it in behind him into an open net. That one made it 11-3 for the Irish and had to have left the visitors shaking their heads.

Notre Dame also turned around its face-off numbers compared to recent outings.

The only thing missing from the post-game vibe was Ella Fitzgerald singing “Summertime,” where “the livin’ is easy.”

And that’s fair, considering the serious lacrosse begins now with publication of the 2016 NCAA Championship bracket late Sunday night.

Not so many years ago, the Irish and their fans would have celebrated a 10-win regular season. But, ever since Notre Dame in 2010 fought its way to the NCAA title game (losing in overtime), the Irish have made weekends in May the red-letter dates. Four NCAA championship weekend appearances in six seasons –including each of the last two years–have set the standard. No reason to make Memorial Day weekend plans–the Irish expect to be busy that day.

“It’s all about making sure we’re playing with an understanding that it’s about this moment right now,” the Irish head coach told his squad before the game. “It’s not about having poise and confidence in the future at some point. It’s not about leadership at some point or developing an identity at some point. We’ve got our leaders, we’ve got our identity, we’ve earned our poise and confidence. It’s about exercising them every single day, with our best efforts emotionally, physically and mentally. It’s about being committed and all in on everything we do. It’s right now. Everything we get from this point on we earn. It’s about us–our ability to focus and push each other so we’re playing our best lacrosse when we need to play our best lacrosse.”

The post-game sunshine Sunday perfectly matched the mood:

“Today went in many ways exactly the way I was hoping today would go,” Corrigan offered to his players after the victory. “We played well, we played smart, we played poised and we played confidently. We did exactly what we needed to do to win that game. For setting the table for what we want to do for the next three weeks, this was a great day for us. Let’s be relentless about what happens now.”

About seven hours after their victory Sunday the Irish gathered in Club Naimoli atop Purcell Pavilion to view the NCAA bracket announcement on ESPNU. Corrigan’s club is past celebrating on these occasions–rather the pairings set what it hopes is a three-week roadmap that ends in Philadelphia.

Notre Dame’s NCAA seeds the past four years have been No. 2, No. 6, No. 1 and now No. 3–so this group certainly understands what’s at stake. The first Irish assignment comes Saturday night against a 15-2 Air Force team (ironically Notre Dame and the Falcons played a preseason scrimmage in January) that stands as the Southern Conference champion. The Falcons have won 15 games in a row dating back to a mid-February one-goal loss to Denver, the same Pioneer team that defeated the Irish in overtime in March. Air Force won four games in overtime in 2016, including one at Duke.

“I can’t think of a year where it makes less difference who we play,” Corrigan added to his players. “I can’t think of a team that’s going to be in this tournament that’s not capable of winning it, and I can’t think of a team that’s going to be in this tournament that we can’t beat. I’m just happy to be playing next week. We are more prepared to go three straight weeks than anybody because that’s what we’ve been doing all year with the schedule we’ve played.”

The Irish slate officially rated sixth in the NCAA Toughest Schedule standings coming into action Sunday–while LaxPower’s strength of schedule numbers put Notre Dame second.

Will that same sunny vibe play out over the next three weekends? Stay tuned.

The Irish goal is to make the next three weeks of lacrosse the best three of their lives.

John Heisler, senior associate athletics director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 1978. A South Bend, Indiana, native, he is a 1976 graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a member of the College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame. He is editor of the award-winning “Strong of Heart” series.

University of Notre Dame Athletics Communications contact:
John Heisler
Senior Associate Athletics Director
112 Joyce Center
Notre Dame, IN 46556
574-631-7516 (office)
574-532-0293 (cell)

The University of Notre Dame men’s lacrosse team pursues excellence on and off the field through the three pillars in which the program is built: Character, Culture & Community. These three foundational values guide the promise of the program, which is to provide its student-athletes with the most compelling and enriching experience in all of college athletics. Through academics, competition, service and travel, the program aims to immerse its players in situations that enhance their student-athlete experience to help them become the people, students and teammates they aspire to be.

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