May 6, 2016
By John Heisler
There’s work to be done.
That means there’s little time allowed today to celebrate what the seniors on the 2016 University of Notre Dame men’s lacrosse team have done in their careers.
The Irish will take a few moments Sunday at their regular-season finale at Arlotta Stadium against Army West Point to introduce those seniors. Yet, between that noon contest with the Black Knights-followed by the announcement of the NCAA Championship bracket later that night-the real work is just beginning.
In fact, sixth-rated Notre Dame-seeded well enough to play host to first-round NCAA games seven of the last eight years-hopes to do that again next weekend and keep the Army game from being the final appearance on its home field this spring.
Were the Irish to create a highlight video of four years’ worth of successes, there would be no shortage of moments to promote:
— 44 (so far) combined victories
— Six wins in NCAA Championship play, with potentially more to come
— An Atlantic Coast Conference Championship trophy in their first season in the league in 2014, followed by ACC regular-season crowns in both 2015 (at 4-0) and 2016
— Nine weeks in the number-one spot in one or more of the national polls in 2016 alone (the Irish also rated number one at different points in both 2013 and 2015)
— A number-one seed in the 2015 NCAA Championship bracket and a preseason number-one ranking in 2016, both firsts for the program
And all that’s just on the team side.
Even with all the Notre Dame success nationally in recent years, the Irish had never had a returning first-team All-American until 2016 when they had three-including seniors Matt Kavanagh and Matt Landis.
The success of those two classmates and New Yorkers named Matt arguably have made them the two most visible and accomplished Irish players in history-one (Kavanagh) from Rockville Centre on Long Island and the other (Landis) from Pelham.
Interestingly, two of their greatest career moments came in consecutive seasons in NCAA Championship quarterfinal matchups against Albany-with both games punching the Notre Dame ticket to championship weekend.
In 2014, it was Kavanagh’s overtime goal–coming literally in his backyard in a game played at Hofstra-that finished off an amazing Notre Dame comeback victory. His emotional reaction earned him a spot on the cover of Lacrosse magazine a few months later.
A year later in Denver, it was Landis’ outstanding defensive work against Albany’s Tewaaraton Award winner Lyle Thompson that probably did as much as anything to earn him the 2015 national defensive player of the year award from the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association.
Looking for drama? That overtime winner by Kavanagh marks one of four times he’s done that in an Irish uniform (including this year against Marquette). These Notre Dame seniors already have posted seven extra-time triumphs (against four defeats) and stand 14-8 overall in one-goal games. That’s more than enough theatricals for a four-year span.
“This class is as accomplished as any we’ve ever had in terms of both individual and team success,” says Irish coach Kevin Corrigan. “But it’s not the time to sit back and reflect on that. In my mind you stay focused on what you have in front of you until you don’t have anything left in front of you. Right now we’ve got too much in front of us to get nostalgic.”
There’s work to be done.
Timing is a bit different in 2016, with the end of final exams at the University coming just prior to the regular-season finale. In most recent years the Irish have played a first-round NCAA game a day or two after exams concluded.
“It is what it is,” says Corrigan. “Traditionally we’re playing a big game on this weekend. It’s usually an NCAA game and this time it happens to be Army. So it’s not anything different than what our guys have been through. They’ve spent most of their time on academics this week, but at this time of the year you don’t need a lot of time on the field. We’ve prepared now for 13 different games-and you don’t need the same prep time now as what you do in early March. So I don’t see it as being a big issue.”
The Irish would like to get back on the winning track: “Here’s the ironic thing,” says Corrigan. “We’ve lost our last two games, but I would say we’ve played 60 of the best minutes we’ve played all year in those two games (a two-goal road loss at North Carolina and an overtime loss to Duke in the ACC semifinals). We had a great half against Duke (building a 3-1 lead at the half) and the second and third quarters against North Carolina were as well as we’ve played all year. We’ve got to put together a 60-minute game, and we know that. That challenge hasn’t changed. I’m not blind to the fact we let a couple of games get away, but I’m not going to throw out the baby with the bathwater here and ignore the fact we played some really good lacrosse in those games. We’ve just got to sustain it.”
The last time the Black Knights came to town produced an amazing afternoon of lacrosse to end the 2014 regular season at Arlotta Stadium. The Irish finally won it 18-17 on Conor Doyle’s goal with 20 seconds remaining in the fourth period. The 19th-rated Black Knights scored four straight times in the second period to grab a 7-5 lead and managed five straight goals in the third period for a 14-11 advantage. The fifth-ranked Irish took a 15-14 lead early in the fourth period on consecutive Sergio Perkovic goals. Army rebounded to go on top 16-15 at the 4:14 mark before Corrigan’s crew scored three of the final four goals (the last two for the Irish by Doyle). John Scioscia led Notre Dame with six goals and two assists.
Another first for the Irish. The individual awards bestowed this week by the ACC meant Notre Dame for the first time had multiple players claim one. Senior Matt Landis repeated as the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, while rookie attackman Ryder Garnsey received the ACC Freshman of the Year honor.
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.
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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