1996 Season Recap

Notre Dame earns fifth straight NCAA Tournament berth

The goals and objectives for the Notre Dame lacrosse team have remained the same the past several seasons – winning the Great Western Lacrosse League title and earning an NCAA tournament berth.

On May 13, 1995, Notre Dame made lacrosse history by becoming the first team from the West to win a first-round NCAA tournaement game. The Irish stunned the lacrosse world with a 12-10 upset of Duke for their first-ever NCAA victory. After four trips that all resulted in defeat, Notre Dame pulled off the biggest win in the program’s history and advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals.

Despite the successes of the ’95 campaign, Irish head coach Kevin Corrigan and his squad knew heading into the 1996 season that the previous season’s accomplishments really didn’t count for anything. Also, there were significant losses from the ’95 team, including all-time leading scorer Randy Colley, a two-time honorable mention All-America honoree, and defensemen Mike Iorio, a three-time All-American selection.

Youth was well served on last year’s Irish team, with only 13 juniors and seniors dotting the Notre Dame roster. In spite of its youth Corrigan’s squad advanced to the NCAAs for the fifth straight year, posting a 9-4 record, and earned its highest ranking in school history when the Irish climbed to sixth in mid-April in the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association poll.

As has become the norm during the Corrigan era, Notre Dame faced a tough scheduled that included seven ranked opponents. The Irish posted a 3-4 record against those teams. Three teams on last year’s schedule during the regular season – Loyola, Harvard and North Carolina – were participants in the 12-team NCAA field.

The Irish, an uncharacteristic 2-3 at home during the season, had a strong 7-1 road mark. Notre Dame’s three losses at home were the most by any Notre Dame lacrosse team. Its lone blemish away from home was the 12-7 first round NCAA tournament loss to Johns Hopkins. The Irish home schedule featured visits by three ranked opponents – #6 Loyola, #5 North Carolina and #15 Massachusetts.

When the Greyhounds visited Notre Dame for the season opener March 2, it marked the first time the Irish had played host to a top-10 opponent. The Irish lost the contest 14-7 despite outshooting the Greyhounds 46-26 in the game.

North Carolina was a first-time visitor to Notre Dame and escaped with a 11-10 victory that snapped a seven-game win streak for the Irish. The Tar Heels, who trailed 10-7 in the contest with 13:09 remaining, scored four unanswered goals, including the game-winner with 33 seconds remaining in the come-from-behind victory.

Following the North Carolina matchup, Massachussetts, another first-time visitor to Notre Dame, handed the Irish its second staight setback, 8-5. The Irish trailed the Minutemen 3-0 after the first quarter and tied the game at 4-4 on a Tony Reid tally with 12:36 left in the contest. Massachusetts, however, rallied with four unanswered goals in 3:44 to lead 8-4 with eight minutes left in the contest.

Notre Dame ranked second nationally in scoring defense, as the Irish allowed just 7.21 goals per game, and was 15th in scoring margin, outscoring their opponents by 2.54 goals per game. Sophomore goalkeeper Alex Cade led the nation in goals-against average (7.16) for the second straight year and was fifth in save percentage (.658). He started all 13 games for the Irish and allowed just 88 goals while making 169 saves.

For the third time in his coaching career, Kevin Corrigan was named Great Western Lacrosse League coach of the year. In addition, six players from the squad earned GWLL honors. Cade, along with sophomores Jimmy Keenan, a midfielder and Todd Rassas, a defenseman, and freshman attackman Chris Dusseau were selected for first-team honors, while junior Reid and senior Todd Bialous were named to the second-team.

The sophomore trio of Cade, Keenan and Rassas earned All-America accolades, marking the first time in school history that three players were selected for USILA All-America honors in the same season. Rassas, who helped anchor the Irish defense, was a third-team honoree. He dished off two assists and had 41 ground balls. Keenan, who led the Irish in scoring with 15 goals and a team-high 19 assists (34 points), and Cade received honorable mention notice.

Keenan proved to be the playermaker for the Irish in the middle. He had a goal or assist in 12 of 13 games. The only contest in which he failed to register a point was Notre Dame’s 11-10 loss to the Tar Heels. His best outing of the season was against Mayland-Baltimore County when he scored a career-high five goals. Keenan also dished off a personal best four assists in the NCAA tournament loss to Johns Hopkins.

In addition to Keenan, Dusseau was the squad’s second-leading scorer as he finished with a team-high 29 goals and two assists (31 points). He set the Notre Dame freshman mark for goals scored in a season, eclipsing the mark of 28 established by Joe Franklin in 1983.

Juniors Will DeRiso and Reid also were scoring threats for the Irish. DeRiso, who played in 13 games and made nine starts at attack, scored 12 goals and dished off 10 assists (22 points), while Reid netted 18 goals and dished off two assists (20 points). After starting 11 of 13 games, he was injured in Notre Dame’s NCAA contest versus Johns Hopkins.

Brian Gilfillan, one of nine players to start all 13 games, had 10 goals and 10 assists.

As has been trademark of Corrigan-coached teams, defense was the hallmark of the Irish in ’96. The Irish defensive fortunes were bolstered by the return of fifth-year senior Bialous. He along with Rassas and Dave Cashen, another 13-game starter, gave Notre Dame its strongest defenses units ever.

Todd, a tri-captain, was one of two Bialous brothers on the Irish roster. Brother Joe, a freshman midfielder, saw the most playing time of any Irish rookie along with Dusseau. He made two starts in the 13 games he played and scored four goals and dished off two assists.

Dramatic victories characterized ’96 for Corrigan and his squad. The Irish played four straight games that were decided by a goal and were 3-1 in those contest.

Three of those victories (all on the road) came in dramatic fashion as the Irish posted two straight overtime victories and had one contest decided in the final two minutes of the game.

Notre Dame’s win over Hobart, 6-5, on March 30 started the string of four-straight one-goal games. The Irish had their two-goal fourth-quarter lead erased, but Gilfillan, another one of the Irish tri-captains, scored the winning goal 38 seconds into sudden death overtime.

The squad’s second straight overtime victory came in Cambrige, Mass., as Notre Dame defeated Harvard, 7-6. Notre Dame rallied from a 4-1 third-quarter deficit when Keenan tied the game with 40 seconds remaining in regulation. Dusseau provided the game-winner, Notre Dame’s only lead of the game, with 1:53 left in sudden-death overtime.

Notre Dame’s third straight one-goal decision was a 14-13 win at Dartmouth. Dusseau’s third goal of the game proved to be the charm as he rallied the Irish for the second straight game, tallying the winning goal with 1:22 left in the contest. Corrigan’s squad trailed by as many as five goals in the second quarter, but took the lead for the first time in the contest, 13-12, on Keenan’s unassisted goal with 8:35 left in the game. Dartmouth tied the game at 13-13 with 6:46 left before Dusseau’s game-winning goal.

In making their fifth-consecutive NCAA appearance, the Irish, who finished the season ranked 11th in the USILA poll, put themselves in rather elite company as only six other teams in the ’96 field – Johns Hopkins, Loyola, Maryland, North Carolina, Princeton and Syracuse – had been part of the tournament five consecutive seasons.

The ’96 campaign, with its last-second victories and overall successes, maintained Notre Dame’s place in the lacrosse world as one of the sport’s most respected programs.