May 1, 2016
Kevin Corrigan is bullish on his University of Notre Dame men’s lacrosse team.
That’s probably no particular surprise, given that head coaches are paid (in part) to promote their programs.
Yet the timing of Corrigan’s remarks-coming Friday night just moments after Notre Dame’s overtime loss to Duke in the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship semifinals in Kennesaw, Georgia-qualified as intriguing.
“I believe in this team and I think this is a team that can win a national championship,” offered Corrigan in the postgame interview room at Fifth Third Bank Stadium.
Maybe the veteran Irish coach felt his players needed to hear those words in light of a second straight defeat (the Irish fell the previous Saturday at Chapel Hill after holding a five-goal lead in the fourth period).
Maybe he wanted to reassure the rest of the lacrosse world that his 9-3 squad remains fully capable of making a big-time May run.
Perhaps he simply needed to convince himself.
More likely, Corrigan simply wanted to present the facts and avoid any emotionalism that may have crept into the equation. He’s not interested in creating any false confidence, simply in presenting clarity.
The calendar flipped to May overnight. There’s a week remaining in the college men’s lacrosse regular season, and the NCAA bracket will be announced in seven days.
Notre Dame, ranked fourth last week, assuredly will be a factor in all that, as the Irish have been in making the bracket every spring dating back to 2006.
In the aftermath of Friday night’s ACC semifinal, Corrigan went out of his way to remind anyone who cared to listen that the current Irish record features a trio of defeats by a combined four goals:
“We are three plays away from being undefeated and No. 1 in the country, so I’m not about to sit here and beat up my team.”
That includes overtime losses at the hands of top-rated and defending NCAA champion Denver and Duke and a two-goal defeat last weekend at North Carolina.
Corrigan was adamant late Friday night that he believes in his team. He believes in the experience and savvy of his veterans, including Matt Kavanagh and Matt Landis and Sergio Perkovic, all of whom Friday night were among the 25 nominees named for the Tewaaraton Award as the top player in the country.
The NCAA Division I Men’s Lacrosse Committee Friday night released its second set of rankings of the season and placed the Irish fourth-behind Maryland, Brown and Denver. That listing will be impacted by Friday’s result as well as Notre Dame’s regular-season finale next Sunday against Army.
What Corrigan knows after a dozen games is that Notre Dame is capable of playing and defeating anyone in the country. It’s no accident the team in blue and gold ranked atop one or more of the three national polls in nine different weeks this season. What the three Irish losses have shown is that making late-game plays remains imperative.
It’s a face-off win here, an extra ground ball there, a successful ride late in the game.
In Notre Dame’s last two games, its opponent made more of those in the latter stages-with North Carolina rebounding two times from five-goal deficits and Duke doing the same after trailing twice by four scores.
Corrigan is not interested in doing anything other than critiquing and analyzing the video–and then determining what put his team in those predicaments and where the Irish can go from here.
His team qualified as the consensus number-one team in the nation when it took the field April 23 in Chapel Hill. Not all that much has changed since that point, other than maybe some perception.
One of the beauties of college sports is having a short memory. The Notre Dame players begin final exams Monday. They’ll prepare for the Army game in much the same way they have since the season began in February.
“We have to go out and prove it–that we’re the best team. That’s all,” said Corrigan.
“I see these guys every day and work with them.
“We have to play for 60 minutes, and we have to be clear about what we did and didn’t do.”
The line of demarcation at this level and this time of year remains wafer-thin. Four Irish overtime games in 2016 (plus another one-goal contest and a pair of two-goal results) confirm that. Since the start of the 2011 season Notre Dame has played 32 one-goal games (winning 21), including 15 overtime affairs.
Corrigan and his squad would like to think it regularly could be as pleasant as it was in Syracuse last month when all the cylinders pulsated perfectly in a 17-7 Irish win, but that’s not a normal final score in May.
Notre Dame has been to consecutive NCAA Championship Weekends and four in the last six years. The Irish have a core unit that understands what the challenge in May is all about.
And it’s quite likely all about making that one extra play.
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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