March 27, 2016
By John Heisler
The first half of the Notre Dame-Ohio State men’s lacrosse game Saturday at historic Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, didn’t rival the aura of any of the Buckeye football tradition feted on the facade of the upper deck-at least from the Irish standpoint.
In a low-possession 30 minutes, the Irish had been held to 13 shots, four in the opening period.
After leading the Atlantic Coast Conference in fewest penalty minutes per contest, Notre Dame committed four and a half minutes worth in those first two periods-including dodging a bullet on a rare, three-minute, non-releasable, illegal stick call.
Sophomore Mikey Wynne had taken advantage of a couple of Buckeye pushing calls to tally a pair of man-advantage goals-yet the Irish trailed 4-3 at the break.
The ghosts of those Ohio State Heisman Trophy winners whose names were posted in the northwest corner of the facility were not threatened by anything yet accomplished by anyone wearing blue and gold.
It’s safe to say everybody connected with the Irish lacrosse camp understands that, even now at 6-1, second-rated Notre Dame has yet to hit its stride.
Irish coach Kevin Corrigan understands all that-and he’s committed to convincing his players that the building process has to happen one . . . brick . . . at . . . a . . . time.
Here’s what the veteran Irish head coach offered to his squad a few minutes before the opening face-off:
“You recognize things and label them for what they are and then you work at getting better at them. It’s not like this-as soon as you start working you’re starting on this upward trajectory. Like most things in life you’re on one level for a long time while you’re working your butt off-and then it starts to multiply because you’ve now got the confidence that you didn’t just luck into that play. You’ve been working on that for weeks and months and you’ve put the time in and you’ve earned that.
“That’s where we are as a team right now. I don’t think we’ve played great lacrosse yet. Over 60 minutes we haven’t played close to what we can do. We’ve been working hard, and we’ve been identifying what the issues are. When that trajectory starts up, we’re headed where we want to go.”
None of that kicked in over those first 30 minutes.
And Corrigan admitted to being a bit frustrated at halftime:
“We did not manage game situations as well as we should have. We didn’t have the ball and we got a little frustrated and our defense made a few uncharacteristic plays. On a day when you’re already struggling to win face-offs and get possessions, it’s really hard to get a rhythm. We didn’t need to panic because that was only going to make it worse. We needed to be a little more disciplined about what we were doing, but not too cautious.”
For the next 20 minutes that balance played out nearly perfectly.
The Irish began playing with a poise, an aggressiveness and a confidence that had not been exhibited as much early-and it paid dividends.
The Notre Dame defense kept the Buckeyes off the scoreboard for the entire third period (and a 20:32 span overall)-and the Irish attack found a higher gear:
— Wynne completed his hat trick (his fifth of 2016) on a goal less than four minutes into the third period.
— Less than two minutes later junior midfielder Kyle Trolley impressively fought his way through multiple defenders and gave the Irish the lead for good at 5-4.
— Brendan Collins scored unassisted at the 6:09 mark of the third period.
— Senior captain Matt Kavanagh completed the four-goal run on another of his patented plays from right in front of the net.
That quickly the Irish had built a three-goal lead–and Ohio State was forced to call a timeout.
Rookie Ryder Garnsey and veteran Eddy Lubowicki both scored in the final period to build the margin from two goals back to three (Garnsey’s goal coming after an Ohio State slashing penalty)-and that became enough to hold off two Buckeye scores in a 1:02 window late.
Ohio State won the ground ball after the last face-off and had possession with a chance to tie the contest, but Irish goaltender Shane Doss made the last of his half-dozen saves on a Carter Brown shot with about 43 seconds remaining.
The Irish prevailed 9-8-in a third straight game decided by a single goal. Notre Dame now has won 14 straight in this series-but four of the last seven victories over the Buckeyes have come by a single goal.
Kavanagh lent his share of poise in adding a pair of goals and two assists-with that four-point outing qualifying as his best since a goal and four assists in the opener against Georgetown.
“We scored a couple of goals in transition and we really pushed the play (in the third period). We played smart and we didn’t force anything,” said the Irish senior.
“We found some holes in their defense and at the same time our defense was playing great and Shane was making stops.”
Kavanagh earned the “man of the match” honor from his Irish teammates.
“We’ve just gotta show up every day and keep competing,” he offered to them.
“Here’s the way it happens,” Corrigan told his squad in the bowels of Ohio Stadium after the Irish victory on a sunny, 55-degree afternoon.
“We had 20 minutes of great lacrosse today. The first 20 minutes of the second half we came out, took the game to them and played loose and fast and selectively. We attacked the goal, but we didn’t just take the first thing we could get.
“We had to hang on a little at the end because we lost our aggressiveness a little bit. But I see a lot of things where we’re coming.
“Everybody’s working at it. Look at scores across the country (top-ranked and unbeaten Denver had fallen to Penn State while the Irish and Buckeyes were finishing up-and the Nittany Lions are Ohio State’s next opponent; unbeaten and third-rated Yale survived a one-goal win over Princeton). You celebrate the ‘W,’ you recognize what you can get better at and you get back to work on Monday.
“That’s part of the deal when you start the season where we did. We’ve seen Ohio State’s best and Virginia’s best and Denver’s best. If we watch all their games we’re getting everybody’s best right now. And that’s okay-we’ve just got to keep figuring it out. We’ll keep working on all these things during the week and then compete on Saturdays.”
The Notre Dame offense has scored in single digits the last four outings-while only one Irish opponent has managed as many as nine goals.
With the next two Irish assignments showing ACC rivals Syracuse and Duke (the Blue Devils tipped the Orange in overtime Saturday), Corrigan knows there are plenty of opportunities remaining for his team to find a day-long rhythm.
“We haven’t played badly-we’re just not as good as we can be,” he noted Saturday outside the Irish locker room.
“If we can show them that-and we’ve been doing it in practice-we didn’t get 60 minutes but we got 20 and we haven’t had 20 like that. We’ll take that. We got five minutes at the end of the Maryland game. We got 10 minutes at the end against Denver. We’re building toward putting 60 minutes together.”
And it happens-one . . . brick . . . at . . . a . . . time.
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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