Feb. 15, 2017
By John Heisler
Count Kevin Corrigan among those waiting to be impressed by the 2017 version of Notre Dame men’s lacrosse.
That doesn’t mean the Irish head coach isn’t aware that he has some valued blocks to build around—starting with three senior preseason first-team All-Americans in goaltender Shane Doss, midfielder Sergio Perkovic and defenseman Garrett Epple.
The Irish return four of their top five scorers from a year ago—losing four-time All-American Matt Kavanagh to graduation while welcoming back junior attack Mikey Wynne (40 goals, 4 assists in 2016), sophomore attack Ryder Garnsey (27 goals, 12 assists), Perkovic (26 goals, 4 assists) and junior midfielder Brendan Collins (7 goals, 12 assists).
Garnsey and junior long-stick middie John Sexton merited third-team Inside Lacrosse preseason honors (Wynne won honorable mention)—and Wynne, Perkovic, Epple and Doss all made the preseason All-ACC team as voted by Atlantic Coast Conference coaches.
And the returning Irish players surely will benefit from the experience of three straight NCAA Championship appearances (11 in a row overall), a number-one NCAA seed in 2015, multiple weeks ranked number one in the polls in 2016—as well as an ACC title and an NCAA title game appearance in 2014 when Perkovic, Doss, Epple and their fellow seniors all were freshmen.
Yet none of that equates to much for Corrigan—heading into his 29th season as Irish head coach—who is more prone to categorize his 2017 unit as a work in progress.
To help his current team have more time to create its own identity, he purposefully scheduled four preseason contests—twice as many as in most years—to provide those opportunities. With those contests and more than a month of workouts in the rearview mirror, the Irish officially open their season at 1 p.m. (CT) Saturday against Georgetown at the Star (The Dallas Cowboys’ indoor practice facility) in Frisco, Texas.
For Corrigan, it all represents a clean slate:
“We actually have a pretty interesting mix when you look at every position on the field. We have a freshman intimately integrated into every position on the field right now except goalie. So we’re going to be relying heavily on some really young guys. We’ve also got a senior at every position on the field, though maybe not in a starting role. So we’re really not either young or old right now. We’ve got depth with older guys, but we’re playing guys from every class right now, including the freshman class.”
With all that as a backdrop, Corrigan wanted to maximize the opportunities to develop a style for 2017.
“Over the last 20 years, we’ve had teams that played slow and held the ball and the idea was to dominate time of possession. We’ve had teams that played fast and really aggressively offensively and the idea was that we’ve got lots of guys who can score and make plays and we need to give them the freedom to make those plays.
“Sometimes we’ve felt we were really good offensively and other times we felt we were really good defensively. We’ve had teams we felt could ride and clear aggressively and play the middle of the field and other times when we weren’t that way.”
Corrigan compares his challenge to that facing Irish men’s basketball coach Mike Brey:
“Mike maybe didn’t go into the season thinking this way, but now it’s February and scoring 80 has become a pretty good option. In basketball you play 30-some games, so you have a chance to evolve during the season and figure that out. With 12 games in a lacrosse or a football season you better know what you are trying to be going in. You’ve got a very short window to evolve into it.”
That 2017 slate for the fourth-rated Irish features road games against #1 Denver, #7 Virginia and #14 Duke along with home tilts against #2 North Carolina, #3 Maryland, #6 Syracuse and #20 Marquette (all this week’s Inside Lacrosse rankings).
“That’s why we played more games in the preseason. If these freshmen are going to play significant roles, what are those roles going to be? It’s hard to figure that out going against yourselves every day.”
As much as the Irish in recent years have been known for their strong goaltending and solid defense, there are some questions to be answered there.
“If we’ve historically built our team from the defensive end, it’s because defense is more reliable. We’ll be a good defensive team because we’ll make sure our guys understand how to do that.”
From an offensive standpoint, Corrigan simply wants to figure out how to make his scoring options—whether they are Wynne, Garnsey, Perkovic or others--most effective.
“You have years where you’re happy to win 8-7 and years where you’re happy to win 13-12. What we’ve got to figure out is how to use our guys most effectively and then play to that. I think we’re getting there—I feel much better than I did a month ago.
“We’ve got a lot of good lacrosse players. We don’t have that many proven guys with that experience. We can’t just plug guys into spots based on what they did last year. That was last year’s spot and it may not be there this year.
“I never worry about it when people say, ‘Well, you lost this or you lost that.’ We started in September and this is what we have this year. Who’s here? What have we got and what’s the best way to use these guys? We’re conscious of what we were in the past—but what maybe was a good decision last year may not be a good decision this year.
“We want to get to the point where we can make those correct decisions in real time on the field.
“You don’t get to write a paper about it.”
That decision-making process begins in real time Saturday against the Hoyas.