Feb. 17, 2012
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the latest in an ongoing series on UND.com, spotlighting the 2012 Notre Dame spring sports season with both written and video previews. Today, we take a look at the Fighting Irish men's lacrosse team, which has developed a reputation as one of the nation's elite programs and once again will look to compete on the sport's highest stage in 2012.
Over the past six seasons, the Notre Dame men's lacrosse team has graduated standout players, but head coach Kevin Corrigan and his staff have always reloaded and constructed a team that has qualified for the NCAA tournament each of those six seasons. During those six campaigns, the Irish have advanced to the quarterfinals of NCAAs on three occasions, including last year.
The 2012 version of the Fighting Irish will have to fill the void of losing five All-America honorees from a squad that finished the season with an 11-3 record and a top-10 national ranking. Expectations are still high at Notre Dame as the Irish boast a top-10 ranking entering this season.
"Clearly we know that we lost five All-Americans and that's not an insignificant thing," says Corrigan. "At the same time, I think we have some depth with guys that can play right now. They're working extremely hard and there's no reason why we shouldn't be a very good team if we continue to do the things that we need to do."
The All-Americans that the Irish lost were midfielders Zach Brenneman and David Earl, the 2011 BIG EAST Midfielder of the Year, defensemen Sam Barnes and Kevin Ridgway along with long-stick midfielder Andrew Irving.
Captaining the Irish in 2012 will be seniors Nicholas Beattie, Max Pfeifer and Kevin Randall. Beattie will be the leader of an attack unit that returns all three starters from one season ago. Pfeifer has been a steady force in the Fighting Irish midfield since he stepped on campus and he headlines this year's group of talented middies. Randall has been a key reason why Notre Dame has finished each of the last two seasons ranked second nationally in scoring defense.
"All three of our captains, as well as our whole senior class, has a great sense of who we are as a team," states Corrigan. "They know who we want to be and how we want to play. They are willing to play with a discipline, but also with an aggressiveness and a confidence that is great. We're lucky to have that kind of leadership."
That leadership and experience, combined with a talented group of underclassmen, will be Notre Dame's recipe for filling the void of what was lost and what should have the Irish eyeing another successful season in 2012.
Here is a position-by-position breakdown of the 2012 Fighting Irish squad:
"Sean Rogers also knows what we're trying to do and he's very comfortable in doing what we need to do. He finds his opportunities to make plays. His decision-making has become so much better over the last two years. Those two guys (Beattie and Rogers) make an awful lot of good decisions for us and that'll make our offense more effective.
"Westy Hopkins had a great freshman year and I think he'll continue to grow. I think just the fact that those guys (Beattie, Rogers and Hopkins) will be playing together for another year means they're going to be that much better. Westy is maturing as a player and the dynamic of them playing together for another year has really built some cohesiveness."
"Ryan Mix has done a great job at developing as an inside guy on the crease," states Corrigan. "I think he's going to give us some options there. Conor Doyle proved in the fall that he's going to be a guy that can play some minutes for us and help us as well. Those five guys will be the core of it, but I think we have other guys who can step in there and help us."
Pfeifer registered nine goals and a team-high eight assists on the first midfield line last season. Fellow senior Eric Keppeler notched five goals and five assists from the second midfield.
"Max Pfeifer is probably our steadiest and most-reliable guy at the offensive end of the field," comments Corrigan. "He very rarely makes bad decisions. He works hard both with and without the ball. He can make a variety of plays.
"Eric Keppeler is a glue guy on a midfield because he can do so many things well. He can go to the other end and play good defense. He's smart in the middle of the field and he's a ground ball guy. Offensively, he's really developed into a guy who can do some things at that end as well. Where Max Pfeifer has grown from an offensive guy into a guy who is doing the other things well, Keppeler started at the defensive end and has grown into an offensive player. So now we have two guys who kind of anchor our first two midfield lines and bring their experience and IQ for the game."
"I think Tyler Kimball and Steve Murphy are two of the hardest working guys on our team," says Corrigan. "Both are very physical and both bring an attacking mentality to the game. Their IQ is catching up with their physical ability and the skill set that they've worked so hard to develop and I think both of them are going to be very good players.
"Pat Cotter is a very smart player and a guy who knows how we want him to play and what we want him to do. As he continues to get confident and aggressive, he's going to make more and more plays at the offensive end of the field."
Junior Ryan Foley has seen time at both attack and midfield during his Irish career. Last season, he registered eight goals and four assists. His versatility is a key asset for the Fighting Irish.
"Ryan Foley gives us flexibility because we can play him at attack and we can play him at midfield," explains Corrigan. "He has an all-around offensive game that allows us to play him up top, behind, really anywhere and he can do a lot of things. He's also developed into a defensive player. Right now he's not a two-way guy but he's an athlete who can get out there and help us in a variety of roles."
Fellow junior Andy Will missed the fall campaign with an injury and hopes to return and have an impact in the spring.
Seniors Ben Ashenburg and Michael Rogers also will be in the mix to see time at the midfield position. Ashenburg has played limited time during his career, while Rogers has been hampered by injuries during most of his Notre Dame tenure and has yet to see the field. Corrigan likes the work ethic and attitude that both bring to the team.
Another player who has been sidelined because of injury is sophomore Jim Marlatt. He did not play during his rookie campaign, but will certainly be a factor this season. Sophomore Tyler Brenneman saw time in eight games as a freshman and will have an increased role as he develops. Corrigan likes what he brings to the field as a lefty and the versatility that he possesses. Fellow sophomore Matthew Collins can help the Irish as a short-stick midfielder or with the long pole.
Members of the freshman class also will be relied on in the midfield in 2012.
"We have a lot of guys in the freshman class who can help in roles right now," states Corrigan. "Nick Ossello and Will Corrigan will both help us in our faceoff game. Nick can play some on wing and as a defensive midfielder. Jack Near is going to play some as a defensive midfielder. I think all three of those guys can develop into good two-way middies for us. Will Gilmartin is a strong, athletic kid who can do a lot of things and in time will push his way into the conversation as well."
Connor McCollough is the fifth midfielder from the rookie class and he too provides good depth at that position.
One of the greatest strengths for this year's Notre Dame squad is its defensive midfield. Senior Devon Dobson and junior Quinn Cully both bring a wealth of experience, while Andrew Gleason, a senior, also will be counted on to provide depth at the position.
"Short-stick midfielders Devon Dobson, Andrew Gleason and Quinn Cully are really going to be a strength of our team this season," adds Corrigan. "They are experienced, they are tough both physically and mentally and they've developed into more of a threat in the transition game. They can help us in a lot of different ways. With those guys, along with Jack Near and Nick Ossello, we really have some good depth at that position and maybe the best athleticism we have ever had at that position."
Sophomore Liam O'Connor will be Notre Dame's primary faceoff man. Last season, he ranked 18th nationally by winning 55.3% (88-159) of his attempts. He split the duty with departed senior Jake Marmul so the bulk of this year's load will fall on him.
"Liam O'Connor as a faceoff guy had a really good first year and was helped by having Jake Marmul to both work with and work against in practice and to compliment him in games," says Corrigan. "He's going to have to make more adjustments this year and I think he's ready to do that. He's very in tune with what he's doing and what he needs to do and with what his opponents are doing. His IQ will continue to help him become a better player."
"Kevin Randall is playing great," says Corrigan. "He's really worked extremely hard, not just for four years, but going into this year I think he's worked extremely hard and wants to be prepared and he knows he's kind of our leader down on that end of the field. He's quiet, steady and he's smart and tough and everything you could ask for in a defenseman. He's playing at a very high level right now."
Joining Randall as starters in the close defense will most likely be junior Matt Miller and sophomore Stephen O'Hara. Miller has seen limited time during his Irish career and O'Hara did not see action as a freshman, but Corrigan likes what both players bring to the defense.
"Matt Miller is having a terrific year so far," comments Corrigan. "He has worked the past two years kind of behind the scenes to prepare himself and it's his turn now and he's ready for it. He's played very well and very consistently throughout the fall and preseason.
"Stephen O'Hara has just really blossomed. He plays like a veteran. He didn't play for us last year and now he's starting as a sophomore and is really playing so well and so smart and steady. He looks like a senior out there."
Senior Bobby Smith has been a key contributor for the Irish at the long-stick midfielder position over the past three seasons and he gives the team flexibility with his ability to also play down low.
"Bobby Smith continues to play at the long-pole position for us and he's doing very well there," says Corrigan. "He's also given us depth down low with Jake (Brems) out. He's worked really hard in trying to become our swing guy in case we need some depth. He gives us flexibility and he also really understands our defense and how we play. He is a great communicator, which is very important. He's also very strong as a leader."
Junior Tyler Andersen can also play up top as a long-stick midfielder or down low in the close defense.
"Tyler Andersen may be the most improved guy on the team in terms of his conditioning and his preparation for the season," explains Corrigan. "When I look at those guys that we lost, from Andrew Irving to Kevin Ridgway to Zach Brenneman and David Earl, I look at the guys behind them whether it's Steve Murphy and Tyler Kimball in the midfield or Kevin Randall, Tyler Andersen and Matt Miller in the defense. All were chomping at the bit to get in there, but they all were working while they were waiting. That gives all of us confidence, including them, in their ability to step in there and play at a high level this year."
Adding depth to the defense from the sophomore class are Brian Buglione, Chris Prevoznik, Michael Shepardson and Ryan Smith, who is a newcomer to the team this season. Corrigan is impressed with the development of the sophomore class of defenseman and the roles they can fill on this year's team.
The lone freshman defender on this year's squad is Henry Williams. Corrigan feels Williams will push for playing time this year most likely as a long-stick midfielder.
Junior John Kemp returns as the starter between the pipes for the Fighting Irish. Last season, Kemp earned honorable mention All-America honors in addition to being a second-team all-BIG EAST selection. He ranked second nationally in goals-against average (6.61) and fourth in save percentage (.602).
"I don't think there's a better goalie than John Kemp when he's on his game," states Corrigan. "He continues to develop every year. As a freshman he kind of quietly stopped the ball and now as a junior he's leading the defense, clearing the ball and getting the ball out in a way that helps our midfielders become better and our defensemen become better in clearing the ball. He's become the communicator, the general, the center of the defense with his poise and confidence. He's somebody everybody knows we can count on day-to-day."
"Colt Power has developed all phases of his game," says Corrigan. "More than anything else, he just stops the ball. He gets pieces of balls that you can't imagine. He gives us depth at that position and also that great competition in practice every day. When you're shooting every day and there are no easy goals, that's a good thing for a team to play against.
"Conor Kelly is a terrific talent. He's going to be a big-time goalie. He's playing and competing every day because you never know in a position like goalie. He's working hard with that in mind and preparing himself every day and he's got outstanding ability and an outstanding temperament for that position."