Feb. 18, 2010
By Kevin Scheitrum
Today we take a look at the teams that start the year just a rung below the nation's premier squads, ranging from a squad that finished 2009 just seconds away from a national title - but instead walked off the field in Foxboro on the sour end of one of the most heart-thumping finishes in the history of the Tournament - to two squads who didn't reach the NCAA's last year.
Each one of these teams possesses two of the three things that would make you elite - pedigree, personnel and/or proven system - but they're all saddled by questions in one of those three arenas. Whether it's youth (Cornell), an entirely new coaching staff (Princeton), concerns about potential meeting reality (Georgetown), questions about what effect a new league will have (Notre Dame) or if a new-look midfield can string together returning powers on attack and defense (Hofstra), if these teams can address that one lingering doubt, they'll have a shot at the crown.
Kevin Corrigan, 22nd season at Notre Dame (196-96)
2009 Record: 15-1 (5-0 in now-defunct GWLL)
Big Losses: Attackers Ryan Hoff and Duncan Swezey; D Regis McDermott
Key Returns/Additions: Sr. attackers Neal Hicks, who broke out in 2009 to the tune of 25 goals and 18 assists, and
Offensive Outlook: Ryan Hoff's graduation will create more than just a hole in the Irish lineup - it'll affect the style of offense altogether. Hoff was a master at planting himself in front of the goal and dumping shots in. In 2010, the Irish don't really have a comparable player. However, they do have big-time scorers like Hicks and Krebs, while a team that was heavily right-handed in '09 looks more balanced in '10. Meanwhile, the first midfield returns largely intact, led by Preseason All-Big East selection Brenneman.
Defensive Breakdown: Last year, Notre Dame set a school record with a 6.19 goals-against average, and most of the key players from front to back return, including star goalie and two-year-captain Scott Rodgers, back after a junior year that saw him post a GAA of 6.14 and save percentage of .663. Mike Creighton should slide from LSM to post defense after seeing action in all 16 games last year.
Other Players To Watch: Sr. Attacker Colin Igoe
Numbers Game: 14-1 - The Irish's record in the GWLL over the last three years - "People were saying it was getting like Memphis basketball," said SID Sean Carroll.
Circle Your Calendar: Feb. 20, at Duke - Duke struggled early against Bucknell last week, but exploited a defense that was weakened by graduation. The Irish might have a template for success here: strike early against a team that's started slowly in two straight games so far (including exhibitions), but then clamp down. And if there's any team in the country who can nail down Duke, it'd be Notre Dame. At the very least, we have one of the nation's best offenses against one of its best defenses.
Before The Face-Off: Talk about a team outgrowing its conference. Sure, the now-defunct GWLL accelerated pretty quickly, but nobody could keep up with Notre Dame. And really, nobody across the country could last year...until Tournament-time, where the undefeated (yet seventh-seeded) Irish lost to Maryland, 7-3. Welcome to the big time, Notre Dame. In a newly formed Big East that features the two-time defending national champs, ever-powerful Georgetown, rising talent Villanova and other teams on the ascent, the Irish won't have a lapse in their schedule this year that will (1) create easier wins to boost the record, (2) lull them into complacency and (3) keep them from a high seed if they manage to go undefeated. With Duke early on the horizon, we'll get an early glimpse into how good the Irish are - but prepare to be impressed.