Feb. 25, 2010
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the seventh in a 10-part series on UND.com, spotlighting the 2010 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 already opened the season with a landmark win at second-ranked Duke last weekend.
Last season's 15-1 record will go down as one of the best season's in the 30-year history of Notre Dame men's lacrosse. However, Fighting Irish head coach Kevin Corrigan knows that success achieved last season does not automatically have a bearing on what will happen during the 2010 campaign.
"Like any other year, you don't start where you left off, you start all over," says Corrigan. "At the same time, we have a number of guys who've experienced a lot of success over the past two years and I think that comes with an appreciation for the process and what it takes to get that done. They have high demands of each other. The success we've had will hopefully provide our guys with a lot of incentive and a blueprint on how to get back there and do it again."
A new era for Notre Dame men's lacrosse will begin in 2010 as the Irish will begin play in Arlotta Stadium. The stadium features over 2,000 seats, lights, an artificial-turf field, locker rooms, player lounges, restrooms and concession areas. The state-of-the-art facility is named after Notre Dame graduate John Arlotta, president and chief executive officer of Denver-based Coram Inc. He and his wife Bobbie pledged the lead gift toward the stadium.
"It's an unbelievable facility for our guys and for our team to do what we do every day," states Corrigan. "I can't wait to be in there with a crowd and play some games in there this spring."
A new stadium will not be the only significant change for the Fighting Irish. After spending the past 16 years as a member of the Great Western Lacrosse League (GWLL), Notre Dame will begin play in the BIG EAST Conference, which is entering its first season of sponsoring men's lacrosse. Joining Notre Dame in the BIG EAST will be defending national champion Syracuse along with Georgetown, Providence, Rutgers, St. John's and Villanova. The seven teams will play a six-game single round-robin regular-season schedule.
"The BIG EAST is a huge move for us," adds Corrigan. "It means we're going to have that identity. It means that we're going to have some of those top schools on our schedule year in and year out. I think it's good for us and it's good for lacrosse and we're extremely excited about establishing some new rivalries."
Here is a position-by-position and schedule breakdown for the 2010 Fighting Irish:
Senior Neal Hicks, who is one of four team captains this season, is the headliner for the Irish on the attack. Hicks posted a team-high 43 points last season on 25 goals and 18 assists. He is the lone returning starter at the attack.
"Neal Hicks has done a really good job of assuming some leadership this year," says Corrigan. "We're really excited about everything he's doing. Between the lines we've known what we can get from Neal, but he's become a great leader for our team on and off the field. On the field, he's kind of stepped up and taken control on that end of the field. He's playing with more poise than he ever has. I'm really excited about what he's doing."
Two other juniors that will give the Fighting Irish valuable depth are Ryan Alexander and Tom Connor. Connor started his Notre Dame career at attack, but switched to midfield last season. He saw action in one game a season ago. Alexander played in two contests in 2009, which was his first campaign with the Irish after transferring from Union College.
Sophomore Nicholas Beattie came on strong at the end of last season and he will no doubt have a huge impact on the Irish this season. Beattie tallied six goals and three assists in eight games as a rookie in 2009. He plays well in the crease, but also can add a different dimension to the Irish offense.
"Nick Beattie gives us a different kind of crease guy," says Corrigan. "He's an attackman, not just a crease guy. It's going to be a little bit different in how we play down there and things we do. Nick's ability to dodge and shoot with some range, as well as be tough inside, is going to give us a guy that can contribute in a lot of ways and help us play a little bit differently."
Sean Rogers is another member of the sophomore class that figures to have an increased role this season. Due to an injury, Rogers was limited to one game last season, but will no doubt have a much bigger impact this year.
"Sean Rogers is another lefty along with Colin Igoe," states Corrigan. "That was a problem for us last year, we played three righties on our attack. Having both Sean (Rogers) and Colin (Igoe) back is going to make a big difference for us."
The Irish welcome in two freshmen in the attack. Ryan Foley hails from Glen Ridge, N.J. and Delbarton High School, while Andy Will is from Olney, Md. and Bullis School. Corrigan feels both student-athletes have bright futures at Notre Dame and will be pushing for playing time this year.
Notre Dame boasts a significant amount of depth in the midfield. The Irish will not only be relying on a core group of veterans, but also a talented freshman class.
The Fighting Irish welcome back two starters on the first midfield line. Senior Grant Krebs is coming off a season in which he earned honorable mention All-America honors as he led all Notre Dame midfielders with 38 points on 29 goals and nine assists.
"Grant can do so many things well because he really is a guy with a great sense and feel for the game," comments Corrigan. "He's a guy that a lot of people can play with because he makes himself easy to play with. He's kind of evolved from a guy who tried to fit in with everyone to a guy who can really be a leader on that end of the field."
"I love the fact that we have three two-way middies," says Corrigan. "We've got guys with different skill sets and different strengths and abilities. Even physically they are three different kinds of guys. It really makes them a unique kind of matchup problem. We need them to be an anchor and we need consistency out of them because we're going to be playing a lot of younger guys this year."
Notre Dame will rely heavily on the versatility of senior Kelly McKenna, who will serve as a team captain this season. McKenna has played both defensive midfield and in the regular midfield rotation along with facing-off during his time with the Irish. As a part of the second midfield line last season, he recorded three goals and four assists. Corrigan and the coaching staff really like his intelligence and leadership.
Providing experience at the defensive midfield position will be senior Adam Felicetti. He played in every game last season and helped the Irish boast the top defense in the nation. Felicetti also contributed on the offensive end of the field with one goal and two assists. He possesses multiple skills and a great understanding of the Notre Dame defense.
Notre Dame appears to be strong once again in the faceoff X with the return of senior Trever Sipperly. Sipperly ranked 13th nationally in that category last season with a .559 winning percentage. He has continued to improve his game and will be a valuable asset for the Fighting Irish this season.
"Trever Sipperly has really worked to become a better faceoff guy," explains Corrigan. "I feel he could be one of the best faceoff guys in the country. He's really excited about assuming a bigger role this year and we are too. He's become more poised with the ball once he gets it off the ground. He's gotten better at the defensive end as far as on-ball and off-ball defense so now there's not a weakness in his game."
A trio of juniors will add key depth to the midfield rotation. Twins Billy and Patrick Maloney, along with Taylor Tripucka all have game experience that will allow them to step up when asked by the coaching staff.
Another junior in the mix as a defensive midfielder is Tim Bemer, who saw time in nine games last season. Bemer spent the fall semester studying abroad in Australia and came back in great shape and will certainly challenge for playing time this season.
The sophomore class features two midfield players that saw significant playing time during their rookie campaigns, yet in different roles than what they will be in this season. Eric Keppeler and Max Pfeifer combined to play in 22 games last season. Keppeler played in a defensive role last year and will move into the midfield rotation this season. Pfeifer competed on attack as a freshman, but will be a valuable part of the midfield unit in 2010. Corrigan feels both Keppeler and Pfeifer will provide a spark to the second midfield line.
Fellow sophomore Ben Ashenburg played in four games last season, yet Corrigan feels he is arguably the most improved player on the team. Ashenburg will expect to push for playing time this season as will his classmates Michael Rogers and Devon Dobson. Rogers is coming off an injury-plagued season, while Dobson, who also was injured during a portion of the 2009 campaign, saw action in five contests as a freshman and he is part of a very deep defensive midfield unit.
Providing additional depth and versatility to the defensive midfield is freshman Quinn Cully, who was a U.S. Lacrosse All-American. Corrigan and the coaching staff envision a bright future for Cully because of his physical presence and his ability to learn quickly.
Cully is just one part of Notre Dame's talented freshman midfield class. Steve Murphy, Pat Cotter and Ty Kimball expect to have a large impact on Fighting Irish lacrosse this year and in the years to come. Cotter and Murphy both were Under Armour All-Americans in 2009.
"Steve Murphy is a force on the field," says Corrigan. "He's a physical presence. He's a lefty and is a very skilled guy who sees the field well and is a determined dodger. I think he's going to play a lot for us this year."
"Pat Cotter has good all-around skills. There isn't much that he can't do pretty well. He's an easy guy to play with and he knows how to play the game. Ty Kimball is a terrific physical specimen and very skilled. Once he learns how we play and how we want him to play, he's going to see more and more opportunities come his way because there are a lot of things he can do well."
The Notre Dame defense is coming off a season in which it led all NCAA Division I teams with a program record 6.19 goals-against average. Several key cogs of that Irish defense return to help the Fighting Irish again in 2010.
"Sam Barnes and Mike Creighton are two guys who have really figured out how to play at this level," states Corrigan. "As a result, they're two of the better defensemen in the country. They are both athletic and tough. They are very smart and communicate well. They can play a variety of roles in our defense and they're great guys to build around at that end of the field."
"Kevin Ridgway has become probably as difficult as a matchup that you can have. He's not going to take the ball away from you, but you're not going to get around him very much. He's very consistent and he does a lot of things well."
Seniors Brant Howell, Chip Lanser and Dan Schmitt will provide depth to the defense. Howell and Schmitt have seen limited playing time during their careers, while Lanser has battled injuries during his Fighting Irish tenure, but he hopes to stay healthy and contribute in any fashion necessary. All three student-athletes will provide valuable leadership to the squad.
Occupying the long-stick midfielder spots will be junior Andrew Irving and sophomore Bobby Smith. Irving played in every contest last season and registered three points on a goal and two assists. Smith saw time in one game and collected an assist.
"Andrew Irving is a playmaker," comments Corrigan. "He's a guy who just has a knack for making plays at both ends of the field. He's savvy and he gives us something different at that end of the field where we have a lot of consistent, determined and diligent guys. Bobby Smith is like Andrew Irving with his play-making abilities."
Jake Brems, Andrew Gleason and Kevin Randall are three other members of the sophomore class that will give the Fighting Irish depth on defense. Brems was a contributor in eight games last season, yet is still overcoming a knee injury. Corrigan feels Gleason joins Ashenburg as one of the most improved players on the team. Gleason saw time in two games last season, but figures to have a larger impact this year. Randall played in eight games, including two starts, as a freshman and the coaching staff will rely on his experience and all-around skill set to help the squad in 2010.
Notre Dame welcomes in freshmen Tyler Andersen and Matt Miller to the defensive unit. Andersen can play up top or down low and Corrigan feels he can help the team with that flexibility. Miller is a smart player that learns quickly. The duo will work on developing their games this season as they provide depth to the defense.
Notre Dame welcomes back Scott Rodgers in goal. Rodgers garnered third-team All-America honors last season in addition to being named the GWLL Player of the Year. He led the nation in goals-against average (6.14) and save percentage (.663).
There is plenty of competition for the back-up goalie spot. Senior Brendan Moore has impressed Corrigan with his development and will certainly be part of the mix. Moore has played in seven games during his career.
"It's unbelievable how much Brendan Moore has improved in every way over the last four years," states Corrigan. "He's really matured and gives us tremendous competition in practice every day."
Also vying to back-up Rodgers is sophomore Colt Power. Power saw action in three games as a rookie. He made 10 saves, while surrendering three goals. The coaching staff loves Power's work ethic and his determination to become a better all-around goalie.
Freshman John Kemp, the brother of former Irish All-America goalie Joey Kemp ('08), is the lone newcomer to the goalie mix. The younger Kemp resembles his older brother with his poise between the pipes. Corrigan feels that Kemp's biggest asset is that he does not have any glaring weaknesses and he will continue to improve into a top-notch goalie.
"Right now we have a great competition for our second goalie spot," says Corrigan. "We have three legitimate contenders who are working hard and bring a little something different to the table. That's a great situation for us."
The Fighting Irish have 12 regular-season games on the slate beginning with a tilt at Duke on Feb. 20 (won by Notre Dame, 11-7) and ending with a home BIG EAST showdown against Syracuse on May 1 at the brand new Arlotta Stadium.
Following the season-opener, Notre Dame returns home to face annual rival Penn State on Feb. 28. That tilt is scheduled to take place inside the Loftus Sports Center.
The Fighting Irish will take part in the Konica Minolta Face-Off Classic on March 6 at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Md. Notre Dame and Loyola will be the third and final game of the day. The first contest of the event will feature Maryland against Duke and that will be followed by Princeton versus Johns Hopkins.
Notre Dame will travel to Houston, Texas to face Fairfield on March 13 at the Kinkaid School. This will mark the second straight season that the Irish have played a game in the state of Texas. Last season, the Irish topped Vermont in Dallas.
The first regular-season game at Arlotta Stadium is slated for March 16 as Notre Dame will play host to Denver. The Irish and Pioneers are no strangers since they spent the previous 11 seasons together in the GWLL. The Fighting Irish will welcome in another former GWLL rival as Ohio State comes to town on March 20.
The final six games of the 2010 campaign all will be BIG EAST showdowns for the Irish. Notre Dame's first-ever BIG EAST clash will come against Rutgers on March 27 at Arlotta Stadium.
A two-game road trip will take the Irish to Villanova on April 3 and Georgetown on April 11. Notre Dame returns home for the first-ever meeting with Providence on April 17. The Fighting Irish will visit St. John's on April 24.
Syracuse, the winner of the past two NCAA Championships, will make its first-ever trip to Notre Dame for the regular-season finale on May 1. The two teams last met in the quarterfinals of the 2008 NCAA Tournament and the Orange escaped with an 11-9 victory.
"If you look at our first five or six games there just isn't a break there," says Corrigan. "I think everyone of those teams could end up in the top 15 and Duke is a preseason No. 1. When you play that as a run-up to the conference like the BIG EAST, I think we have our work cut out for us. We're looking forward to the challenge of playing that many good teams and hopefully do what we need to do to prepare ourselves to be at our best throughout the year and going into the end of the year."