March 7, 2014
#12 DENVER (3-2)
Saturday, March 8 1 p.m. (PT)
The Lacrosse Network (YouTube)
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - It's only fitting that two programs that have helped pry some attention away from the East Coast lacrosse world head to the West Coast this weekend to continue their rivalry.
No. 6 Notre Dame (2-1) will face No. 12 Denver (3-2) 1 p.m. (PT) Saturday in the inaugural Pacific Coast Shootout at LeBard Stadium on the campus of Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, Calif.
The Fighting Irish and Pioneers have combined for four Championship Weekend appearances in the last four seasons, alternating trips beginning with Notre Dame's title-game run in 2010. When the Fighting Irish earned a berth in the semifinals of the 2001 tournament, they became the first team from the "west" to stay alive until Memorial Day Weekend.
Since the NCAA Division I Men's Lacrosse Championship played its inaugural title game in 1971, only 13 different schools have appeared in the contest. Those programs have hailed from seven different states and Indiana is the only one that does not border the Atlantic Ocean.
Simply because teams on the East Coast have, up to this point, dominated the sport, the game is not exclusive to those areas. The Fighting Irish roster features five Californians, including senior attackman Ryan Mix. The Newport Beach native envisions a more expansive future for the sport of lacrosse.
"It's going to take off. Especially as the bigger schools start getting teams and recruiting," he says. "There are players every year from California going to all the ACC schools and other schools around the country."
One thing Mix has going for him is that he was born and bred a lacrosse player. Before moving to California, Mix's father, G.W, played and coached at the University of Pennsylvania, and he brought lacrosse with him to the West Coast.
"When we moved out to California, we really kind of picked it up in my area and he started a youth program," Ryan says. "We were kind of the start of it, but there are a bunch of schools out there now that have had a program for 10 or 15 years. The level of play just keeps going up and up."
G.W. has also promoted the enhancement of the sport in other parts of the nation, helping to run Champ Camp, an elite summer lacrosse tournament in Maryland that hosted 57 teams in 2013. In addition to his work with Champ Camp, he is the Executive Director and key organizer of the Pacific Coast Shootout.
Saturday's event will feature two matchups that showcase both Ryan and his brother Casey, a freshman attackman at the University of California-Santa Barbara. Following the Notre Dame-Denver tilt, Loyola Marymount and UC Santa Barbara will meet.
"It's kind of quietly been an idea my dad has had probably since I got into Notre Dame," Ryan says. "He has always had a knack for having an idea and making it work."
This will be the first time since he's been at Notre Dame that Mix will get to return to California to play a regular-season game. It's the first time the Irish have played a regular-season contest in Southern California since 2005. Mix says that he expects his family and friends to be out in full force.
"We have always been going to the East Coast, going to random places, but we have never gotten all the way back to the West Coast," he says. "Everyone can actually make it to a game, which isn't usually the case with all the East Coast games and even Notre Dame being as far away as it is."
Mix notes that he is excited to finally get the chance to show his teammates and coaches where he grew up and learned the game of lacrosse.
"They have all seen my highlight tape with the field that's right next to the beach. To actually go there and have a practice when we get there is going to be awesome," Mix says. "They have all heard stories about it, but never really experienced the true California where I am from."
It will be a packed travel schedule for the Irish as the trip coincides with the beginning of spring break. The itinerary is filled with practices and competition and a little relaxation as the team plans to explore a Naval Base in San Diego and potentially spend some time by the pool. The team also looks to lead clinics for California high school players, including a clinic at the high school where 1998 Notre Dame graduate and 1996 All-America goalie Alex Cade coaches.
Mix believes this trip can continue to advance lacrosse in California and throughout the nation and that Midwestern schools, such as Notre Dame, Michigan, Penn State and Ohio State, have a role to play in the spread of the sport.
"The top lacrosse schools have always been very good educational universities. I think that is part of, not only the game, but a part of who the game draws, a lot of prep school kids back East," Mix says. "With the growth of it, I can see a lot of the big schools recruiting kids that are kind of outside of that."
Mix understands that while most of the recruits will still continue to come from the big name prep schools in the East, there are aspects of lacrosse that just cannot be fenced into one part of the country.
"There are some things that are just universal. Stick work is universal; being in shape is universal," he says. "Other than that, getting on teams, continuing to push yourself and playing with the best players [is key]. It doesn't matter where you are as long as you are playing."
Lacrosse fans in Southern California will be treated to high-caliber action Saturday when Notre Dame and Denver take to the field.
It was just five years ago that Notre Dame and Denver were battling it out in the Great Western Lacrosse League, but now each team is in its second conference since leaving the GWLL. The Fighting Irish are in their inaugural season of Atlantic Coast Conference play, while the Pioneers are newcomers in Notre Dame's former league, the BIG EAST.
Despite parting ways as conference foes, the Notre Dame-Denver rivalry is as strong as ever. The Irish have been on the winning side for each of the last five encounters, but those victories came by a combined 12 goals. The last three showdowns have been one-goal affairs with the last two ending in overtime.
"We are thrilled to be playing in Southern California again," says Notre Dame head coach Kevin Corrigan. "The Pacific Coast Shootout will be a great experience for all our guys, particularly the California kids on our roster. Opportunities like this are really cool for our program.
"If the great Notre Dame/Denver games of the past few years are any indication, California lacrosse fans are in for a real treat."
No matter the league and no matter the location, Notre Dame and Denver typically provide must-see lacrosse and this year's lucky viewers reside in Southern California.
Story by Ben Brockman (`16)