May 16, 2014
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Following a 15-7 setback to Duke on April 5 the Notre Dame men's lacrosse team's record stood at 4-4 and the Irish were in jeopardy of missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in nine seasons. Since then, the Fighting Irish have gone 6-1 and they will take a season-best four-game win streak into Saturday's NCAA quarterfinal showdown with Albany.
Even the lone loss, a 12-8 decision against Maryland, in the recent stretch left Notre Dame head coach Kevin Corrigan feeling encouraged about the status of his squad.
"After we lost the Maryland game I said that we're really close," Corrigan said. "I felt like we had been getting better. While we didn't win that Maryland game, we did come back and win the next one (in the ACC semifinals) and have won every game since then. You could sense it just being at practice every day. You could sense us getting better and a little smarter, a little more confident in the things we were doing and just picking up the pieces on all of the things we needed to do."
The sixth-seeded Fighting Irish have put all the pieces together to reach the national quarterfinals for the fifth straight season. Duke is the only other program that has a current streak that long.
"That's great for us as a program (reaching five straight quarterfinals) and a nice thing to look back on, but this is this team's one trip to the quarterfinals and that's all you can focus on," Corrigan said. "We're not thinking about any of that other stuff, that's for when you're done. This team has one shot at it and we're lucky enough to be one of the last eight teams with a shot at it so let's take care of business this week."
While Albany's nation-leading offense (16.1 goals per game) will garner much of the spotlight, Notre Dame's hasn't been too shabby this season. The Fighting Irish have combined to score 46 goals over the last three contests, including a baker's dozen in Saturday's 13-5 first-round win over Harvard.
Matt Kavanagh went for two goals and three assists against the Crimson and with the third assist the sophomore attackman became Notre Dame's first-ever 30-30 man. Kavanagh leads the Irish in goals (32) and assists (30) this season.
"When I dodge the defense is hesitant to slide off of (fellow attackmen) John (Scioscia) and Conor (Doyle) so it gives me more space to operate and create," Kavanagh said. "When the defense does come, I can give those guys the ball and I'm confident that they are going to score. It works both ways."
Kavanagh's goal-scoring prowess is well known, but it's been his assists that have increased during the current seven-game surge. He has eight goals and seven assists in the last three games alone. Several of those assists have been issued to Scioscia, who has combined to score 10 goals in the last two contests.
"The other guys have been doing a great job of finding me," Scioscia, a senior, said. "I don't think there is anything in particular that I'm doing differently. I'm getting to good spots and guys are getting themselves in a position where they have their hands free and heads up. They are able to find me and I'm able to put it in the back of the net. I've definitely been feeling good about my shot recently. I have a lot of confidence as of late."
While Kavanagh and Scioscia have been receiving a lot of attention, Doyle has been a consistent force all year long. The junior is second on the team with 28 goals and he is the only Fighting Irish player who has registered a point in every game this season. Overall, he has recorded a point in 18 straight games and has scored a goal in 17 consecutive contests. That goal streak currently is tied for the seventh-longest in the nation.
"Matt Kavanagh gets a lot of attention, but game-to-game people do different things and it's how quickly can your guys adjust," Corrigan said. "You go through some growing pains during the season when somebody does something that you don't handle well. You just have to come back and work on it and our guys have done that consistently and they've made progress. We're a team that can play a lot of different ways; we can play fast, we can play slow, we can play in transition and we can play six-on-six. At the end of the year you need to do those things because you don't know what kind of game you're going to end up in, but you have to win it."
Saturday's game figures to involve offense and a lot of it, but the prideful Notre Dame defense will also have its say in how the contest unfolds. That unit has come up big in Notre Dame's successful second half of the season. In the last four games, the Irish have held two ranked foes (Maryland and Harvard) to just five goals each.
Junior goalie Conor Kelly reclaimed his starting spot in the regular-season clash with Maryland and has been between the pipes ever since. He has posted a double-digit save total in four of those five games, including a career-high 17 against Harvard.
"The ACC Tournament was huge because I was able to build a lot of confidence through that," Kelly said. "I've just been working on some stuff the past couple weeks to try and keep building on the areas where I've had success and try to keep that going."
Kelly and the Irish defense will have a stout challenge on Saturday. The Great Danes have won their last eight games and took down No. 3 seed Loyola, 13-6, in the first round. Senior attackman Miles Thompson leads the country in goals (79), while his younger brother, Lyle, ranks first nationally in assists (74) and points (122, an NCAA record).
"It starts with keeping them (Albany) out of the easy goals," Corrigan said. "You have to take away the transition. You can't lose faceoffs into fast breaks and you can't jump off the field and create transition for them. They're going to score some spectacular goals. We've told our guys there are going to be five or six plays where you're going to say `Wow, I can't wait to see that on the replay'. We have to hold them to those five, six, seven plays. We can't create easy plays for them and easy goals because they are going to score enough good ones on their own. If we do that, I think we'll be in a good spot."
-- Sean Carroll, Assistant Athletic Media Relations Director