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Irish win pair of exhibitions, are ready for season

Pat Leonard | Wednesday, February 18, 2004

All teams know exhibitions mean little more than practice, but that does not mean the Irish are not confident about the upcoming season.

Notre Dame has eight starters and 20 players overall returning from last year’s team, which has lead to a No. 11 preseason ranking. Last year the Irish finished 9-5, splitting its fifth straight Great Western Lacrosse League title and finishing No. 18 in the nation.

To warm up for the 2004 season, the Irish have had two convincing wins in exhibition games. Notre Dame beat Mercyhurst (22-4) and the Boston Cannons (14-11), respectively. The Irish dominated the first game, smothering the opponent with their offensive attack.

The second game, played Saturday at Loftus Sports Center, was more of a challenge. Down 7-2 to the Cannons in the second period, Notre Dame opened a ten-goal barrage that gave them a 12-7 lead en route to a second consecutive exhibition victory.

The excitement and winning attitude visible even in exhibition play is due to the return of a solid supporting cast.

“With returning guys you have guys who have a year [or more] of experience under their belt,” sophomore attacker Pat Walsh said. “You have guys who have been in game situations and who know how to do the stuff that you just can’t coach.”

The headlining duo returning to the Irish starting lineup is senior attacker Dan Berger and Walsh. Both players were named honorable mention preseason All-Americans by Inside Lacrosse in early January.

Berger has played in all 27 Irish games the past two seasons, scoring in all but three of those games. He led the team in points with 25 (21 goals, four assists) in 2002 and was second last season to Walsh with 32 goals and two assists.

Last season, Walsh became the first freshman to lead the team in scoring since Randy Colley in 1992.

Walsh scored 20 goals and notched 32 assists. This summer, Walsh also helped the United States win the under-19 men’s lacrosse World Championship, scoring 13 goals and eight assists in six games.

Walsh led the United States with four goals and three assists in a 19-10 win over Canada in the championship game.

Other significant returning players include senior attacker Matt Howell, senior midfielders Steve Clagett and Owen Mulford, junior midfielders Chris Richez and Brian Giordano, sophomore defenseman D.J. Driscoll and senior goalie Stewart Crosland.

Howell scored 15 goals last season despite playing in only nine games due to an injury. Mulford finished with ten goals and three assists. Driscoll led the team in ground balls with 61 last season and was one of just 12 players to play in every game.

The maturity and experience of this year’s team has been evident in the exhibition games. The Irish are careful to take the exhibition games for what they are worth, using them as practice for the season.

“Each time we play, no matter who it is or what type of game, we are just concerned with getting better each time we step on the field,” Walsh said.

Notre Dame will play one more exhibition game this Sunday at home against Denison and open the regular season against Penn State at home Feb. 29.