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Team faces final preseason game against Dennison

Dan Tapetillo | Friday, February 20, 2004

Sunday will be the last opportunity for the Irish to test their skills before the training wheels must come off.

After two impressive wins over Mercyhurst (22-4) and Boston Cannons (14-11), Notre Dame will play in its final exhibition game against Dennison before the start of the regular season.

Although exhibition games are often dismissed as unimportant, they are a chance for team to practice their newly developed skills. Moreover, exhibition games are a tool for determining the team’s expectations for the rest of the season.

“It is our last time to play against another opponent and see where we are at,” sophomore Pat Walsh said. “It is also another step to where we want to be at the end of the season … the NCAA tournament.”

The Irish have failed to qualify for the tournament in the past two years and barely missed the 16-team field after finishing No. 18 in the nation last season.

Several returning seniors will be leading the preseason No. 11 Irish into their final exhibition game, in hopes of getting the team on the right foot on their way to the tournament. Under the leadership of veteran attackers Matt Howell and Dan Berger and goalie Steward Crosland, Walsh expects the team will see much success. Already, Crosland have lead by example, registering 14 saves against Boston Cannons last weekend.

These three seniors, in addition to 10 returning starters, have made the preseason learning experience easier for newcomers. In addition, the veterans bring stories of last season’s successes and failures, giving the Irish a starting point for this season.

“We met after the Maryland game last season and talked about what we wanted to do this year,” Walsh said. “The guys are hungry and determined to do a lot better than last year because we were so young.”

In this final tune-up match, the Irish are presented with the opportunity of finishing 3-0 during exhibition play. This has boosted the team’s confidence, and showed how the Irish have matured since last season. This will be the last match before the Irish face No. 17 Penn State during their first match of the regular season.

“I think it’ll be good for us to get a lot of work in. It will let us work out things in game situations,” Walsh said. “You get a good feel for where you are when the season starts.”

Despite having their sights set upon postseason action already, the Irish are fully aware of the importance of every game. With each game, the team will not only focus upon their opponent’s strengths and weaknesses, but also the basic fundamentals of the game.

Although Sunday’s match against Dennison marks the final exhibition game, the end result could have a significant impact on the first games of the season. However, the team feels confident that experience can overcome any apprehension.

“We just want to go out and play hard and do the basics like get ground balls,” Walsh said. “I think that’ll make us come out on top at the end.”