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Men’s Lacrosse: Irish to take on Big Red in Chicago

Tim Dougherty | Friday, March 3, 2006

The Chicago area has never hosted a Division I men’s lacrosse game.

That will change Saturday at noon when the No. 12 Irish face off against No. 8 Cornell in a marquee non-conference game at Benedictine University in Lisle, Ill.

Lacrosse America is sponsoring the game – technically an Irish home contest. Notre Dame lost to the Big Red 11-10 in Ithaca, N.Y. last season.

Irish coach Kevin Corrigan said his team has been interested in setting up a game in the Chicago area for several years, and – in a season slated with seven home contests – Corrigan said this year made sense. With the Loftus Center booked for the Alex Wilson Invitational this weekend, the Cornell game proved an easy fit, bringing an enticing matchup to Chicago lacrosse fans.

Part of the event’s planning is to build enthusiasm for the beginning of the 2006 Major League Lacrosse season in May – which welcomes the expansion franchise Chicago Machine, who will play their games at Benedictine University.

Despite the hoopla surrounding the game, the Irish need look no further than last year’s disappointing defeat to stay focused on the game itself.

“They’re a very good team,” said Corrigan of the Big Red, who beat Binghamton 16-3 in their season opener last week. “We’re going to have to play well to beat them.”

Senior co-captain D.J. Driscoll acknowledged the challenge the Irish face.

“They’re good at just about every aspect of the game,” he said. “They’re coming in ranked ahead of us. We’re expecting a dogfight.”

If the Irish defense hopes to be as effective as it was in last week’s 8-4 win over then No. 14 Penn State, it must contain Inside Lacrosse preseason first- team All-American – and 2005 second-teamer – Joe Boulukos. Boulukos, an offensive midfielder who scored 29 goals and recorded 14 assists last year, is one of Cornell’s two preseason Tewaaraton Trophy nominees for the nation’s best player.

“He is a very strong kid, good sized and shoots the heck out of the ball,” Corrigan said. “They do a good job of getting him opportunities. They are a patient team and they know how to get what they’re looking for, and he’s one of the things they’re looking for.”

If Driscoll and the defense cannot contain Boulukos, he still must get by sophomore goaltender Joey Kemp, whose first intense action as a college player came after replacing Stewart Crosland in the third quarter of last year’s loss at Cornell. Making his return against the Big Red, Kemp is coming off a 13-save performance against Penn State, in which he made several splendid stops.

While the Irish defense concentrates on stopping Boulukos and the Big Red attack, attackman Pat Walsh – a Tewaraaton nominee himself – hopes to spark an Irish offensive surge after only recording one point in last week’s triumph – the team’s final goal with under two minutes left in the game.

A strong showing by the Irish can do nothing but help the Notre Dame recruiting effort.

“The game is growing out there,” Corrigan said. “There are certainly more guys playing at the Division I level.”

One such player was three-time All-American in the mid-90’s; Irish midfielder Todd Rassas.

Rassas – whose father was an All-American football player for the Irish – played lacrosse at Loyola Academy before taking his game to Notre Dame and one year in the MLL in 2003. Though he is a member of the 2002 and 2006 U.S. national teams, Rassas’ day job has kept him from playing further in the MLL. That day job actually brought him back into town last weekend – when Corrigan said Rassas was protecting President Bush as a member of the U.S. Secret Service.

As for this weekend, Corrigan hopes the current Irish can guard their net as well as one former player guards his boss.

“There were periods in last year’s game when we looked absolutely awful,” said Corrigan. “We turned the ball over and didn’t play very smart. I think we’re in a little better shape this year.”

Tickets for Saturday’s game are $6 pre-order on www.lacrosseamerica.com and $8 at the game.