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Men’s Lacrosse: Irish face Buckeyes in GWLL clash

Joe Meixell | Friday, April 28, 2006

No. 15 Notre Dame (8-4, 1-2 GWLL) hopes to spoil Ohio State’s bid for a share of the Great Western Lacrosse League championship when the two premier Midwest programs renew their longstanding rivalry Saturday at 3 p.m. at Moose Krause Stadium.

The Buckeyes helped keep the Irish out of the NCAA tournament in 2003 and 2004 with midseason victories that ultimately proved fatal to the Irish, as Ohio State (6-5, 3-1) represented the GWLL in the postseason.

But last year Notre Dame returned the favor, stunning the Buckeyes 16-5 in Columbus in the season finale for the Irish – knocking Ohio State out of a share for the league lead.

An Ohio State win would put them in a position to tie Denver (11-4, 4-0) for the league championship if the Pioneers should falter Saturday against Air Force in Colorado Springs.

Irish senior co-captain defenseman D.J. Driscoll said if Notre Dame is to play the role of spoiler again, it will need all the fight it can bring to tackle the physical game the Buckeyes will bring with them to South Bend.

“Since freshman year, [Notre Dame-Ohio State games have] always been a dogfight,” Driscoll said. “Tough games, hard-nosed games. They are just big athletic kids who come for you and you have to be ready for it.”

Irish coach Kevin Corrigan said Ohio State’s rugged athleticism is the team’s biggest strength – and one which Notre Dame will have to overcome both on offense and defense.

“It makes them an effective full-field team that they have to defend because they get up and down,” Corrigan said. “They ride hard, and they clear well. They’re strong on both ends of the field.

“Because of the fact that you have to defend the whole field and they can create situations across the whole field, there’s pressure from them, so we’ll have to be vigilant in our decision making and what we’re doing.”

The physical challenge Ohio State presents ensures Notre Dame’s GWLL-best .717 goals per game scoring defense must play hard-nosed determined lacrosse Saturday. The Irish effort should be in no short supply, as they face-off against one of their biggest rivals for the 25th time in the 25 years with the series history on the line, tied 12-12 since the 1983 campaign – the first season Notre Dame fielded a lacrosse team.

Although Notre Dame has taken four of the past seven, the seniors must win Saturday to tie the series for their careers.

“Certainly the names Notre Dame and Ohio State [stand out],” Corrigan said. “If our seniors win this game they’ll even the series during their time at 2-2. There aren’t many teams we have a losing record against during their four years. We definitely look at Ohio State as one of our biggest rivals, because of the proximity, the league and the history of our two schools.”

In light of the added implications of the rivalry match-up, Corrigan is doing his best to keep the Irish enthusiasm from boiling over before the teams face-off Saturday.

“There are different emotional things going on each week,” he said, “but the trick is not to get caught up too much emotionally in [rivalry] games. You have to show up ready to execute in what we do. Consistency is important.”

The match-up has special significance for Driscoll, who chose to attend Notre Dame over Ohio State four years ago. He is excited about the intensity the game brings out between the two teams.

“It will be tough but it will also be fun at the same time,” he said. “It’s real energetic and get your emotions in it. … I look forward to the game Saturday.”

Driscoll remembers clearly last year’s route of Ohio State. But he also remembers Notre Dame’s 12-11 loss to Fairfield last season that dashed the team’s postseason hopes. He thinks the Irish are again more committed than ever to make their last games their best – regardless of whether or not they come in the tournament.

“We still have gotten pretty energetic practices coming in,” he said. “People have been coming in and working harder than they have all year in practice and hopefully that carries over.”

Driscoll said Corrigan has forced the Irish to forget about their losses and focus on the present to prepare for their last contests against Ohio State and Quinnipiac (6-5, 0-3).

“Everyone is just taking it one day at a time,” Driscoll said. “We’re going out there and enjoying each practice, getting the most out of each person.”

Senior attack Pat Walsh has been the exception to that rule, as he missed two days of practice this week with a viral infection lingering from Sunday’s 10-7 win against Lehigh (8-6, 4-2 Patriot League). During the game, Walsh scored three of his four goals to lead the Irish fourth quarter surge 4-1. But Corrigan has no concerns about Walsh’s time off during the week as long as he’s able to play this weekend.

“This time of year, missing a day of practice is going to hurt a guy like Pat,” Corrigan said. “I’m not worried about the effects of him missing a practice. I’m worried about him getting himself healthy and ready for the weekend.”

Walsh has sounded progressively better throughout the week, and regardless of how well he feels, he said he will be on the field Saturday to face the Irish rival.

“I played through it Sunday,” he said. “And if I need to, I will again.”