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Men’s Lacrosse: No time to re-lax

Tim Dougherty | Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Playing in the middle of the mountainous Colorado terrain, Notre Dame suffered its rockiest stretch of the year this weekend. The Irish (7-4, 1-2 GWLL) dropped two critical conference games with an 8-5 defeat at Denver Friday and 9-8 loss to Air Force in Colorado Springs Sunday, dropping from No.9 to No. 19 in the USILA Coaches Poll.

The losses dethroned the Irish from their first place tie for the league lead to fourth in the standings behind Denver, Air Force and Ohio State, who are all tied with a 2-0 GWLL record.

Friday’s matchup against Denver, who rose from No. 18 to No. 15 after the win, amounted to a battle of unanswered streaks, as the Pioneers’ fifth-highest scoring offense in the nation sprung ahead to a 3-0 lead at the end of the first quarter with two goals from sophomore midfielder Michael Goltra.

“They come after you,” Irish coach Kevin Corrigan said. “You can’t not have them come after you. You know they are coming.”

Notre Dame exploited Denver’s aggressiveness in the second quarter, storming ahead for three consecutive second quarter goals, led by freshman attackman Ryan Hoff’s team-high two goals that began the game-tying rally. The Irish made it four straight scores three minutes into the second half when Drew Peters scored his second goal of the season on a pass from senior point-leader, attackman Brian Hubschmann, to take their only lead of the game 4-3 before Denver’s Ryan Zordani tied the game at four as both teams started the fourth quarter.

In the fourth quarter the Irish, despite playing even statistically against the Pioneers all day, fell apart. Denver scored the first three goals of the quarter when Zordani added his second of the day and dished out another to give Denver an insurmountable 7-4 edge. Denver’s final surge was made possible by defensive lapses in fundamentals by Notre Dame, according to Corrigan.

“You can’t do that and get away with it,” he said.

Though senior attackman and Tewaaraton Trophy nominee Pat Walsh scored an unassisted goal with five minutes left, Notre Dame could not capitalize on enough opportunities to topple Denver, who added their final score shortly after Walsh’s goal.

“It was a game of making plays,” Corrigan said. “The way they play they force you to make plays or not make plays. It’s an untraditional way of playing. We knew what was coming and I thought we were prepared to play against it. We had plenty of opportunities to make plays and we just didn’t.”

Notre Dame tallied as many shots on goal (33) and more groundballs (35-32) than the Pioneers, and Taylor Clagett won 12 of 16 face-offs for the Irish – but the game’s tale was told by Notre Dame’s five saves vs. Denver’s 15.

“The game came down to you put it in the back of the goal or you don’t,” Corrigan said. “They make shots that you didn’t make and they win the game. We make it awfully tough on our goalie [Joey Kemp]. Defensively we do silly things, giving up shots we shouldn’t give up. If we don’t do those silly things, [Kemp] will save them.”

As a captain, senior defenseman D.J. Driscoll said the defense in general, and he personally, made bad decisions, like trying to jump a pass and letting attackmen into the crease, that led to goals.

Air Force 9, Notre Dame 8

Though the loss to Denver, the GWLL’s only other ranked team, dented Notre Dame’s conference title hopes, the Irish suffered no immediate hangover. Turning around two days later to battle Air Force, the Irish rushed out to a 3-0 advantage with just over two minutes remaining in the first half thanks to two of Brian Hubschmann’s team-high three scores.

Just before the half, the Falcons made a critical run, connecting on three late air strikes to take momentum, including one with two seconds left that came shortly after Clagett lost possession of his face-off spoils, tying what turned into a dogfight until the end.

Driscoll pointed to those three minutes as the turning point of the game.

“We thought we were sitting pretty good with a three goal lead,” he said, “and then we turn around and it’s tied 3-3. Air Force is just a bunch of athletes who go and bust their [tails] and they outworked us for those three minutes.”

Corrigan believed the Irish should not have put themselves in a position to have to come behind after their early burst. Their short rest between games, he said, was not a significant factor in the loss, noting that Air Force played that Friday, too – a game the Faclons lost to Bucknell 7-6.

Air Force’s junior attackman Conrad Lochocki scored at the beginning of the third quarter as he and the Notre Dame attack traded goals throughout the period until his game-high fourth goal gave the Falcons a 7-6 lead with 12:46 to play in the final quarter.

Down 8-6, senior attackman Pat Walsh connected with 11:14 remaining for his only goal to add to his game-high four assists. Senior midfielder Matt Karweck assisted Walsh, as Karweck recorded two assists and two goals on the day.

The Irish could not find the net again until Hoff notched a goal off a Walsh pass with 2:51 to play to cut Air Force’s lead to 9-8, and they failed to find the cage again, despite 11 fourth quarter shots. On the day, the Irish managed 26 shots, compared to Air Force’s 34.

Like the Denver loss, Corrigan said the game – the first Irish loss to Air Force since 1988 – came down to unforced errors on offense and erratic defensive play, giving up goals on “absolutely horrendous fundamental mistakes.”

Defensively, those mistakes were allowing layups on the crease, said senior co-captain midfielder Drew Peters, and offensively, throwing the ball away and turning it over after earning a possession.

Standing in fourth place in the league, the Irish likely must win their three remaining games at Lehigh and at home against Ohio State and league newcomer Quinnipiac to remain in contention for an at-large spot in the 16-team NCAA tournament with a 10-4 record. In light of the weekend Driscoll had a sober assessment of the team’s performance to date, citing that this is the earliest the Irish have ever had two conference losses. This all comes after last season, when Notre Dame (7-4, 3-2 GWLL) suffered its first two-loss campaign in 12 seasons and was the first team left out of the tournament.

“We’ve been thinking about the weekend a lot right now,” Driscoll said. “We’re not a good team. We can’t put together a full 60 minutes, and that’s exactly what you need.”

Corrigan said the character of the team and its leaders will show if the team can refocus itself to run the table.

“Playoffs are looking a little grim right now,” Driscoll said. “But we have Lehigh on Sunday and they’re not a bad team. We have to practice and gear up and get ready to take it to Lehigh.”

Notre Dame faces the Mountain Hawks Sunday in Bethesda, Md.