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Men’s Lacrosse: Irish make long awaited return to NCAA Tournament

Tim Dougherty | Friday, May 19, 2006

After No. 15 Notre Dame earned a surprise berth to the NCAA Tournament, the Irish challenged No. 1 Virginia with the Cavaliers’ toughest home contest of 2006 in Charlottesville. But it was not enough to upend the nation’s only undefeated team as Virginia cavaliered its way to a school-record 14th consecutive victory with a 14-10 win over the Irish in their closest win at Klockner Stadium this season.

Notre Dame fell behind early when Virginia senior attack Matt Ward – the No. 17 rated scorer in the country – netted two of his game-high four goals to propel the Cavaliers to a 3-1 first quarter lead. In the second quarter, the Irish offense saw several good looks at the net, tallying three straight goals, including senior attack Brian Hubschmann’s second of the day to tie the game at four with three minutes left in the first half.

However, Virginia freshman Daniel Glading netted the second of his game-high five points when he beat former Georgetown Prep teammate and Irish sophomore goalie Joey Kemp with 2:40 remaining to spark a late 3-0 run before halftime to take a 7-4 lead that the Cavaliers never relinquished – extending the advantage to 9-4 shortly into the second half.

But unlike most of Virginia’s victims this season, Notre Dame refused to crumble, and senior attack Pat Walsh found freshman attack Ryan Hoff twice in a row to cut the lead to three. That was as close as the Irish would come to penetrating the consensus tournament favorite, which stretched its lead to 12-6 late in the watershed third period.

Despite hanging even with Virginia in shots for the first two periods, Notre Dame only managed eight shots for three goals as the Cavaliers rattled off 18 shots in their five-goal third quarter.

“Defensively we panicked in the third quarter and made a couple of goals easy for them,” Irish coach Kevin Corrigan said in a phone interview Monday.

Virginia out shot the Irish 50-34 on the day, putting constant pressure on Kemp, who recorded a season-high 20 saves.

“He made some saves on some great shots,” Corrigan said. “Anybody who watched that game knows we have one of the top goalies in the country.”

Even down six, the Irish would not roll over. After Matt Karweck scored with 34 seconds left in the third, Notre Dame outscored Virginia 3-2 in the final period to close to 14-10 with 2:31. Junior midfielder Bill Liva aided the Irish effort with two goals, and Walsh (three assists), Hubschmann (two goals, one assist) and Hoff (three goals) led the team with three points each – but no one could find the net in the last couple minutes.

“We know we had to limit [Virginia’s big runs], but we didn’t,” Irish senior captain defenseman D.J. Driscoll said Monday in a phone interview. “But we never gave up and hung in the game. They’re not used to having anyone within four or five goals. Coach said if could keep it within four goals, we’d have a chance. We just didn’t capitalize down the stretch.”

Notre Dame’s ability to stay in the game early came in no small part thanks to injury-riddled sophomore faceoff specialist Taylor Clagett, whose shoulder requires surgery next week. Clagett won four of five first quarter faceoffs en route to 16-12 advantage over Virginia, including four of six against Charlie Grazer, who ranks sixth in the nation in faceoff percentage.

“He was hurt pretty much all year,” Corrigan said. “Amazingly he was able to play through that, and still able to beat the top players in the country. He’s a great competitor and tough as nails.”

In the loss, the Irish held the nation’s top scoring team to a goal and a half below their season average, as well as scoring three more goals than Virginia’s seventh-best scoring defense averages against them. Notre Dame came closer to executing its game plan than the likes of No. 8 Syracuse, No. 6 Johns Hopkins and No. 4 Maryland (twice), who lost by an average of 6.75 goals per game. Virginia noticed.

“Notre Dame may have been the last team selected, but they clearly were not the sixteenth seed,” Cavaliers coach Dom Starsia said in a phone interview Tuesday. “They had a great season and gave us a stern test – more than we can handle.”

Notre Dame snuck into the tournament for the first time since a semifinal appearance in 2001. After starting the year 7-2 and 1-0 in the GWLL with sky-high tournament expectations, the Irish found trouble at high elevation in Colorado, where they dropped two consecutive matches to No. 12 Denver and unranked Air Force, which removed them from conference championship contention for an automatic NCAA birth and seemingly shredded their at-large hopes.

But the Irish responded by rolling off three straight wins to extend their record to 10-4.

In its regular season finale, Notre Dame made GWLL newcomer Quinnipiac look like a summer camp as the Irish erupted for their highest offensive output of the year with a 19-7 victory over the Bobcats in the first ever meeting between the two schools. That offensive outburst was the secret to Notre Dame’s late surge and helped the Irish finish fifth nationally in scoring offense.

“You could definitely see [the offense] took a while to click all year,” senior captain midfielder Drew Peters said in a telephone interview Monday. “At Quinnipiac it exploded, and we kept putting the ball in the net. It was a good game to have going into the tournament and we had a good week of offensive practice before Virginia.”

Even after the Irish dismantled Quinnipiac, they needed No. 19 Delaware to upset No. 10 Towson and No. 16 Penn State to miss the automatic ECAC bid with a loss to No. 5 Georgetown. Both happened, and despite recording no top-20 wins, two of Notre Dame’s losses came to the No. 2 and 3 teams in the country (Hofstra and Cornell) – and that strength of schedule presumably earned them the final tournament birth.

“When you get into the tournament it’s about winning. You’re not looking for moral victories, you’re looking to win,” Corrigan said. “I would’ve taken not playing well and winning. But it’s a great thing for our program to build on. It’s something hopefully we can use to propel us next year into a great season.”

As for the departing senior class, they entered Notre Dame with visions of Final Fours but persevered through three straight postseason-less seasons before finally making the field in their fourth and final year with the Irish.

“With a lot of people coming back, we expected to go pretty far,” Driscoll said. “We thought we had the talent to be a Final Four team. Playing finally in the playoffs was an awesome experience. In the end, we played an awesome game against an awesome team.”


uNotre Dame led all GWLL teams with first-team all-conference selections with five: Walsh, Hubschmann, Karweck, Driscoll and Kemp.