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Senior class leads club to Elite 8

Dan Murphy | Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Seniors Joseph Lapira and Alex Yoshinaga have hooked up for big goals in each of Notre Dame’s NCAA Tournament wins so far this year, but that is nothing new for the Irish.

In their first Big East game freshman year, both players found their way onto the scorecard. Yoshinaga had two goals as well as the assist on Lapira’s game-winner.

“We had a bet – when he scored I shaved my head, when I scored he would shave his beard,” Yoshinaga said. “So I shaved it bald and he shaved the beard.”

Forty goals and 105 points later, Lapira’s beard has grown in again, and Yoshinaga went more than two years without having to get another haircut.

In that time the pair developed chemistry on and off the field that has helped lead the Irish to a second straight quarterfinal appearance in the NCAA Tournament.

Lapira has racked up a trophy case full of awards highlighted by winning the M.A.C. Hermann Award at the end of his junior year. Yoshinaga missed the majority of his junior year with a broken collarbone, but was fourth on the team in points scored his freshman season with 13.

Neither Lapira nor Yoshinaga remembers how their friendship started, but it has grown throughout their four years at Notre Dame.

“I don’t even remember, I think my mom took a liking to him,” Yoshinaga said. “She said, ‘I like that boy,’ so I said, ‘Alright, I guess I’ll start hanging out with him.'”

The pair grew closer the next year when they shared a dorm room.

“We had a pretty good time,” Lapira said, “but I don’t think Coach liked it too much.”

Irish coach Bobby Clark said the guys had a little too much fun living together and he had to pull in the reins a bit.

“We were almost like evil twins. When we would get together we would just feed off each other,” Yoshinaga said. “Since then we’ve toned it down a little bit.”

Clark agreed and said he has enjoyed watching both players progress as athletes and students during their four years.

Lapira, Yoshinaga and the five other Irish seniors are now at the end of their careers with a chance to do something no Notre Dame team has done before – make it to the Final Four with a win over Wake Forest this weekend.

The senior class has played a large part in getting Notre Dame to where it is now.

“There is no question that the leadership has been one of the reasons that the team has done well,” Clark said. “In a season there will always be hard times and setbacks and that’s the time when you need strong leadership.”

Notre Dame (14-4-5) has not had many hard times or setbacks this year. However, it was a goal from Yoshinaga and a shutout from senior Chris Cahill that pulled the Irish out of a three-game winless streak in mid-October.

Senior defender Ryan Miller said the success was due to a great work ethic in the off-season.

“If you were around in the spring, you would have seen how hard guys were working. I’ve never seen that in my four or five years here,” Miller said.

The group started working together the day after its quarterfinal loss in last year’s tournament to Virginia.

“I think our team likes hanging around with one another. It’s one of the nice things about this team,” Clark said. “You don’t need everybody on the team to be bosom buddies, but it is good that they get a good laugh together.”