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Men’s Lacrosse Commentary: Unbeaten ND should be No. 1

Sam Werner | Thursday, April 23, 2009

They are the only undefeated team in Division I, using a smothering defense to outscore opponents by an average of more than five goals per game. In fact, this past weekend, the Irish gave up just four combined goals in two games on back-to-back days.

Sounds like the résumé of the consensus No. 1 team, right?

Well, not exactly. The Irish are currently ranked No. 3 in the Inside Lacrosse poll, one of two major polls in college lacrosse. In the other, the coaches’ poll, Notre Dame is an even more puzzling No. 4, tied with two-loss Princeton.

Just what exactly do the Irish have to do to get the recognition they deserve?

Take this past weekend for example. In a sport where one game a week is the norm, Notre Dame played on both Saturday and Sunday – in two different states, no less. In both games, the Irish gave up only two goals, something the teams ahead of them have combined to do only once. Despite the fantastic weekend, the Irish actually fell one spot in the coaches’ poll.

To contrast, Virginia had only one game this weekend, and needed an 8-1 fourth quarter to beat Dartmouth, a team the Irish dismantled 19-7 earlier in the year. The Cavaliers were rewarded by regaining the No. 1 ranking they lost a week earlier.

Detractors point to Notre Dame’s strength of schedule, which admittedly, is below that of the ACC teams. They say Notre Dame wouldn’t be able to hold its own against a quality opponent. Never mind the fact that the Irish beat North Carolina earlier this season, holding a potent Tar Heels offense to just seven goals.

Examples like North Carolina and Dartmouth show that the Irish are at the very least comparable to the other top-5 teams. And if all other things are equal – or even close – shouldn’t the undefeated team get the benefit of the doubt?

No, there’s something more at work here. Notre Dame isn’t one of the bluebloods of college and pollsters are holding it against them. Just because they aren’t Syracuse, Johns Hopkins or Duke, the Irish will always get slighted.

If you ask Irish coach Kevin Corrigan, or any players for that matter, they’ll say it doesn’t matter. They’ll talk about how they’re just focusing on Saturday’s game against Ohio State, as they should.

But when it’s time for NCAA seeding, it sure would be nice to have that No. 1 spot. Even if the Irish win out in impressive fashion, and take the Great Western Lacrosse League (GWLL) tournament, it’s unlikely they’d be able to jump the teams ahead of them before the tournament starts in mid-May.

Fortunately, the problem should be corrected next season, when the Big East will begin sponsoring men’s lacrosse.

Instead of playing in the GWLL, which currently has zero ranked teams other than Notre Dame, the Irish will be playing in the same conference as No. 2 Syracuse, No. 18 Georgetown and Villanova, which is receiving votes in both polls.

For now, though, the Irish will have to take what they can get. Even if all they’re getting is the shaft.

The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author and not necessarily those of?The?Observer.

Contact Sam Werner at swerner@nd.edu