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Outstanding Senior Athletes: Four years of success

Megan Golden | Friday, May 20, 2011

Since signing on as a freshman with raw talent and a heated temper, senior midfielder Zach Brenneman has learned to rely on the next play, ultimately developing into a player-of-the-year candidate and household exterminator.

Brenneman has played in 60 of Notre Dame’s 62 games during his four-year career, only missing two matches early this season due to an injury. The co-captain netted 29 goals during his junior year and has recorded 14 goals thus far as a senior.

Irish coach Kevin Corrigan said Brenneman is aware of his role on the team and the importance of his leadership on the field.

“He takes a beating, but he’s a big, physical kid,” Corrigan said. “He hasn’t missed a lot of time because he understands that that comes with the game and that comes with the way he plays the game.”

Brenneman lives off-campus in a house with several of his lacrosse teammates, including senior defenseman and co-captain Kevin Ridgway.

Just like Brenneman takes control in Notre Dame’s Arlotta Stadium, Ridgway said, he can also be counted on to complete almost any task in his own house.

“Zach is Mr. Fix-it around our house,” Ridgway said. “He dowdies everything from catching mice to fixing holes in our walls to cleaning dishes. He’s very reliable to the point where the other roommates won’t clean and then laugh at him because they know he is going to do it eventually. He’s also the house cook, [but he is] not the grill-master — that title belongs to me.”

Brenneman said the distance after graduation will not separate him from his teammates.

“I can go to these guys with any problem, and I can talk to them. They’re kind of just like brothers,” he said. “I definitely think I’ll stay in touch with my teammates. I will definitely be a supportive [alumnus], and I will help the guys in whatever way that I can.”

Brenneman has come a long way from his arrival at Notre Dame. As a freshman, Brenneman bumped heads with Corrigan on a few occasions because the coach and team captain both shared such a strong passion for making the team better. With time, Corrigan said, they have learned to work together and collaborate instead of clash.

“I think he’s a very talented kid and very driven to be good and to be great,” Corrigan said. “I think in times where I’ve had to work with him, it’s been a mix of trying to get him to adapt to things I want to do but valuing what he does and giving him the freedom to do what he does best and be confident. It’s the kind of thing you continually work at as a coach and player.”

With 26 career assists, Brenneman can not only score, but he can also create opportunities for others and visualize effective offensive schemes. Ridgway said he understands defenders’ difficulty in guarding the versatile midfielder because he faces him daily in practice.

“[Brenneman] can fit it into tight spaces past the goalie’s stick, making him tough to stop. He’s a very stubborn dodger who sometimes catches goalies by surprise when he releases his powerful shot early,” Ridgway said. “I mostly guard him when he beats his man, and I have to slide to him when he’s up top where his momentum makes him tough to cover. He is a great player and can make plays all over the field, making him truly tough to guard.”

Several of his teammates say Brenneman is a Tewaaraton Trophy nominee because of his outstanding shot. Brenneman said he maintains the same mindset every time he possesses the ball on offense, allowing him to strategize and create the play that is best for the team.

“The ideal situation is me catching the ball 12 yards away and just ripping it,” he said. “When I’m dodging, I’m looking first at who’s guarding me, and then I’m looking for who’s getting ready to slide. Then I dissect the situation from there — do I need to pass the ball quickly in or carry it longer?”

Brenneman credits his shooting skills to his hard work and his drive to be the best. He said Corrigan taught him that even the best players make mistakes, but that doing so can only improve their game and ultimately eliminate the fear of making the wrong play.

“The best lesson that I’ve learned is that if you make a mistake, you make a mistake at 100 miles per hour. You don’t ever want to make a passive mistake — that gets no one anywhere,” Brenneman said. “This year and throughout my career, I’ve tried to focus on the next play. Everyone’s going to make mistakes, but it’s really focusing on the next play and trying to help your team with that.”

The Long Island Lizards selected Brenneman with the fifth overall pick in the 2011 Major League Lacrosse Draft. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound midfielder will report to camp as soon as his collegiate career comes to a close. Right now, however, Brenneman is focused on the next play and expects the Irish to achieve the goal they set on day one this season.

“[Our goal is to] win a national championship,” he said. “We’ve been there. This team is definitely an experienced group that [was] there last year. The experience is something that’s going to help.”

Brenneman said he is grateful he got the opportunity to play lacrosse for an elite program, while simultaneously receiving a degree from Notre Dame. His hectic schedule might intimidate just about anyone, but Brenneman said his time at Notre Dame taught him how to manage his time properly, allowing him to excel as a student-athlete.

“Don’t leave stuff to the last minute. It’s definitely a grind, and if you know you’ve got work, get it done,” he said. “When it comes down to it on Friday and you have a test to study for, or it’s Thursday and you’re tired and beat up, you don’t want to do it. I’ve definitely learned it the hard way, and you’ve got to get stuff done early.”

Brenneman hopes to leave behind a legacy of hard work and dedication that extends beyond the lacrosse field after he graduates. Giving back to the community is important to Brenneman, who participated in a service trip to Japan and Notre Dame’s Playing for Peace event, which raised awareness about the conflict in Sudan. Brenneman said his work ethic is evident in community service, lacrosse and academics.

“I’d like to leave [behind] how hard I worked and how hard the senior class worked to get us where we are today,” he said. “I think we all worked exceptionally hard on the field and off the field, and I hope that our beliefs and our demeanor and our work ethic are pushed on to everyone else.”

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Outstanding Senior Athletes: Four years of success

Allan Joseph | Friday, May 20, 2011

Play defender, midfielder and forward in the national championship game, celebrate a national crown, take final exams early and begin camp with the national soccer program — senior Lauren Fowlkes did it all in the space of just one early-December week.

“That was crazy,” Fowlkes said with a laugh. “[I was] just trying to celebrate but then buckle down and get through my last finals.”

That week was simply another chance for the Irish co-captain to display her two trademark characteristics: competitiveness and versatility.

“[On the field,] I think her versatility was really key for her and the impact she had on the program,” Irish coach Randy Waldrum said. “Off the field, it’s just the competitiveness she has as a person. She’s tough, she’s physical, she’s fearless — but she takes the same thing to the classroom too.”

Fowlkes may have been at her most competitive that weekend in Cary, N.C. With one final shot at a national title remaining, Fowlkes refused to let Ohio State’s Megan Fuller push her around. After Fuller tackled Fowlkes near the boundary, the senior let fly in one of the most memorable images of the 2010 College Cup.

“We got into a little scuffle and she just got in my face,” Fowlkes said. “Obviously I wasn’t very happy about it. It’s just one of those things when you’re caught in the moment and you have to stand up for yourself.”

Waldrum called the incident indicative of Fowlkes’ play — but what struck him most was Fowlkes’ later run-in with Fuller.

“After that incident happened, there was a long-range shot … that hit the crossbar. Lauren’s following it up, and you see her with the same girl, and Lauren pretty much leveled her on the follow up,” he said. “She wasn’t going to forget it. That kind of epitomizes Lauren.”

Fowlkes’ competitiveness translates off the field as well. Only the 13th athlete in Notre Dame history to earn both All-American and Academic All-American honors in two separate seasons, Fowlkes graduates with a 3.62 grade ­­point average as a science-business major. Yet when asked to pick which honor meant more, Fowlkes had a difficult time.

“I don’t know — I would say almost the academic one almost brings more weight,” she said. “I’ve always been one of those types of people that whatever it is, I’m giving my 100 percent best effort. I think what makes me excel in the classroom and on the field is my competitive spirit.”

Fowlkes’ competitive drive led her to become one of the most versatile players in Irish history. Recruited as a defender out of the Kansas City suburbs, she could play nearly anywhere on the field.

“Lauren’s just a very smart player — she’s very versatile,” junior forward Melissa Henderson said. “She’s able to fill in wherever the team needed her, no questions being asked. I think that was really special about her.”

Fowlkes spent her freshman year backstopping a College Cup run but moved around the pitch her sophomore year due to a conflict of commitments. The 2008 under-20 World Cup coincided with the NCAA tournament, and when Fowlkes joined the national team en route to a World Cup gold medal, a hole emerged in the lineup that Waldrum tried to fill up all year.

“When we knew she was going to miss the playoffs, we kind of moved her around,” he said. “[Center back] is too critical of a position to have somebody leave in the middle of your season and try to get somebody get integrated back there.”

While she moved around both her junior and senior years, Fowlkes’ final position changes may have been her most important. After a stunning loss in the Big East quarterfinals, Fowlkes moved from defender to forward to spark the offense, but then played all three positions in the College Cup semifinal and final as the game dictated, leading her team to a long-awaited title.

“What’s important is that that kind of stuff never bothered her,” Waldrum said. “It’s just a ‘put me wherever the team needs me’ kind of attitude … For us at that level at that time, she played a role that we needed. It was a Band-Aid to try and get some solutions, and she did a great job.”

That team-first attitude extends to Fowlkes’ most treasured memories of her four years.

“Obviously nothing means more than winning a national championship this year,” she said. “Any team accolade is always going to far, far outweigh any individual honor that I could ever receive just because of how amazing that whole experience was.”

Fowlkes’ journey from back line to front line (and back and forth a few times in between) mirrored her growth as a leader — a maturation process that resulted in her co-captaincy in her final year.

“Lauren had the vocal part that we really wanted. It was really a nice thing to watch her grow,” Waldrum said. “When she came in as a freshman she had those leadership qualities and she understood the game, so she wasn’t afraid to say things. As a freshman she wasn’t ready to lead this team, but we could see the future leader in Lauren … By the senior year, she had really evolved and grown into that role.”

Fowlkes’ growth did not stop after the national championship, however. Shortly after camp ended with the under-23 national team in December, Fowlkes was drafted fifth overall by the Philadelphia Independence of Women’s Professional Soccer.

Now finishing up her degree with one last class while playing back for the Independence, Fowlkes continues to be grateful for her opportunities.

“This is definitely a dream come true,” she said. “To be drafted in the first round, to be a professional when the league is so small and when there’s not a lot of that type of opportunity for people coming out of college, I feel really fortunate to be able to do this.”

With graduation, however, comes some nostalgia.

“Notre Dame is a place full of such awesome, special people and it’s not something that’s common everywhere else you go. It’s hard to leave,” she said. “I couldn’t have imagined anything better, not only with soccer and all those accolades and stuff, but I honestly feel like I got an education at the top institution in the country. That’ll be one of the things that’ll be in my life forever, and it’s something I’m extremely thankful for. I couldn’t have asked for a better college experience.”