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.”