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Men’s Lacrosse: Big stage debut

Megan Golden | Tuesday, May 1, 2012

After being crowned Big East regular season champions Saturday, top-seeded Notre Dame hopes to add to its trophy case by winning the first-ever Big East tournament this weekend.

The No. 2-ranked Irish (11-1, 6-0 Big East) outscored conference rival Syracuse 8-6 to win their 10th consecutive game and capture the program’s first Big East regular season title. The victory ended Notre Dame’s 0-5 spell against the Orange (7-7, 3-3).

“You come here to win championships. You come to Notre Dame to get a great education and play lacrosse, but you come here to play on the main stage and in the big games. You come here to play Syracuse under the lights on senior night,” Irish senior attack Sean Rogers said. “We are excited about the opportunity, and I’m glad we were able to finish.”

The addition of a conference tournament in the Big East provides three of the top teams with a chance to become an automatic qualifier in the NCAA tournament. The Big East regular-season schedule also becomes much more significant as conference records determine seeds in the Big East tournament.

“The motivation is there to win the regular season and get the easiest first-round game, depending on who you play. The motivation is there, but the goal is always to win all the games, and we just try to win,” Irish junior goalkeeper John Kemp said. “I think the tournament brings out more incentive because of the trophy aspect.”

The Irish will face No. 4-seeded St. John’s in the semifinals of the Big East tournament, which features the top four teams in the conference. Notre Dame defeated the Red Storm (7-6, 3-3) 13-6 on April 1.

Kemp said he believes the Irish have the advantage as they face St. John’s for the second time this season.

“Familiarity with what they’re doing and the confidence knowing that you’ve beaten them and you can do it again [is important],” he said. “The obvious [disadvantage] is going and thinking you’re not going to have to play your best game. The way we treat every game is that anyone can beat us, so I don’t think that will be a problem for us.”

The tournament will be played at Villanova Stadium, where the Irish have already defeated the No. 2-seeded Wildcats (8-6, 4-2) this season. Unlike most lacrosse sites, Villanova’s field runs east to west, making the sun an issue during the day.

The Irish have made an appearance in the NCAA tournament every year since 2006. Notre Dame appeared in the NCAA finals in 2010, when it fell to Duke 6-5 in overtime.
Rogers said winning the Big East tournament would bring Notre Dame one step closer to a national title.

“The conference tournament is a whole different ballgame. For us, we know we are pretty much guaranteed to make the tournament,” he said. “As [Irish coach Kevin Corrigan] said, ‘There is no better momentum coming into the NCAA tournament than winning a conference tournament.’ In order to win the conference tournament, we have to beat two quality teams.”

The Wildcats will face No. 3 seed Syracuse in the other semifinal matchup. The winner of each game will play in the tournament championship Saturday at 12 p.m.

Notre Dame will begin its search for its first Big East tournament title against St. John’s on Thursday at 4:30 p.m. in Villanova, Pa. All Big East tournament games will be televised live on ESPNU.

Contact Megan Golden at mgolde01@saintsmarys.edu