Irish rebound after 2014 championship loss
Manuel De Jesus | Friday, May 15, 2015
All season long, the Irish tried to bounce back from being just a couple of goals away from hoisting the program’s first national championship in 2014. Notre Dame responded to that defeat in a big way, winning the regular season ACC title and capturing the first No. 1 overall seed in program history in this year’s NCAA tournament.
In their second year in the ACC, the Irish (10-2, ACC 4-0) have handled the pressures of arguably the nation’s top conference by beating Virginia, Syracuse, Duke and North Carolina. Those teams are seeded seventh, second, fifth and fourth, respectively, in the NCAA tournament.
Looking at the improvements from last year’s team to this year’s squad, Notre Dame faced a completely different challenge, sophomore goalie Shane Doss said.
“This season has definitely been different because last year we really dug ourselves a hole and had to win a couple big games just to make the NCAA tournament,” Doss said. “We’ve been more successful early on this year which is obviously good but does present unique challenges in staying focused and not letting our egos get too big.”
Notre Dame’s win over Syracuse midway through the season cemented the Irish as the top program in the nation. In a matchup that pitted the country’s top two teams against each other, the then-No. 2 Irish defeated the then-No. 1 Orange in a double-overtime thriller. Notre Dame was rewarded with the No. 1 overall ranking after the win.
In the following game, the Irish traveled to Durham, North Carolina, with redemption from their last loss to Duke in the 2014 national championship game in their mind. Dominating the scoreboard early and limiting the Blue Devils’ offense, the Irish came away with a convincing 15-10 victory on the road. However, Notre Dame lost to Duke, 13-8, in the first round of the ACC tournament.
In the final game of the regular season, Notre Dame was faced with another No. 1 vs. No. 2 battle when North Carolina visited Arlotta Stadium. From start to finish, the Irish and Tar Heels were neck-and-neck until three Irish goals in the game’s last 75 seconds overcame a two-goal deficit and gave Notre Dame a 15-14 win.
“It was a great season to really learn about ourselves,” Irish head coach Kevin Corrigan said. “We played most of the best teams in the country, and you learn a lot about yourself because every one of those teams present a different challenge to you.”
This year’s squad was more balanced than last year’s, which was carried by junior attack Matt Kavanagh’s 42 goals and 33 assists. This season, Kavanagh, a finalist for the Tewaarton Award, which recognizes the best player in the country, was supported by a cast of offensive weapons including sophomore midfielder Sergio Perkovic (24 goals, six assists), senior attack Conor Doyle (24 goals, 17 assists) and freshman attack Mikey Wynne (32 goals, 3 assists).
Several other players on the team have stepped up this season to give Notre Dame an extra push, Doss said.
“Our captains Jack Near, Conor Doyle and Jim Marlatt have done a great job leading us on and off the field,” Doss said. “Near is really the emotional leader of the team, and it shows in every game, but other guys always step in when we need them to. Matt Kavanagh is another guy who leads by example and is always fighting no matter what, which has kind of been the identity of our team all year.”
Corrigan believes the balance of the team has made Notre Dame one of the most potent offenses in the country.
“We’re a harder team to prepare for because if you’re just preparing for Kavanagh, you’re going to be in trouble with some of our other guys out there,” Corrigan said. “We have experienced guys all over the field that have helped us with several roles as well.”
The Irish are not looking back at what happened last season or even at what lies ahead in the remainder of the NCAA tourney, Corrigan said.
“We’re trying to make sure that our guys have fresh legs and understand who we are heading into the tournament, but we’re not worried about long term. We’re totally one game at a time and focusing on strictly learning about how to make ourselves a better team,” Corrigan said.
In the first round of the NCAA tournament, Notre Dame rallied past unseeded Towson at home to win 12-10, and advance to its sixth straight quarterfinals. The Irish will play Albany on Saturday in Denver with a return to the Final Four on the line.