Experienced Irish squad set to pursue first national title
Brian Plamondon | Wednesday, February 17, 2016
Forgive Irish head coach Kevin Corrigan if he has grown a few more gray hairs than most over the last decade or so.
Notre Dame, which opens its 2016 season Saturday against Georgetown in Atlanta, has now lost to the eventual national champion in the NCAA tournament eight of the last 10 years, only once by two or more goals. After falling in the final to Duke in 2014 and the semifinals to Denver last year, Corrigan might have the best roster in his 28-year tenure as Notre Dame’s coach — that’s at least what the media thinks, as the Irish are ranked No. 1 in the preseason rankings. Corrigan, on the other hand, doesn’t see this season as being national championship or bust.
“We don’t talk about it that way,” Corrigan said. “We felt like we’ve had a team good enough to win a national championship a number of different years, but that’s not really relevant. What is is how hard do you work every day. How hard do you prepare yourself. How good of a chance do you give yourself to be that best team at the end.”
On paper, Notre Dame’s chances look good. The Irish return three of their top four goal scorers, a title belonging to senior attack Matt Kavanagh, junior midfielder Sergio Perkovic and sophomore attack Mikey Wynne. They return all three starters on defense, including senior and reigning ACC Defensive Player of the Year Matt Landis. Landis and Kavanagh were both picked in the top five of the Major League Lacrosse draft in January.
While Notre Dame having a handful of the country’s top players will certainly help its quest for a first national title, Corrigan said he is more focused on the team aspect and less on individual expectations.
“Quite honestly I think [expectations are] a muse for fans or people who are interested in the team,” Corrigan said. “I think within the team what we need to be concerned about are our standards of performance every day — not getting guys caught up in expectations, because the only expectation that I want them to have is that we’re going to be as well prepared as we can possibly by every time we strap it up on Saturdays.”
For Corrigan’s part, he has instilled in his every one of players a sense of taking the season day-by-day and not looking ahead to the NCAA Tournament.
“I think we don’t want to have that attitude [of forward thinking] because if all we focus on is the end product, we’ll forget about all the steps it takes to get there,” Landis said. “I think we’re trying to … leave the field better than we stepped on [every day]. If we look at it that way, and we’re not getting better every day, I don’t think we’ll get to the national championship.”
Corrigan said, “We really try to stay focused every single day on the day in front of us. It’s not about anything that’s going to happen in May, even anything that’s going to happen in March — it’s about today.”
Even with sky-high expectations this season, Corrigan said the Irish will not necessarily be picking up right where they left off. Former attack Conor Doyle and midfielders Nick Ossello, Jim Marlatt, Jack Near and Will Corrigan were all important pieces last season that have since been lost to graduation.
“There’s no question, every team has to develop its leaders as you lose those guys from the year before,” Corrigan said. “But there’s also some little things that they did — the institutional knowledge, if you will, of how we do things.
“ … It’s a process to grow into that leadership for the next year. I think we’ve got guys who are doing that on an everyday basis. I think our seniors have been good during the preseason in trying to develop that, but you don’t pick up where you left off.”
Whether or not the seniors step up and lead the Irish to a national championship, Corrigan said he is confident that Notre Dame will be in the thick of things for the long haul.
“I think all of the pieces are in place,” Corrigan said. “I think it took awhile for us to get all those pieces. The first time we went to the Final Four [in 2001], we didn’t have scholarships. We didn’t have a budget for assistant coaches, and we didn’t have a stadium to play in. We’ve got all those things now.
“ … All of the pieces have been put into place here for us to compete at a high level.”
Landis, who has suffered his fair share of heartbreaking losses in his three years at Notre Dame, was more matter of fact about getting over the hump.
“In every single one of those games … it’s been a game that goes right down to the wire. … It’s just putting in a little more effort. We’re right there, we just need one percent more to go all the way.”