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Men’s Lacrosse: Seniors want to take team to NCAAs

Joe Meixell | Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Irish senior standouts Pat Walsh and D.J. Driscoll have achieved as many individual and statistical honors on the lacrosse field as any two players in program history.

But the painful absence on the resume of Notre Dame’s 2006 senior class is an NCAA Tournament appearance – a shortcoming Walsh and Driscoll are striving to remedy in their last season in South Bend.

“Being a senior, it’s your last shot to make something of it,” Walsh said. “Letting the younger guys know how important it is brings the leader out of you, because you want to get the most out of the year.”

Walsh’s personal accomplishments are endless. The attackman is the first Notre Dame player to earn STX/USILA All-America honors in each of his first three seasons, with honorable mentions in 2003 and 2005 and third team honors in 2004 and 2005. He also led the Great Western Lacrosse League in scoring the past two years and was nominated for the Tewaaraton Trophy as the nation’s top player in 2004. But rewriting the Irish offensive record books is not why he plays the game.

“Honors and stuff are always nice, but I’d rather be in the Final Four,” said Walsh, who believes this year’s team is capable of reaching that destination. “Everyone on our team has never been to the tournament. We have that motivation. We have a lot to prove.”

Driscoll, a fellow 2005 honorable mention All-American and a defenseman, shares Walsh’s expectations for the season. As one of the team’s two captains, he sees the same commitment from every one of his seniors.

“Captain is only a title,” he said. “Our entire senior class is acting like leaders. Our team motto is ‘hard work,’ and everyone is busting their tails, living up to that motto. We want it to mean something. It’s what our class embodies.”

Despite missing the NCAA tournament by one spot in each of the past two years, the team remains determined. And Irish coach Kevin Corrigan is impressed.

“That’s not something I have to remind them of,” he said. “They came here to win a national championship, and I think they are talented enough to do that. They understand what it takes.”

Senior midfielder Drew Peters, co-captain with Driscoll, believes the senior class’ camaraderie will aid the team’s chemistry.

“We understand each other,” he said. “We know how much talent we have. We see it in practice every day. If we play well together, we can go far.”

Walsh agrees the team is as close as he has seen them, in part because of a 10-day lacrosse trip the team took to central Europe last spring.

“It was laid back and brought some friendships together,” he said. “It created a lot of team chemistry that will hopefully carry onto the field.”

In order for that chemistry to carry the Irish into the tournament, where they have not been since a Final Four birth in 2001, Corrigan is still counting on Walsh and Driscoll to record similar seasons like Walsh’s 21 goal, 22 assist campaign and Driscoll’s 37 groundball performances in 2005.

Walsh said his biggest improvement is being able to recognize and take advantage of situations as they happen during the game. His field savvy and mistake-free play is precisely what Corrigan feels sets him apart as one of the best offensive players in the country.

“Pat is a calm, cool and collected offensive player,” Corrigan said. “He plays with a lot of poise. He probably knows the game of lacrosse better than anyone on the team and better than most people playing the game.”

Driscoll, on the other hand, is the protypical defenseman, who plays at a “frantic pace” and with relentless effort.

“There’s no quit in D.J. at any time,” said Corrigan. “He’s going to give it everything he has every day. He’s got the respect of his teammates.”

Driscoll definitely has earned the respect of one of the nation’s top attackmen in Walsh, whose four years of competition in practice with the 2005 GWLL Defensive Player of the has helped make Walsh develop into the on-field force he has become.

“[D.J.] is obviously one of the best defensemen in the country,” Walsh said, “and he hasn’t gotten the recognition he should have. He should’ve been All-American his first two years.”

Both the players and coach recognize the individual accolades will increase when Walsh, Driscoll and company take the team to greater success. Corrigan also knows his players understand the responsibility that comes with earning preseason honors, a responsibility which he believes “they’re going to live up to … every day.”

In fact, Driscoll places the responsibility on his defense to take the Irish to new heights and believes they cannot rely on their offense, even one that has been near the top five in the nation in scoring the past couple of years.

Across the team, expectations are high for a defense that gave up 94 goals – tied for second lowest in program history – last season.

Driscoll said their ability to hang with defending national champion Duke in last Saturday’s scrimmage was a confidence boost and a reflection of how hard the team has been working. Driscoll and Walsh just hope they get to play the Blue Devils again in a game that counts, where it really counts – in the NCAA Tournament.