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Men’s Lacrosse: Sophomore Netminder has strong start

Tim Dougherty | Thursday, March 2, 2006

As the Irish prepare to face No. 8 Cornell Saturday, they remember last year’s dramatic 11-10 loss to the Big Red. But no one recalls the drama quite like sophomore goaltender Joey Kemp.

A freshman at the time, Kemp entered the season’s second game armed with only five minutes of collegiate experience at the end a 14-6 win over Penn State in the season opener. Down by three goals with 3:26 left in the third quarter Irish coach Kevin Corrigan needed a change, and he called upon a fresh Kemp to replace senior starter Stewart Crosland. The switch nearly worked, as the Irish had a good look at the net in the final seconds but could not capitalize.

As a wide-eyed freshman, Kemp credited this year’s co-captain, defenseman D.J. Driscoll, for welcoming him to the team.

“D.J. called a quick huddle to bring me in,” he said. “It made me more comfortable. The leadership on the team defense made it a lot easier for me to step in.”

A lot has changed since then.

No longer a newcomer, Kemp emerged from the game as a full-time starter and an essential ingredient to a defense that allowed 94 goals last year, the second-fewest in Notre Dame history.

“There’s more pressure,” said Kemp. “Everyone’s looking at you to play solid and be a leader back there. And in the position I play I have to be a leader – the quarterback of the defense.”

Kemp earned that trust last year by leading the nation with a .652 save percentage and being named a second team All-Great Western Lacrosse League selection and GWLL Rookie of the Year.

“I’ve grown into that role. Last year I had to gain the trust of the upperclassmen.”

Accolades aside, Corrigan feels the team’s trust in Kemp as a leader emanates from the presence he has in the net.

“He’s just a very poised kid,” he said. “He doesn’t get rattled if he lets one in or makes a great save. He stays in there and looks to make the next play. He’s back there taking care of his job.”

Corrigan knew he caught himself a player when he plucked Kemp out of Potomac, Md., where Kemp, the team’s MVP, captained Georgetown Prep to a 22-1 record and No. 1 national ranking by Inside Lacrosse magazine. But with 18 seasons of experience in recruiting and developing Irish athletes, Corrigan knows the gap between high school and college competition, and he says he could not have asked for the better performance by a freshman goalie.

“Now we knew he was very talented and going to be a good goalie,” he said. “But you don’t expect that. He’s been everything and more than we thought he could be.”

Corrigan credits Kemp’s fundamentals as the key to succeeding so early in his college career.

“Technically he’s very sound,” he said. “His positioning and footwork are textbook … He’s competitive as the dickens.”

Corrigan is appreciative of Kemp’s older brother C.J., an “outstanding goalie” at Fairfield (Conn.) University who now plays in the Major League Lacrosse circuit, and credits him with being instructive resource for Joey.

Kemp is in his second year protecting the net for an Irish team looking to an improved defense to stimulate a post-season birth. And the sophomore sensation hopes to fill those shoes – and the net- and be a defensive catalyst. Kemp’s plan this year is as fundamentally sound as his game is – don’t let as many balls by.

“Last year we were around a nine or 10 [goals against average],” he said. “This year it’d be great to be around six. You won’t lose many games when you’re giving up around six every game.”

His ambitions, if they come true, would give the Irish an outstanding record. Last year the Irish scored at least six goals themselves all but once.

While Notre Dame tallied eight goals in last week’s season opener, Kemp and company held No. 14 Penn State to four, the lowest allowed since a 12-2 triumph over Air Force two years ago.

Kemp, however, was disappointed.

“We actually should’ve given up two,” he said. “They scored two off failed clearings.”

According to Kemp, most of the credit for limiting Nittany Lion scoring opportunities last week goes to an overall improved team defense that punished attackmen and kept them from reaching the net.

“Last year we had to try to have a physical game,” he said. “This year, it comes kind of natural.”

By uncluttering Kemp’s workspace, he has been able to flourish.

“It’s a great help to have four great defensemen,” he said. “I’m seeing shots. I know where they’re coming from. It’s a lot easier for me to save those shots.”

Corrigan simplified Kemp’s success to great goaltending.

“Everything that does or does not go in has to go by him,” he said. “He made the saves he should have had and some he shouldn’t. Whenever you get great goaltending, [the goalie] steals some. We’ve gotten used to Joey doing that.”

Driscoll sure has.

“Knowing we have Joey back … takes a little pressure off me,” he said. “He’s been awesome since the second he stepped in the cage.”

It is hard to imagine that was only a year ago.