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Men’s Lacrosse: ND prepares to face No. 3 UNC at Loftus

Sam Werner | Thursday, March 5, 2009

The No. 7 Irish will face their toughest test of the young season this weekend when they welcome third-ranked North Carolina to the Loftus Sports Center Sunday.

Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan said that, while he recognizes the Tar Heels (6-0) are a very talented team, he didn’t want to get caught up in the rankings.

“I don’t think anyone’s oblivious to the fact that they’re No. 3 in the country,” he said “But I don’t think it’s something we’ll spend much time talking about.”

Irish senior captain Peter Christman said that, at this level, all the teams are virtually equal, and rankings don’t matter much.

“Lacrosse has become such a competitive sport, especially in the top 10. There’s really not one team that has separated itself this year,” he said. “When you get a matchup with someone such as North Carolina, the rankings sort of go out the window and you’re just trying to find your advantages on both sides of the field.”

Corrigan said North Carolina’s biggest strength is its depth at every position.

“They really don’t have a hole in their lineup right now,” he said. “They’ve got experienced guys playing at every spot in their lineup.”

The Tar Heels beat the Irish 8-6 last year, thanks to five goals from then-junior Ben Hunt. North Carolina built a 5-0 lead by the third quarter and a late Irish rally came up short. Corrigan said North Carolina goalie Grant Zimmerman, who made 18 saves, was the key player in that game.

“I thought that was the difference in the game last year,” Corrigan said. “This year we have to make sure that we take good shots, keep the pressure on him, and see if we can’t get some more by him.”

That shouldn’t be a problem for the Irish offense if they can replicate their performance from last weekend, a 19-goal outburst against Dartmouth. Notre Dame has spread the points around, as 14 different players have scored this season. Senior Duncan Swezey was the man against the Big Green with five goals, but juniors Neal Hicks and Grant Krebs have also registered hat tricks for the Irish this year.

“That, to me, is a sign of not just the quality of our depth but also the way that we’re playing,” Corrigan said. “We’re playing very unselfishly, we’re playing in a manner that’s allowing a lot of people to contribute, and I think that makes you harder to defend because there’s not just one guy they can look at.”

The Tar Heels, though, are similar to the Irish in many respects. Twenty-three different players have notched at least a point for them this season, with 19 different goal-scorers. Senior attack Bart Wagner leads the way with 16 goals and 7 assists, but sophomore attack Billy Bitter and redshirt junior attack Gavin Petracca have also notched 22 and 21 points, respectively.

“They’re very balanced offensively,” Corrigan said. “Their scoring is pretty well-distributed among their attacking midfield. Their attackmen have got a lot points, but they don’t generate most of their offense, a lot of that comes from the midfield.”

Zimmerman will be back in net for the Tar Heels, posting a 6.40 GAA so far on the season. For the Irish, the man between the pipes will be senior Scott Rodgers, who has made 39 saves in just three games this season, good for an 8.08 GAA. Corrigan said, though, that it would be up to the rest of the squad to make sure Rodgers is able to do his job.

“They’re playing very well offensively,” he said. “And I think it’s going to take a good team defensive effort to stop them.”

A stingy defensive showing combined with the explosive offense of last weekend could result in a good weekend for the Irish.

“I think we have to play well across the board,” Corrigan said. “We can’t falter in some area of the game because with a team as talented as they are at every position, you just can’t have an area of the game where you perform poorly or they’ll be there to take advantage of it.”

The opening faceoff is set for 1 p.m. Sunday at Loftus and the game will be aired on tape delay on CBS College Sports network at 4:30 p.m. Sunday.