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Men’s Lacrosse: A program first

Joseph Monardo | Wednesday, April 20, 2011

After taking over the top spot in both the Inside Lacrosse media poll and the USILA coaches poll for the first time in program history, the No. 1 Irish will have to defend the nation’s only remaining undefeated record against Providence Saturday.

The Irish (9-0, 4-0 Big East) spent multiple weeks in the top five before ascending to the top of the rankings following Syracuse’s 11-6 loss to No. 3 Cornell on April 12. Syracuse dropped from No. 1 to No. 4 following the defeat, opening the door for the Irish to take the No. 1 ranking for the first time in the program’s 30-year history.

“I’m not going to act like it doesn’t mean anything, because we’ve been playing lacrosse and working at this for a long time and the goal has always been to be number one,” Irish coach Kevin Corrigan said. “So I think it’s a great thing for anybody that ever played here to know that, at some point, we made it.”

The achievement almost never was, however, as the Irish nearly squandered the opportunity to earn the top spot in the rankings when they played St. John’s Saturday. Notre Dame trailed 5-2 at the half before outscoring the Red Storm 8-2 in the final two quarters to take the 10-7 victory, extending its perfect record. When the Irish travel to Providence (3-8, 0-3 Big East), they will be careful to avoid another scare.

“I think that we need to learn, basically, from St. John’s that we cannot overlook anybody,” senior defenseman Kevin Ridgway said. “[Against St. John’s] we got down early, but I know that we are going to come out with a little more energy and up-tempo practice this week … to make sure that we do not overlook Providence.”

Although Providence has dropped seven of its last eight games, Corrigan emphasized that the Friars’ record is a poor indication of how good they actually are. In Saturday’s 13-3 loss to Syracuse, Providence hung tough for most of the game, as they trailed 4-3 at half and 5-3 after three quarters, but faltered in the fourth quarter

“If you aren’t paying attention, you look at them and you think … ‘their record is not very good and all that,’ but if you look really closely at their results, this is a team that’s gone from not being a very good team at the beginning of the year to playing some very, very good teams really well over the course of the last five weeks,” Corrigan said. “You really see a team that is starting to grow and develop and get better and one that we know we can’t afford to not be prepared against.”

Being pegged as the country’s best team certainly offers plenty of distractions for a team, but Corrigan said his players are handling the distinction the right way.

“I think our guys are just very focused on what we need to do day-to-day,” he said. “If we can keep the focus there, then I don’t think [the ranking] is going to add a lot of pressure. Again, we started the year with high goals and high aspirations, and so I don’t think this is a shock to be in this position, but we know it doesn’t mean anything when we step on the field.”

Ridgway added that the team’s main goal remains a berth in the national championship, which will be played on May 30.

“I don’t think anything changed as far as what we do [as a result of the ranking],” he said. “It is a cool recognition to be number one, but it does not really matter until Memorial Day.

Notre Dame has played exceptionally well recently, and the conference is taking notice. The Irish swept the most recent round of the Big East player of the week awards, as senior midfielder David Earl was named offensive player of the week and sophomore goalie John Kemp took the defensive award for the second straight week. Against St. John’s, Earl netted three goals and registered four total points. Kemp recorded 11 saves and scooped up four ground balls.

Earl, Ridgway, and senior midfielder Zach Brenneman also garnered national recognition when they were named as official nominees for the 2011 Tewaaraton Trophy, the premier individual award in lacrosse.

The Irish will put both their perfect record and their standing as the nation’s number one team on the line when they travel to Providence. The opening faceoff is scheduled for Saturday at noon.