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Men’s Lacrosse: Irish earn first No.1 ranking

Joseph Monardo | Wednesday, May 18, 2011

After falling to Duke in the 2010 National Championship game, the No. 4/5 Irish returned stronger in 2011 and established themselves as one of the nation’s elite teams.

Captained by senior midfielders Zach Brenneman and David Earl, senior long stick midfielder Andrew Irving and senior defense Kevin Ridgway, Notre Dame (10-2, 5-1 Big East) entered the season ranked in the top 10. After rattling off nine straight wins, the Irish gained control of the top spot in college lacrosse on April 18 for the first time in program history.

The road to No. 1 began with Notre Dame’s 12-7 win over then No. 5 Duke, after which the Irish continued to capture victory after victory, running their record to 10-0 by late April. During that stretch, Notre Dame ranked first in scoring defense as they held opponents to under six goals per game. The Irish defense that led last year’s title run continued to dominate despite having lost two-time All American and Most Outstanding Player of the 2010 NCAA Championship Scott Rodgers.

Stepping in between the pipes for Rodgers was sophomore John Kemp, who has maintained a .607 save percentage.

“[Kemp]’s been great all year; I don’t think he’s had a bad game,” Irish coach Kevin Corrigan said. “I think he’s done a great job, he’s grown as a leader through the year and he’s done a great job of stopping the ball and handling himself well in the clearing game.”

For a team that continues to be a defensive power, the Irish displayed increased proficiency from the offensive end this season.

Led by the star power of Brenneman and Earl, the Irish also benefited from the contributions of a number of other goal scorers. Senior attack Sean Rogers leads the team with 17 goals, and senior attack Colin Igoe, freshman attack Westy Hopkins, junior midfield Max Pfeifer and sophomore attack Ryan Foley have all reached double-digit points this season.

Despite their offensive depth, the Irish have struggled at times to convert on scoring opportunities and put the ball in the net.

“There are times when [the offense] has been [better than last year] and times when it hasn’t, but I think overall, we’ve got more diversity in our offense this year … so that certainly makes us more dangerous,” Corrigan said.

Their versatility on offense wasn’t enough to extend their undefeated record past 10 games, as the Irish finished the year with two straight losses: 8-11 at the hands of No. 1 Syracuse (14-1, 6-0) and 8-9 (OT) to No. 10 North Carolina (10-5, 1-2 ACC). The losses served as jarring reminders that the Irish will have to bring their best to the table against the country’s other top teams.

“We just didn’t play Notre Dame lacrosse — 60 minutes of good offense, smart transition [and] communication on defense,” Irving said. “When we don’t do that, we get in close games.”

The losses have not affected Notre Dame’s confidence, and the Irish still appreciate how successful their regular season was.

“I think this was obviously a successful regular season,” Earl said. “We finished fourth and got a home seed so we are happy and excited about that.”

Throughout the course of the regular season, Notre Dame faced off against six opponents currently ranked in NCAA Men’s Lacrosse RPI Top 25, four of which reside in the top 10. Their challenging regular season has helped the Irish prepare for the upcoming NCAA Championship Tournament, Ridgway said.

“I think we have battled all season and we put together 10 good games early on,” he said. “I feel we are prepared to go into the tourney with the idea of ‘it’s win or don’t come back tomorrow.’ If the regular season taught us anything, it is to come to practice every day with the idea of getting better.”

Notre Dame earned the No. 4 seed in the tournament and will host unseeded Penn (8-6, 4-2 Ivy League) in its first round game scheduled for Saturday, May 14, at 2:30 p.m.

Also on the horizon for the Irish is the June 2 announcement of the Tewaaraton Trophy, college lacrosse’s player of the year award. Brenneman, Earl and Ridgway are among the 25 nominees for the award.