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Men’s Lacrosse: Kemp’s leadership, talent spark defense

Matthew Robison | Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The No. 9 Irish have already encountered a degree of adversity early in the season, but one thing Notre Dame has been able to count on up to this point is a consistent performance from junior goaltender John Kemp.

In the first two games of the season, Kemp captured career highs in saves in both games.

Against then-No. 3 Duke on Feb. 18, Kemp made 14 saves and led the Irish to a 7-3 victory. This Sunday, Kemp eclipsed his career high again with 18 stops in a 4-3 overtime loss to No. 13 Penn State.

But Kemp credits much of his success to the defense surrounding him.

“I can attribute that to my defense being able to let me see the types of shots I like to see,” Kemp said. “Generally, we like to give up shots from the outside and low-angle shots, giving me a better opportunity to save the ball. Thankfully, I’ve been able to stop a lot of the shots I’ve seen these past two weeks.”

Irish coach Kevin Corrigan has watched Kemp develop at Notre Dame (1-1) over the last three years, one of them under the tutelage of then fifth-year senior Scott Rodgers and the other two as the starter. But Corrigan started watching Kemp play long before his collegiate career.

“I’ve been watching John since he was a freshman in high school, and it seems like each year he gets a little bit better,” Corrigan said. “At first, it was all about him saving the ball and learning how to play that part of the position. Since he’s been at Notre Dame, he’s been learning some of the other things: leadership on that side of the field, clearing the ball and team defense.”

During Kemp’s freshman year, he played behind Rodgers and learned the ins-and-outs of the goaltender position at the collegiate level.

“[Rodgers] is a very vocal person and leader on and off the field,” Kemp said. “So I was able to learn a lot of leadership capabilities that a goalie needs. On top of that, he was one of the best goalies in the country and taught me on that aspect as well.”

Beyond Kemp’s ability to keep the ball out of the net with his body and stick, his presence on the defensive end of the field is just as important to Notre Dame’s success, Corrigan said.

“He’s got a very steady, calming influence on that whole [defensive] end of the field,” Corrigan said. “It starts with confidence, and then reliability and trustworthiness that everyone there feels with him in the cage and the way he handles himself. It can be a volatile thing and emotionally [dangerous] if you allow it to be. He makes it easy on everyone else.”

But Corrigan said Kemp’s best attribute is that he his ability to react effectively to every shot thrown his way.

“That’s job number one in that position, to keep the ball out of the back of the net,” Corrigan said. “I think he does that better than anyone out there.”

Despite the early upset over Duke, the Irish found themselves in the opposite position when the Nittany Lions shocked them in Arlotta Stadium. The last two years, the Irish have come up empty in the postseason. A deep run in 2010 left Notre Dame one goal away from a national championship after an overtime loss to Duke. The Blue Devils then knocked off the Irish in 2011 in the national quarterfinals.

This year, the Irish are as hungry as ever, and Kemp and Notre Dame have a renewed focus after the early loss.

“Having had Duke stop us from reaching our goal the past two years has made us realize how hard we  need to work and focus week in and week out,” Kemp said.

Notre Dame’s next challenge in its pursuit of a national championship is No. 18 Drexel on Saturday. Face-off is scheduled for 1 p.m. in Philadelphia.

Contact Matthew Robison at [email protected]