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Men’s Lacrosse: Leading from the back

Matthew Robison | Wednesday, April 25, 2012

For many lacrosse teams, one defender’s lapse in coverage usually results in an uncontested shot on the goaltender. When teams play No. 3 Notre Dame, that is not the case.

“Defensively, our philosophy is that we want to play a supportive kind of defense in a style where it’s very hard for any one guy to cost us a goal,” Irish coach Kevin Corrigan said. “If everyone is doing their job and everyone understands their role and is fundamentally sound, then it takes a couple guys to cost us a goal.”

Corrigan has instilled a defensive system that makes teams beat two or three players before getting a shot on one of the best goaltenders in the country.

“[Opponents] are going to have to make a couple guys make a mistake,” Corrigan said. “Then they’re going to have to beat our goalie too.”

The Irish (10-1, 5-0 Big East) lead the nation in goals allowed per game at 5.73, and junior goaltender John Kemp leads the country in save percentage at .656. So even when opponents do fool a number of defenders and get the ball to the cage, Kemp is there as the last line of defense.

“John’s been outstanding,” Corrigan said. “He’s played great. He’s very comfortable with our defense and with the things that we give up. He just makes unbelievable stops at various times.”

Beyond Kemp’s positioning, reflexes and ability to read shots out of the stick, Corrigan said his goalkeeper’s most important attribute is his calming presence.

“Mostly, I think it’s just that his demeanor is perfect for his position,” Corrigan said. “He never gets too excited with things, good or bad. He just kind of moves to the next play and keeps an even keel. So it doesn’t matter whether we’re up or down, or what’s going on. John’s always the same back there. That keeps our defense on an even keel.”

Led by senior defenseman Kevin Randall, the Irish have bought into the system developed by Corrigan and assistant coach Gerry Byrne. Randall displays the epitome of the style of play Corrigan and Byrne expect out of their players.

“[Randall’s] ability to remain disciplined and stay focused throughout the possession and the game, I think, is unique,” Corrigan said. “But it’s also exemplary for the way we want to play.”

On the sideline, Corrigan relies on Byrne to be focused on the defense 100 percent of the game, as well as being the instructor in practice.

“He’s a terrific teacher,” Corrigan said. “He’s a great motivator. He’s done a terrific job since the day he arrived here.”

The Intercollegiate Men’s Lacrosse Coaches Association honored Byrne’s leadership at the end of last season with the National Assistant Coach of the Year award.

Because of its strong focus on team defense, Notre Dame has developed a culture that has spread throughout the team. It is a system passed down from class to class, and it is here to stay.

“Now we’ve got a thing in place where our older guys help teach our younger guys,” Corrigan said. “We have disciples of the way we want to do things in our guys. When you have that, you have guys being supportive and instructed by their teammates as well as your coaches.”

Notre Dame’s defense will be put to the test Saturday when the Irish square off against Big East rival No. 17 Syracuse (7-6, 2-3), with a chance to go undefeated in the Big East regular season. The game starts at 5:30 p.m. in Arlotta Stadium and will be aired on ESPNU.

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