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Men’s Lacrosse: After Final Four defeat, Irish reload for another run

Matthew Robison | Friday, August 17, 2012

For the second time in the last three years, Notre Dame fell on championship weekend after a run to the Final Four. The No. 4 seed Irish fell to eventual national champion and top-seeded Loyola 7-5 in the semifinal round May 26 in Foxborough, Mass.

To get to the semifinals, the Irish (13-3, 6-0 Big East) had to go through Yale (11-5) and No. 5 seed Virginia. Led by first-team All-Americans junior goalie John Kemp and senior defenseman Kevin Randall, Notre Dame defeated Yale 13-7.

“The first game of the tournament went very well for us,” Irish coach Kevin Corrigan said. “I thought we played very well against a very good Yale team. It was a very good, very balanced Yale team. But I thought we played very well.”

In the quarterfinals, Notre Dame faced the defending national champion Virginia (12-4) in Philadelphia.

“The second round game in Philadelphia against Virginia was a great job by us,” Corrigan said. “We were up on them and then in a close game in the fourth quarter, a tie game when [junior midfielder] Ryan Foley gets knocked out of the game, our guys responded with a tremendous amount of poise and grit. We outscored them 5-1 from that point on. We played really smart, hard, passionate lacrosse in that game against [Virginia].”

Behind three goals from senior midfielder Max Pfeifer, two from junior midfielder Steve Murphy and two from senior attack Sean Rogers, the Irish captured a 12-10 victory to earn a spot in the Final Four.

The Greyhounds (18-1) entered the match as the No. 1 team in the country, riding a streak of wins and a wave of momentum.

“In the next round against Loyola, we probably didn’t play our best, but our guys played really hard,” Corrigan said. “The Loyola team played very well and very smart. They didn’t give us anything all day.”

Loyola stifled Notre Dame’s offense by maintaining possession for the majority of the game and keeping the ball out of Notre Dame’s playmakers’ sticks. In the second half, the Irish had their chances, but could not capitalize.

“We’ve got to score more than five goals to win at that point in the year at that level,” Corrigan said. “We just didn’t finish enough of our opportunities. Although I thought we didn’t play particularly well in the first half, we played well in the second half. We just didn’t finish well. That was enough to be the difference.”

Freshman attack Westy Hopkins had two goals while three other Irish players scored one goal apiece. But the Greyhounds did them two better and clinched a 7-5 win, eventually going on to beat Maryland in the national championship.

From the outset, Notre Dame’s goal was to win a national championship. But with some reflection, Corrigan said he now realizes that it was a successful year with plenty to take away.

“On the whole, it’s difficult to lose at that point in the season, I don’t care what’s going on or what happened before that,” Corrigan said. “With a little bit of perspective now, I thought it was a great season. Our guys played in a lot of close games and really played well. I thought they maxed out a little bit on what we were doing. I think we can get better. It’s a whole new year and a whole new team, but we have a lot of guys coming back.”

Corrigan had nothing but praise for his departing seniors, a group of players who was not only one of the most successful classes in Notre Dame history, but also was instrumental in establishing a strong culture.

“We’re looking at one of the most successful classes we’re ever had at Notre Dame. They were part of two Final Four teams, four straight NCAA tournaments,” Corrigan said. “We’ll clearly miss them a lot. But I also think they did of bringing up our younger guys. Their leadership was very good. I thought the culture of our team was very strong. They’ve been a large part of that. They did a god job of passing that down.”

Notre Dame has now lost to the eventual national champion in the NCAA tournament in four of the last five years.

Corrigan said he is confident about his team’s future because of the strong corps of returning players, a healthy culture and a balanced recruiting class.

“I think we’ve got a strong class coming in,” Corrigan said. “It’s a good, balanced class. We’ve got guys that can help us at every position. I’m excited about that. As a group, I think this is going to be a very strong class for us.”