Notre Dame takes ACC crown in first year
Greg Hadley | Friday, May 16, 2014
One game at a time.
It may be cliché, but it was a particularly apt philosophy for Irish coach Kevin Corrigan and No. 5 Notre Dame this season, as the Irish (10-5, 2-3 ACC) faced one of the toughest schedules in the nation and emerged on the other side with a berth into their ninth-straight NCAA tournament as the No. 6 seed in the country.
“I don’t go into a season with expectations,” Corrigan said. “I go into a season worried about the first game. And then after the first game, I worry about the second game.”
In their first year in the ACC, the Irish claimed the conference tournament crown despite ending the regular season with a losing conference record. Overall, Notre Dame played 10 teams ranked in the top 20 this year, stumbling early against then-No. 2 Denver and then-No. 4 Syracuse on the road.
After an 18-9 win over then-No. 7 Virginia on March 16 and a 13-7 victory over rival Ohio State, the Irish dropped a heartbreaker to Syracuse (11-5, 2-3 ACC), 11-10, and never led during a 15-7 loss to Duke on April 5, putting them at 4-4 on the year. With its streak of consecutive NCAA tournament appearances in jeopardy, Notre Dame began to pick up steam at the end of the season, winning five of its last six games. In the midst of those five wins, the Irish upset then-No. 6 Maryland, 6-5, and the Orange, 15-14, in the ACC tournament.
“If you have to point at one [particularly important game], you have to point at Maryland in the first round of the ACC tournament,” Corrigan said. “I don’t know if it was must-win, but it certainly was must-win if we wanted to go into the end of the year with the certainty that we were going to the NCAA tournament. If we don’t win that game, it’s going to get dicey from there.”
The win against the Terrapins (12-3, 4-1 ACC) came less than a week after the Irish dropped a 12-8 decision to Maryland at home. Sophomore attack Matt Kavanagh scored the game-winning goal for the Irish in the ACC semifinals and was named tournament MVP after scoring four more goals in the championship against Syracuse.
Kavanagh led the Irish in goals and assists this year and was the key to an Irish offense that averaged 11.86 goals per game, Notre Dame’s best mark since 2008. The Irish also ranked 13th in the country in scoring offense and second in man-up offense.
“We have some terrific offensive guys,” Corrigan said. “Our attack has been very strong, and we’ve got some midfielders who can play the middle of the field and create transition opportunities for us. … Increasingly through the year, we’ve found our identity offensively to do what we need to do to be successful.”
On defense, the Irish, traditionally recognized as one of the strongest programs in the country, surrendered 9.79 goals per game this season, their highest total since 1996. That mark puts them at 23rd in the country. With the loss of former All-American goalkeeper John Kemp, Corrigan alternated between junior Conor Kelly and freshman Shane Doss in the crease, with Kelly gaining the last five starts.
“I hope we’re always recognized as a team that cares and works very hard at playing good defense because I think that defense is really important,” Corrigan said. “But at the same time, you build your team around the team you have, not the team that you want to have. We’ve just tried to take advantage of the things this team does have. …We knew we’re losing a three-time All-American [in John Kemp], so we weren’t sure if we were going to get the level of goalkeeping that we have had, but we had confidence in Conor, and right from the beginning, Shane showed us he was ready to compete at the highest level.”
With the ACC tournament title, the Irish gained an automatic berth into their ninth-straight NCAA tournament, where they defeated then-No. 11 Harvard, 13-5, at Arlotta Stadium in the first round May 10. Notre Dame sprinted out to a 7-0 lead just over halfway through the second quarter and cruised to the win, outscoring the Crimson (10-7, 5-1 Ivy) 5-1 in the fourth quarter.
The Irish were led on offense by senior attack John Scioscia, who chipped in four goals, including the first two scores of the game. On man-up opportunities, Notre Dame converted three of eight chances, while holding Harvard to one goal on seven man-up advantages.
Harvard outshot Notre Dame, both overall, 35-33, and in shots on goal, 22-18. Kelly, however, recorded a career-high 17 saves, including seven in the second quarter alone.
Notre Dame aims to continue its postseason run in its second-round matchup with No. 15 Albany on Saturday, with a berth in the Final Four on the line. The Irish have advanced to the Final Four three times in program history, most recently in 2012.
The Great Danes (12-5, 5-0 American East) advanced to the second round after upsetting No. 3-seed Loyola on the road, 13-6, part of a four-upset opening weekend that also saw Notre Dame’s ACC rival Syracuse fall. Albany leads the nation in scoring offense but is 48th out of 67 programs in scoring defense.
The Great Danes are led by senior attack Miles Thompson, who averages 4.65 goals per game, nearly a goal and a half more than the next highest scorer in the country.
Albany and Notre Dame meet in Hempstead, N.Y., on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. to play for a Final Four berth. If the Irish advance, the semifinal round takes place in Baltimore, Md., on May 24.