Irish work to develop identity entering 2017 season
Benjamin Padanilam | Friday, February 10, 2017
Seven consecutive trips to the NCAA quarterfinals. A share of last season’s ACC regular season title. Another top-five preseason ranking.
High expectations aren’t new for Notre Dame, but it will look to build on its impressive stretch over recent years this season, as the Irish enter the campaign tabbed as the fourth best team in the country.
Last year, the Irish had a slightly different look, as they entered the season ranked No. 1 by media behind the veteran leadership of attack Matt Kavanagh and defenseman Matt Landis. However, both those stalwarts graduated in May, leaving Notre Dame without two players who had been the face of its program the last four seasons.
“[They were] arguably the two best players, you could say, that we’ve [ever] had,” Irish head coach Kevin Corrigan said of the duo. “ … Frankly, what we’re going to miss most is just their ability to make plays in big moments. We came to count on both of them as guys that we knew would show up in all the big games and do what they needed to do. And so we’ll miss them, first and foremost, just on the field and the things they did there.”
And while those two faces of the program were responsible for a significant amount of on-field production, the Irish won’t be looking for players on the roster to replace them. Rather, the team has made a conscious effort — even playing more preseason contests than it has in recent memory — to develop an identity based on the roster’s current makeup and talents.
“You don’t try to replace somebody like that,” Corrigan said of Kavanagh and Landis. “The whole kind of journey for this team has been figuring out who we are this year without not just them … but a number of guys — guys who played for a number of years for us. … Each year, it’s about figuring out what does this group have — what are the strengths and weaknesses — and you don’t want to start with the idea of ‘We’re replacing this’ or ‘We lost that.’
“We didn’t lose anything — this year’s team only has what it has — and so we haven’t lost anything to date. So that’s what this has been about this year. It’s why we’ve had four scrimmages; we’ve never had more than two scrimmages in a year, but we had four this year plus a fall where we played two others, so that’s six chances against outside competition for us to really help define in our minds who we are and who we need to be to be effective … and have a shared vision as we go into the year.”
For Corrigan, that shared vision starts with strong leadership. And this year’s team has already made great strides in that area, as it even delayed voting on captains until last week — an atypical practice for the program — because of the team-wide leadership that was on display throughout this offseason. And although the team eventually settled on four seniors — midfielders Sergio Perkovic and Nick Koshansky, attack Anthony Marini and goalie Shane Doss — to lead the way, Corrigan is expecting the Irish to continue displaying team-wide leadership.
“We really have had great leadership this year,” Corrigan said. “ … I’ve been really really delighted by the number of guys that have stepped up and really conducted themselves as leaders in both our senior and junior classes. … I think that’s really important. We haven’t had any issues with leadership to date, but now we go into the cauldron of the season, and we’ll see … what happens then. But I think we have very good leadership and will continue to.”
But one area the Irish will have to continue to improve, particularly with an 11-game schedule featuring seven top-20 opponents, is focusing less on the ball and more on their individual assignments in order to open up more opportunities on offense and limit those same chances on defense.
“Our team tends to fixate too much on what’s going on with the guy with the ball in his stick and less with what’s going on with the other five guys on the offensive end or the six guys at the defensive end when the ball is not in their stick or not with their man,” Corrigan said. “So I think that’s been a good focus for us that guys have been working really hard at and starting to develop a sense of how effective we need to be doing that so that the guy with the ball in his stick has the room and the time and the ability to make plays.”
And when the Irish begin that daunting schedule Feb. 18 in Dallas against Georgetown, Corrigan expects to find out then just exactly what his team is really made of.
“We’ll find out,” Corrigan said. “ … We’re going to have to show up every week with the teams that are on our schedule this year, and that’ll be a challenge for us — but certainly one that we like to think we’re up to.”