Reloaded squad ready to take on grueling schedule
Benjamin Padanilam | Wednesday, February 7, 2018
As No. 6 Notre Dame prepares to open its 2018 season, its roster consists of a mix of old and new faces.
With the new year comes the loss of some of the team’s most established talent in previous seasons, as All-American midfielder Sergio Perkovic, All-American defender Garrett Epple, goalie Shane Doss and others have moved on to the next stages of their careers and lives after graduation.
But All-American and senior long-stick midfielder John Sexton, senior attack Mikey Wynne and junior attack Ryder Garnsey return for a well-respected squad — as indicated by their top-10 preseason ranking in the two major college lacrosse polls — that will also be looking for some fresh faces to step into the voids left by the recently departed talent.
As the Irish prepare for their season opener Sunday against Detroit Mercy, one of the biggest questions the team faces is the starter in goal — Doss played in 54 games over his four seasons with the Irish, leaving his replacement with big shoes to fill. And while Irish head coach Kevin Corrigan has yet to announce a starter for the squad, he said he feels comfortable with whoever ends up in net given what he’s seen from the depth chart during the offseason and preseason.
“Right now, we’ve got a great competition between [senior Owen Molloy] and [freshman Matt Schmidt], and I think both of them have played extremely well this preseason and through the fall, and at this point, I’m not concerned at all about the goaltending situation,” Corrigan said. “I think we’re going to be well served by whoever ends up winning that job.”
Offensively, the Irish will be faced with the challenge of replacing Perkovic’s production, as he scored 111 goals in his four seasons with the Irish from the midfield position. While this year’s group might lack a player of Perkovic’s star power, it does have plenty of players Corrigan said have been impressive early on, including sophomore Bryan Costabile, junior Brendan Gleason — who converted to midfield from attack — and seniors Pierre Byrne and Brendan Collins.
“You don’t replace Sergio,” Corrigan said of the group this year. “What you do is, you look at the pieces that you have and think, ‘How do we play and what do we do?’ I think, in a way, we’ve been very democratic in the way we’ve played this spring. It really doesn’t seem to matter to anybody who’s doing what. When you play with that unselfishness and that sense that it’s everybody’s responsibility … I like that.
“I think that’s a really positive thing to have an offense that’s based on a lot of differ people being productive. In order for people to be productive, everybody has to play a certain way. Everyone has to play unselfishly, they have to work hard without the ball as well as with the ball, and I just think that makes for, at the end of the day, a tougher group to stop.”
Compared to its other units, however, the Irish will have just about everyone back in its attack unit from last season, including Wynne and Garnsey, while adding a freshman who has impressed Corrigan thus far in Connor Morin. For a while, the Irish thought they’d be without Garnsey this year, as news broke June 24 that the team’s leading scorer from a year ago had been granted his release to transfer from the program, with many believing he would transfer to Virginia. Less than a week later, however, Garnsey announced on Twitter his intention to return to Notre Dame, and Corrigan said the junior has shown his commitment to the program ever since.
“We’re glad Ryder’s back, but more importantly, I think Ryder’s been working very hard and working at all things,” Corrigan said. “He’s worked hard to improve himself as a player in his decision-making, has worked hard to develop athletically and I think he’s worked hard to be a good teammate. All of those things are really positive, so I’m not worried about what happened last summer and what possible decisions were being made at that point. I’m worried about what he’s been doing since he got back here this fall.”
And although Garnsey and Wynne will be the two players many Irish opponents focus on this season, Corrigan said he expects the offense to be dynamic and multi-dimensional.
“We have a lot of different pieces there and guys that can make plays,” Corrigan said. “We just need to play in a way that allows all of them to make their plays and play with a patience and selectively that allows us to make sure we’re getting those contributions from everybody.”
Now, as Notre Dame prepares for Sunday’s opener at 1 p.m. inside Loftus Sports Complex, Corrigan said he expects the Irish to set a tone for itself to maintain for the rest of the season, and he hopes that even as those fresh faces fill their places in the rotation, they will quickly find the consistency they will need to compete in a strong ACC this season.
“The biggest thing for us is going to be establishing that we can play consistently,” Corrigan said. “We’re going to have some younger guys in there, and we’re going to have to work really hard to be consistent in what we do because I think that’s really important. When you play the schedule that we play, you can’t afford to be up and down too much.”