Resilient squad captures ACC championship, falls in NCAAs
Meagan Bens | Friday, May 18, 2018
Fighting through injuries this season, the Irish staged quite a comeback and were ultimately crowned ACC champions.
The Irish (9-6, 1-3 ACC) suffered a dip in the middle of the season, but they have bounced back to finish on a high note. Comparing the team’s position to where they were at the beginning of the season, head coach Kevin Corrigan said the team has progressed tremendously.
“I don’t compare years because there’s nothing in that for us,” Corrigan said. “Every team is different and ever year is different. We gain nothing out of comparing ourselves to previous teams or anything else. For me it is very self-referential. How are we compared to how we were in January or February, when we started to put this team together? On that basis I think we’ve made tremendous progress. We play with better awareness and knowledge than we did in the beginning of the year. And guys right now, last couple weeks we’ve been in the sweet spot playing really hard and really aggressively while playing smart at the same time. I’m happy how we are playing and we can just continue and build on it.”
With freshman attack Mikey Drake, junior midfielder Brendan Gleason and sophomore midfielder Bryan Costabile all facing injuries during the middle of the season, Corrigan said senior attack Mikey Wynne and junior attack Ryder Garnsey have stepped up to fill the void.
“Luckily while all the injuries are serious, guys have been able to bounce back pretty quickly,” Corrigan said. “It attests to their toughness if anything else. I think at this point everybody is not 100 percent, but we are getting there and we are getting better all the time. I think on our attack, Wynne and Garnsey have both really stepped up in the time the other guys we’re out and both playing very well right now. In the midfield, [senior] Pierre Byrne has been consistent throughout the year and I think a second group of midfielders has given us some really valuable minutes with [senior] Jordan Walter leading that group.”
Just when they were finally adjusting to the new formation with injured players being out, Notre Dame faced several challenging opponents that brought out the best in the Irish, including Duke in the opening game of the conference tournament and a match against Denver earlier in the season.
“The Duke game in the first round of the ACC tournament was the toughest match,” Corrigan said. “That was a really well played game. It wasn’t like Duke didn’t play well, they played very well. But we played just a little bit better. It was definitely a game we all felt good about. Over the course of the season, the first Denver game was also important one for us cause we started off not playing well and that was the first game where we really played well. There are different times along the season that you have significant games for whatever reason. Those two were significant, but I’d say Duke was the best overall game. We played them earlier in the year and they showed us why they are one of the top teams in the country, but we came out on top the second time.”
After the close 10-9 loss to North Carolina on April 21, the Irish won games against Duke (14-3, 3-1) and Virginia to claim the ACC championship, and then they followed off the regular-season home victory over Army to finish the season.
Entering the NCAA tournament, Notre Dame earned the No. 7 seed to host Denver (13-3, 5-0 Big East) last Sunday. Corrigan said the team does not set goals, but rather has the constant expectation to perform to win. However, its luck ran out as the Irish, in their 13th-straight NCAA tournament appearance, fell to the Pioneers 9-7, after being outscored 3-1 in the final quarter. Garnsey led the way with a team-high four goals, marking his fifth hat trick on the season. Despite a respectable offensive performance, Notre Dame was unable to contain Denver on the defensive end, and marked the end of their season with a goal by the Pioneers to seal the defeat with four minutes remaining.
“We don’t set any goals as a team and one of the reasons is because I don’t ever remember playing a game that I didn’t expect to win,” Corrigan said. “If you stipulate that, what other goals are there? If you win every game then it’s good. But even if you lose a game it doesn’t change your outlook on the next game, you still look to win that one.”
Reflecting on the tough season and the players adapting to the new dynamic on the field, Corrigan said the one word that describes their season is resilient.
“The guys have been hurt and they’ve had to recover from that,” Corrigan said. “Their backs have been against the wall and they’ve had to recover from that. It describes the right mind set for this team.”