After inconsistent season, young Irish hitting their stride late
Colin Capece | Friday, May 17, 2019
With a number of key contributors returning from 2018, the Irish entered this season looking like they could compete for not only an ACC championship, but also a national title this season. Last season, the team made another ACC Tournament championship appearance but ultimately fell to Virginia and clinched another NCAA tournament berth. The team entered 2019 primed to make another deep postseason run. However, head coach Kevin Corrigan made sure to keep his players from looking in the rearview mirror.
“We didn’t want to approach this season as a continuation of last year, because it’s a whole new year,” Corrigan said in an interview on May 8. “When they came in this year, we told our guys that we were starting from scratch. A quarter of our guys from last year aren’t here anymore, and a quarter of our guys have never been here before. We wanted to start over and build everything from the ground up once again.”
While the Irish (9-6, 2-2 ACC) made sure to keep their focus on 2019, one of the things that did remain constant from 2018 was the team’s challenging schedule. Week in and week out, the Irish faced off against the nation’s best competition, as the team played eight squads that finished in the top 20 of the NCAA, five of them in the top 10. Throughout the season, the Irish continually displayed resilience following a defeat, as the team never lost consecutive games.
“I think it definitely shows a lot of character the way our guys fought and didn’t give in even though we were struggling at times,” Corrigan said. “The fact that we never lost two in a row clearly shows that our guys never quit on themselves. We definitely play a difficult schedule, and it wasn’t always a smooth ride this year, but I am really pleased with where our team is at now as we enter the postseason.”
The Irish played some of their best lacrosse of the season early on, starting the year with a dominant 19-6 victory against Detroit Mercy at Loftus Sports Center. After losing a nail-biter on the road against Richmond the following week, the Irish responded with a thrilling 14-13 overtime victory against then-No. 2 Maryland in Loftus, followed by a 10-7 victory against Denver in Costa Mesa, California. As the regular season continued, the Irish alternated wins and losses each week, struggling to find the consistency they had displayed early on. In the regular season finale, likely in need of a win to reach the NCAA tournament, the Irish faced off against North Carolina at Arlotta Stadium. In front of their home crowd on senior day, the Irish held on late for a 12-10 victory to end their regular season with a 7-5 record and clinch a third-place finish in the ACC.
“We were at that point in the year where we needed to win to play in the NCAA tournament,” Corrigan said. “That was the moment in our season where our backs were really against the wall, and I thought it was great the way our guys responded.”
In the ACC tournament semifinals, the Irish faced the Duke Blue Devils for the second time in 2019. After suffering a 14-8 defeat in Durham during the regular season, Notre Dame bested their ACC rival 12-10 to reach their third-straight ACC title game.
“You have to make good decisions with the ball against a team like them, and I think our guys just had more experience to draw on after we played them the first time,” Corrigan said. “I think our guys learned a lot from that first game, and our decision making was much better in the second game.”
While the Irish were defeated by the No. 4 Virginia Cavaliers for the second time in 2019 in the ACC Championship game, Notre Dame continued on to face Johns Hopkins in first round of the NCAA tournament. Ahead of last Sunday’s game, Corrigan provided some insight into how the Irish could extend their season.
“We just have to take care of the ball, and we need to put pressure on the other team by making all of our possessions count. When we do that we tend to be at our best as a team,” Corrigan said.
Corrigan’s strategy seemed to work as the Irish defeated the Blue Jays (8-8, 3-2 Centennial) 16-9 to advance to their ninth NCAA tournament quarterfinal in the last 10 seasons. The team’s 16 goals set a program record for most goals in an NCAA tournament game.
Corrigan also reached a personal milestone this season when the Irish defeated Marquette at Arlotta Stadium on April 10, as the longest tenured coach in program history earned his 300th career victory. When asked about what the milestone meant to him, Corrigan chose to give praise to those who have helped him reach the summit of college lacrosse.
“Honestly, the biggest thing is it makes me think more about all of the great people I’ve had a chance to coach with here, as well as all of the players that I’ve coached over the last 30 years,” Corrigan said. “I’m really fortunate to have been able to coach over a 30-year period, but to do it in one place is certainly gratifying.”
With their win over Johns Hopkins, the Irish are set to meet the Blue Devils for the third time this season in the NCAA quarterfinals. The game, scheduled for 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, will be played in Hempstead, New York.