Notre Dame to open season against Robert Morris on Saturday
Greg McKenna | Friday, February 26, 2021
After almost a year of waiting, Notre Dame men’s lacrosse will take the field once again when Notre Dame faces Robert Morris on Saturday in its season-opener at Loftus Sports Center.
The No. 8 Irish have not played an official game since last March, when the Irish lost 13-11 at then-No.18 Ohio State before the 2020 season was cancelled due to COVID-19.
While Notre Dame head coach Kevin Corrigan emphasized that last year’s disappointing 2-3 start has no bearing on this season, he said his team was focused on returning to a level of play befitting a program that has reached 14 consecutive NCAA tournaments.
“We were clearly not playing to our standards last year,” Corrigan said. “And the focus right now is to make sure that we are playing to our standards.”
Like most programs, the Colonials (1-2) already have several games under their belt. As part of a non-traditional schedule that seeks to limit travel time and other coronavirus-related risks, Notre Dame will play its first game in 2021 almost three weeks after Robert Morris opened its season with a 16-12 loss at No. 1 Duke.
Corrigan, who in his 33rd year at the helm is the longest-tenured active coach in Division 1 lacrosse, refused to dwell on any disadvantages related to the late start.
“It’s just part of the challenge of the game,” he said. “So I’m sure our guys are aware of that, and we just know we’re going to have to learn on the fly.”
The late start presents some positives for the Irish, too. Corrigan said he is thankful for the extra time his team has had to prepare specifically for Robert Morris.
“And that’s a nice thing to have with a team that is unique as they are,” he said. “I’m glad it’s not the other way around.”
Corrigan said the Colonials, who finished the abbreviated 2020 season 10th nationally in goals-per-game, try to establish a relentless pace in transition both offensively and defensively.
“They’re very adept in playing in the middle of the field, the riding and clearing game,” he said. “They try to put a lot of pressure on you. They try to create a tempo in the game by the things they do in the middle of the field.”
Corrigan noted the challenge of containing Colonials attackman Ryan Smith, who returned for a fifth year after being picked third in the 2020 draft for the National Lacrosse League, the world’s premier competition for box (indoor) lacrosse. Smith leads Robert Morris with 12 goals in three games, including five in the Colonials’ 17-14 win over Colgate Sunday.
“He’s got a unique set of skills suited to the inside game, which makes him difficult to cover outside,” Corrigan said.
Fortunately for the Irish, Notre Dame returns two 2020 Inside Lacrosse All-Americans on defense, graduate student Jack Kielty and senior Arden Cohen.
Some analysts, such as ESPN and Inside Lacrosse’s Quint Kessenich, believe Notre Dame has the best defensive group in the nation. Corrgian stressed that his team’s defensive midfielders deserve their fair share of credit for building that reputation, but he had plenty of praise for his defensive unit as well.
“They’ve kind of got the package of things that you’d like to have in a defensive group,” Corrigan said. “They communicate well, and I think they are really getting used to playing with each other.”
Notre Dame did lose its other 2020 All-American after attackman Bryan Costabile was taken second in the Premier Lacrosse League’s 2020 draft, but the Irish attack looks to be in good hands with junior Griffin Westlin, who Corrigan singled out as the team’s “offensive leader.” Westlin led Notre Dame with 10 assists in 2020, and Corrigan said he’s pleased with how the Lebanon, New Jersey, native has matured into a leadership role.
“When you’re a freshman or sophomore on a really good team, generally you’re concerned about finding a way to chip in, right? When then you get to be a junior and a senior and all of a sudden you’re the guy that’s supposed to be looking out for other people as well as yourself, right? So I think Griffin is making that transition right now and doing it well,” he said.
Sophomore Pat Kavanagh impressed in his brief freshman campaign by matching Costabile’s 10 goals and Westlin’s 16 points in 2020, both of which were team-highs. However, Corrigan said the Chaminade High School (Mineola, New York) graduate missed substantial practice time in the fall due to a broken thumb before picking up a hamstring injury this spring semester.
“I can’t talk much about Kav, other than to say that he’s a great competitor,” Corrigan said. “I know he is more disappointed than anybody right now in the time that he’s missed, but I know that he’ll also continue to do the work for us.”
Corrigan also said he was confident in his squad’s upperclassmen leadership, especially with a large number of returning graduate students being supplemented by grad transfers.
Notre Dame will not be short of collegiate experience in the face-off circle. One graduate student leader Corrigan singled out was Charles Leonard, a 2020 preseason All-ACC selection.
The Irish won just 42.7% of their face offs in 2020, however, and Leonard likely faces competition for the FOGO role from Kyle Gallagher, a graduate transfer from Penn.
Notre Dame and Robert Morris have only met once previously, a 15-5 Irish home win in 2014.
The match is scheduled for 4 p.m. and will be available to stream on ACC Network Extra.