Notre Dame head coach Kevin Corrigan is not going to let the success of last season’s NCAA Championship finalist finish change the annual expectations for his program.
“Our goals are the same every season,” states Corrigan. “We want to get better every day and we want to win every game. Every day that we’re out there, we’re trying to be the best team that we can be. If we can do that, all the other things will fall into place.”
That attitude has helped the Fighting Irish be one of the top teams in the nation over the past few seasons and achieve unprecedented success one year ago. After posting a 7-6 regular-season record in 2010, Notre Dame gained its fifth straight berth into the NCAA Tournament and made the most of it.
While some programs may rest on the success of previous seasons, Corrigan is making sure to put last season in proper perspective, while clearing the slate for the 2011 campaign.
“That was last year and it was wonderful,” says Corrigan, who is entering his 23rd season at the helm of the Irish program. “We’re certainly not going to ignore it because it was an experience, just like any other experience we’ve had. We’re not going to play up losing four BIG EAST games and we’re not going to play up going to the national championship game. But we’re not going to ignore any of it either. It’s all part of the journey for the guys that were on that team, but it’s not part of the history of this particular team.”
This year’s squad returns several key elements that helped the Irish knock off four top-10 teams last season, including three in the national tournament.
The Fighting Irish bring back the bulk of their defensive unit that ranked second nationally one season ago by surrendering just 7.53 goals per game. Offsetting the graduation of defenseman Mike Creighton will be the return of fifth-year senior Sam Barnes, who missed all of last season with an injury. Senior Kevin Ridgway and junior Kevin Randall started every game one season ago.
That group of talented veterans will be a key component of this year’s squad as will sophomore goalie John Kemp. Kemp will look to fill the shoes of two-time All-American Scott Rodgers between the pipes.
Rodgers, the 2010 NCAA Championship Most Outstanding Player, leaves a void for the Irish, yet Corrigan is very confident in Kemp, who was able to get a taste of top-level collegiate lacrosse last season while filling in for an injured Rodgers during a mid-season stretch.
Offensively, senior midfielder Zach Brenneman led the Irish in goals (29) and points (42) last season en route to earning honorable mention All-America accolades. Brenneman is one of three honorable mention All-Americans returning for the Fighting Irish. Fellow senior midfielder David Earl joins Ridgway and Barnes on that list. Barnes earned his nod as a junior in 2009.
That senior quartet, along with classmate Andrew Irving (LSM), garnered 2011 preseason All-America status from Inside Lacrosse. All five of those Fighting Irish players also heard their names called during January’s Major League Lacrosse Collegiate Draft. The five drafted players signified a program record, while Brenneman became Notre Dame’s highest pick ever as he was selected fifth overall.
Meanwhile, Brenneman was voted as the 2011 BIG EAST Preseason Attack Player of the Year by the league’s head coaches. Barnes, Earl and Ridgway joined Brenneman on the all-BIG EAST preseason squad.
Here is a position-by-position breakdown of the 2011 Notre Dame squad …
The Irish will look to get an increased amount of production from their attacking unit as they boast a good amount of experience and depth within the group.
“I hope our depth at attack is going to be better,” says Corrigan. “We will certainly miss (graduated senior) Neal Hicks, but I think we have more people who are ready to contribute there. I think the competition and the experience there will make us better.”
Juniors Sean Rogers and Nicholas Beattie are Notre Dame’s most experienced members in the attack. Rogers started 15 games last season and registered 14 goals and five assists. Beattie missed four contests due to injury, yet he started 12 times and tallied 11 goals and eight assists. Beattie did not play in the fall due to a shoulder injury, but he expects to be healthy once the season starts.
“Nick Beattie and Sean Rogers have played a lot for us over the past two years,” comments Corrigan. “They are really stepping into leadership roles with that unit. I think both have added things to their games and they continue to become more well-rounded players.”
Fifth-year senior Colin Igoe also brings a good amount of experience to the unit. Igoe returned to the field last season after missing most of the 2008 campaign
and all of the 2009 season with a knee injury. He played in all 17 games last season, including seven starts, and tallied seven goals and six assists.
Fellow fifth-year senior Edison Parzanese is a new face on the Fighting Irish squad. Parzanese graduated from Holy Cross (Mass.) last spring and now is obtaining his MBA at Notre Dame. He notched 55 goals and 74 assists during his career at Holy Cross. He only played in three games during the 2009 campaign before suffering a season-ending injury and he is using his fifth-year of eligibility with the Irish. Parzanese came back strong last season with 16 goals and 19 assists as a starter in all 15 games with the Crusaders.
Sophomore Ryan Foley brings explosiveness to the attack and he will look to have a breakout season in 2011. He played in 11 games during his rookie campaign and scored one goal. Senior Tom Connor also will be available to provide minutes for the Irish on attack.
Freshman Westy Hopkins spent a post-graduate year at Lawrenceville (N.J.) and Corrigan feels he is ready to make an immediate impact on the attack. Other freshmen that may be a factor at that end of the field are Alex Eaton, Ryan Mix and John Scioscia.
“We have four freshman attackmen and we’re really pleased with that group as a whole coming out of the fall,” adds Corrigan. “Westy Hopkins is a little bit more physically mature and his game has matured because of the PG year and I feel he has a chance to help us some this year.”
Brenneman and Earl headline a deep group of midfielders for the Fighting Irish. Last season, Earl produced 22 goals and six assists to go along with Brenneman’s 42 points.
“Zach Brenneman and David Earl have proven themselves to be terrific players at this level,” comments Corrigan. “We’ll work through seeing who the other guys are. There is a lot of competition and a lot of guys who’ve been working to be in a position to play in the midfield.”
Junior Max Pfeifer started all 17 games during his sophomore campaign and recorded 10 goals and eight assists. He will be relied heavily in the midfield for the Irish as will sophomore Steve Murphy, who played in every game and deposited nine goals as a rookie.
Murphy is just one member of a talented sophomore class of midfielders for the Fighting Irish. His classmates Pat Cotter and Tyler Kimball saw limited action last season, yet they will figure prominently into Corrigan’s plan this year.
“Our sophomore midfield group is very good,” states Corrigan. “(Steve) Murphy played the most last season as we had him in the second group for the better part of the year and he did a lot of good things. He’s playing with a lot more confidence right now than he did a year ago. Pat Cotter is probably the most well-rounded of the group and we’d like him to turn up the aggressiveness a little bit. I think he’ll be in a position to make more plays this season. Ty Kimball arguably is the best athlete on the team. He also has a very good skill set. I know he’s going to have an impact for us this year.”
Senior twins Billy and Patrick Maloney also add depth to the talented midfield unit. Patrick has played in 30 career games, while Billy has competed in seven contests.
Junior Ben Ashenburg did not see game action last season, but did play in four games as a freshman. He will look to fit into the mix in 2011 as will his classmate Michael Rogers and sophomore Andy Will, who switches from attack to midfield. Rogers and Will have yet to play in a game during their Irish careers.
Jake Marmul, a senior, returns to action after sitting out last season with an injury. Marmul is a key faceoff guy with a .567 winning percentage in 19 career games. Another figure in the faceoff department will be freshman Liam O’Connor, who was an Under Armour All-American.
“Liam O’Connor is a terrific faceoff guy, but he can also stay on the field and play offense and defense,” says Corrigan. “We’re not the least bit worried when he’s on the field because he’s a savvy player and he knows how to make plays. He’s going to be an impact guy for us right away because of his faceoff skills.”
Joining O’Connor in the freshman group of midfielders are Tyler Brennman, Zach’s younger brother, Matthew Collins and Jim Marlatt, an Under Armour All-American. Corrigan feels the younger Brenneman will push for playing time early on, while Marlatt’s contributions might be delayed as he continues to recover from a back injury. The coaching staff also sees a bright future for Collins, who may start out as a defensive midfielder.
Among the group of talented sophomores is Quinn Cully, who is part of arguably Notre Dame’s deepest position on the roster, defensive midfielder. Cully played in every game one year ago and helped the Irish produce the nation’s second stingiest defense.
There will be no shortage of competition at the defensive midfield position. Senior Tim Bemer along with juniors Devon Dobson, Andrew Gleason and Eric Keppeler will be upperclassmen in contention for roles on that unit. Keppeler has played in 27 career games, which is the most from the returning defensive midfielders.
Senior Taylor Tripucka could see time at defensive midfield or on one of the lines. Tripucka played in 12 games one season ago.
“We have a strong group of defensive midfielders that have been working and waiting and are anxious to step in roles there,” adds Corrigan. “We also have a solid group of two-way midfielders that will pull their weight at that end as well. It all starts with us on the defensive end.”
Defense has become a staple for the Fighting Irish program and the 2011 season should be no different. Notre Dame returns a close defense group that has 68 combined starts during their collegiate careers.
Joining Ridgway, Randall and Barnes will be junior Jake Brems, who was up for a starting spot last season before suffering an injury that limited him to just six games.
“Kevin Ridgway is a guy who can guard people,” says Corrigan. “He’s not going to wow you with his stick fakes, he’s just going to guard his guy and do it really, really well.”
Notre Dame has finished the past five seasons ranked in the top-five nationally in team defense.
“I don’t think we’re going to have a defense that’s going to wow you with any individual player, I think we’re going to have a defense that will play really well together,” comments Corrigan. “Our defense is going to be really strong fundamentally and it’s going to be really difficult to play against. I think Kevin Ridgway and Kevin Randall really personify that.”
The Irish also have a wealth of experience at the long-stick midfielder position. Irving and junior Bobby Smith will occupy that role for Notre Dame. Sophomore Tyler Andersen was limited to just two games last season due to injury, but he is back healthy and may be a factor at the pole for the Irish before the season is over.
“Andrew Irving is a smart, savvy, creative and intuitive player,” adds Corrigan. “He brings a lot of different things to the game, whether it’s with the ball in his stick, off the ball playing defense or guarding a guy. I also think he’s as good of a ground ball guy as you’ll see.”
Notre Dame’s rookie class features five defensemen. Brian Buglione, Donald Keough, Stephen O’Hara, Chris Prevoznik and Michael Shepardson all bring good size, strength and skill to the defensive end of the field.
“We’re going to really take a good long look at the freshmen to see where they fit best,” says Corrigan. “After this year, we lose three pretty significant contributors on the defensive end and these guys will be in a better position for playing time.”
Kemp is expected to occupy the starting goalie spot for the Fighting Irish. Having a Kemp between the pipes is nothing new for Notre Dame. John’s older brother Joey was a four-year starter and three-time All-American for the Irish from 2005-08.
The younger Kemp played in four games, including two starts, as a freshman. He posted a 1-2 record with a 7.52 goals-against average and a .569 save percentage.
Backing-up Kemp will be fifth-year senior Brendan Moore and junior Colt Power. Moore has seen action in 11 games during his career, while Power has appeared in three contests. Neither has a start or a decision in goal.
“I think John Kemp separated himself from our other guys by the end of the fall,” says Corrigan. “Brendan Moore has gotten better every single year since he’s been here. He gives us tremendous security there at that position. Unfortunately Colt Power was hurt this fall when he wanted to try and make a move to compete there.”
After ending last season in the national spotlight, Notre Dame will jump right back into it with a season opener versus Duke. The 2010 national title game rematch will take place at the inaugural Sunshine Classic in Jacksonville, Fla., and it will be aired live on ESPN. The Irish will have four regular-season contests broadcast by either ESPN or ESPNU.
That will be just one of several quality teams that Notre Dame has on its 2011 slate. The Irish have three teams on their ledger that are ranked in the top-five of the Nike/Inside Lacrosse preseason media poll. The Irish, who are ranked sixth in the poll, open against the fifth-ranked Blue Devils and their final two games of the season come against preseason No. 1 Syracuse and No. 3 North Carolina. Both of those contests are on the road and will be televised by ESPNU. A home BIG EAST showdown versus Georgetown, who is ranked 15th according to Inside Lacrosse, also will be aired on ESPNU.
“We couldn’t be more excited about the schedule,” states Corrigan, who is leading the Irish into the second season of BIG EAST play. “We open with Duke and end with North Carolina and we have a great BIG EAST slate in between. We also play some of the top teams in the Midwest. This is an ideal schedule for us in a lot of ways. We’ll face great competition and play top teams from different conferences. It’ll be a great opportunity to prove ourselves and prepare ourselves for the end of the year.”