February 8, 2012

Season Preview (MD1): No. 9 Notre Dame

by Clare Lochary | LaxMagazine.com | Related: Irish at Champion Challenge

Junior goaltedner John Kemp has "clearly established himself as a leader," Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan said.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com


Notre Dame head coach Kevin Corrigan doesn't like when people call his offense slow or deliberate. As Corrigan sees it, his guys just play smart lacrosse.

"We hope to be as aggressive as anybody in the full field. We don't stall the ball. What we do ask [players] to do is not take bad shots," Corrigan said. "So when people play defense as well as they do these days, that makes it difficult to take good shoots and make good decisions."

Of course, with a defense like Notre Dame's that consistently ranks among the nation's best, it's much easier to allow your attackers to take their sweet time with shot selection. But Corrigan doesn't really think of Notre Dame's suffocating defense as a system either.

"The word system is probably overused. We're not that complicated," Corrigan said. "We have simple roles, and those roles are defined by who is executing them and what we're asking people to do in terms of matchups. We're constantly having to adapt to what we have without overthinking it all."

This season, the Irish defense must adapt after losing first-team All-American defenseman Kevin Ridgway, who graduated, and his most likely replacement, senior Jake Brems, who will miss the season with a knee injury. Fortunately, they have the benefit of junior goalie John Kemp (6.60 GA, .602 save percentage) returning in the cage. Corrigan expects Kemp to expand his leadership role during his second season as a starter while still making great saves and hitting outlet passes.

"Two years ago, when John was playing for us for four games [in place of injured All-American goalie Scott Rodgers], he came in and he was a guy who could stop the ball, and he was terrific even then," Corrigan said. "Last year, he got in and became more a part of the defense. This year, he's clearly established himself as a leader."

Senior defensemen Kevin Randall and Bobby Smith will be tasked with containing attackmen at close range and giving Kemp the outside shots he likes to see. Juniors Matt Miller and Ty Andersen played sparingly last year but will be big contributors in 2012. Corrigan hopes his defensive midfielders press more into the offensive end.

Without graduated All-Americans David Earl, Notre Dame's assists leader last year, and Zach Brenneman, the offense has to come from somewhere. It can't all rest on the shoulders of sophomore attackmen Westy Hopkins, a crafty dodger with a good finish, and senior Sean Rogers, the team's returning points and goals leader. Senior Max Pfeifer showed he could feed from the midfield with eight assists in 2011.

Hopkins (18 goals) led Notre Dame with a hat trick in its NCAA quarterfinal loss to Duke, but he and Rodgers will need to do more if the Irish want to break through to their first NCAA title. Corrigan expects a candidate to emerge from the junior class, many of whom have worked to crack the first string for two years.

"We had an old team last year. The sophomores were getting time but were not a focal point," Corrigan said. "Those are guys who are capable of playing but only so many minutes, and you're not going to take David Earl off the field just to give somebody else time. So those guys are ready and have worked very hard to put themselves in that position. That is the class that has the potential for a breakout year for us."

This article appears in the February issue of Lacrosse Magazine, the flagship publication of US Lacrosse. Join US Lacrosse and its 400,000-plus members today to start your subscription to LM. Follow Notre Dame all season long on LaxMagazine.com, and check out the Irish's team page.

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