May 18, 2012

MD1 Notebook: Pain Free Marlatt Thriving For Notre Dame

by Gary Lambrecht |

Last season Jim Marlatt watched Notre Dame's year from the sidelines while dealing with painful back problems. Last week against Yale, he took over the team lead with 29 points.
© Jim O'Connor

A year ago, Notre Dame sophomore attackman Jim Marlatt was fairly miserable in South Bend. He had recently removed the back brace he had worn throughout the school year, allowing him finally to practice with the Fighting Irish after spending a season on the shelf.

The latest evidence that the stress fracture in Marlatt's vertebrae healed successfully was in full view on Sunday, when fourth-seeded Notre Dame put together its best shooting display of the season and blew away Yale, 13-7, in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Irish shot a sizzling 56.5 percent by making 13 of 23 attempts.

Marlatt led the way with three goals and two assists, and the 6-foot-1, 180-pound product of River Hill High School in Clarksville, Md. was in the thick of the Irish's dominant second half. Marlatt scored all three of his goals and added an assist during Notre Dame's 7-2 run that turned a 5-4 halftime edge into a rout.

With that five-point gem, Marlatt moved into second place on the team with 18 goals and took over the team lead with 29 points. He is shooting 33.3 percent and has been on cage at a team-high clip of 72.2 percent.

"[Marlatt] hasn't played like a freshman all year, even though he really is," said Notre Dame head coach Kevin Corrigan, whose Irish will face No. 5 seed Virginia in Sunday's quarterfinal at PPL Park in Chester, Pa. "He didn't play for a second last year because of his broken back."

It was not the first year of college that Marlatt envisioned. Even though he never missed a game in high school – he helped River Hill reach the state finals with a 113-point, 112-ground ball senior season – Marlatt got used to playing with a nagging pain in his back. But by the summer of 2010, the discomfort had become too severe to ignore.

Although Marlatt managed to escape surgery, he was outfitted with a cumbersome brace that presented quite a challenge.

"[The brace] fit me so tight that I basically couldn't move. Everything but showering was painful," Marlatt said. "I got the brace off right before the playoffs last year, but my muscles had atrophied so badly, there wasn't much I could do to contribute.

"I'm not sure if I was ready to play [even healthy] last year. I learned what it means to be a Notre Dame lacrosse player by watching [seniors] like Zach Brenneman. I learned it's a 24/7 thing. Every decision you make has a foundation in lacrosse – what to eat, what time to go to bed, everything. I put extra effort into my school work."

After getting back into good shape in the summer and fall, Marlatt spent the early preseason running as a backup midfielder. He got his initial taste on the first line when the Irish went to Jacksonville in late January to scrimmage the U.S. men's national team.

Three weeks later, Marlatt started in the season opener against Duke. He scored twice in Notre Dame's 7-3 victory. He has been off and running – pain free – ever since.

Third Time the Charm for Denver?

Bill Tierney, the head coach of unseeded Denver, scoffs at the suggestion he has heard about Saturday's rematch with top-seeded Loyola – that Denver (9-6) has the edge.

Loyola (15-1), which won the ECAC and beat the Pioneers twice in Denver in a span of 18 days, must beat Denver for a third time to advance to its first NCAA tournament semifinal since 1998. And Denver made its first trip to the final four last year.

As for the third-time-is-the-charm theory, Tierney said, "I think it's ludicrous for people to say we're the favorite because Loyola has already beaten us twice. I don't get that. Loyola is the most complete team I've seen. There's a reason we've lost to them twice.

"We have to play better [on Saturday] than we've played so far against them, and they can't play as well. And we need a break or two."

Is it classic sandbagging by Tierney? Maybe a bit. But he has a point about the Greyhounds.

Loyola has been the year's most consistent team. Only a shot on pipe in overtime by attackman Eric Lusby in a 10-9 loss to No. 2 seed Johns Hopkins kept Loyola from the undefeated ranks.

Loyola also enters quarterfinals weekend ranked fourth in Division I in scoring offense (12.7 gpg) and seventh in scoring defense (7.5 gpg), the best combination in the nation. Mike Sawyer and Lusby, with a combined 90 goals, represent the only goal-scoring tandem ranked nationally in the top 15.

The Greyhounds showed their toughness and creativity in their two wins over Denver. They won just four of 25 faceoffs in the first meeting, but forced enough turnovers and generated enough offense to produce a come-from-behind 12-9 win. In the ECAC tournament semifinals, the Greyhounds took a 13-6 lead early in the fourth quarter, but held off a furious Denver rally before winning in OT, 14-13, on a goal by LSM Scott Ratliff.

Duke-Colgate Setting Up For Shootout

Here's a theory on Sunday's intriguing quarterfinal matchup between unseeded Colgate and No. 3 seed Duke, which is seeking its sixth consecutive final four berth.

Unless the Raiders get dominated by Duke faceoff man C.J. Costabile and the Blue Devils' excellent wing players, they will turn this contest into a track meet and test Duke's ability to trade goals with them. Heck, Colgate might force a shootout under any circumstances.

The Raiders, led by the nation's leading scorer in attackman Peter Baum and a potent transition game, score in bunches more explosively than any team this side of Loyola. Witness their swift comeback in Saturday's 13-11 upset over sixth-seeded and previously-unbeaten UMass. With Baum barely involved in the scoring, Colgate blew by the Minutemen with a game-closing, 8-2 run over the last 25 minutes.

And to think this is the second-place team in the Patriot League, won by Lehigh. Colgate led the Patriot League in scoring (13.6 gpg), assists (7.62), ground balls (33.44), shots per game (42.3) and extra-man efficiency (52.2 percent).

Record Attendance Possible at Navy

The NCAA tournament selection committee got the potential setup it wanted on Saturday. With Loyola-Denver and Johns Hopkins-Maryland comprising the quarterfinal bracket at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium in Annapolis, and superb weather expected, three Maryland schools should draw a record number of fans.

The crowd could exceed 20,000, which would break the quarterfinals attendance record of 17,017 – set at Navy in 2008, when Hopkins beat Navy and Virginia beat Maryland.

Consider that in last week's eight first-round games, total attendance was 17,312.

On the Road Again

With Denver as the clear visitor in Annapolis this weekend ("I feel like a wedding crasher," Tierney said) the Pioneers will actually be quite comfortable making another long trip.

You see, that's all Denver does. The three-hour flight is old hat with these guys. The Pioneers, whose only bus trip is a 45-minute jaunt every other year to Air Force in nearby Colorado Springs, already have exceeded 25,000 miles in travel this season.

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