March 28, 2014

Notebook: Kavanagh Keeps Kicking, Towson's Climb, Notre Dame-Syracuse

by Gary Lambrecht | | Twitter

Matt Kavanagh has scored nearly one-third of Notre Dame's 106 points this season. (Dirk Dewachter)

Notre Dame sophomore attackman Matt Kavanagh was no secret before he arrived in South Bend in the fall of 2012.

A 5-feet-8, 170-pound native of Rockville Centre, N.Y., Kavanagh led Chaminade High School in scoring as a junior and senior. After spending a prep school year at Hotchkiss, he was the MVP of the under-19 Team USA team that brought home a gold medal from the FIL World Championships in Finland in the summer of 2012.

Kavanagh's outstanding freshman season (32 goals, 16 assists) for the Fighting Irish – he led Notre Dame in both categories – did not shock 25th-year coach Kevin Corrigan. Kavanagh's latest encore, a seven-goal show that tied a school record in Tuesday's 13-7 rout at windy, snowy Ohio State, was another illustration of his special talent.

"[Kavanagh] is a really tough kid who's got a great sense of the game. That was evident from the day he got here," said Corrigan, whose seventh-ranked Irish (4-2, 2-0 ACC) will travel to no. 9 Syracuse on Saturday. "He recognizes his opportunities. When they come, he goes after them with a tenacity you just don't find a lot."

Six games into 2014, Kavanagh (20, 11) has scored nearly one-third of Notre Dame's 106 points. And he continues to score in every way – as a dodger, a feeder and a shooter from a variety of ranges. His off-ball skills in the crease area are matched by his knack for scoring in scramble situations, as he did three times on Tuesday night.

The fact that Kavanagh is an obviously marked man in opposing scouting reports, yet continues to do so much damage, bodes well for Notre Dame in 2014.

"Most kids that can score like him have played with the ball in their sticks for years. Matt spent a couple of years at Chaminade as a crease guy. He really got good at playing off-ball," Corrigan said. "Now, he's equally good at playing with the ball in his stick. With his great balance and low center of gravity, it makes him so hard to cover."

Towson's turnaround

When Towson strolled into Ridley Athletic Complex on Wednesday, February 19 and got embarrassed by local rival Loyola, 20-4, Tigers coach Shawn Nadelen wasn't sure how his team would react. The saving grace of a miserable experience was that the Tigers got to play again three days later against visiting Georgetown.

Five weeks later, the Tigers, who grinded out an 8-7 win over the Hoyas on Feb. 22, have given Nadelen the answer he wanted. With Saturday's 11-8 win over Delaware in its Colonial Athletic Association opener, Towson (7-2) has won six straight games and has scratched its way into the top 20.

Granted, knocking off Mount St. Mary's, Navy, Marist, UMBC and Delaware doesn't compare with the competition presented by Loyola and Johns Hopkins, whom Towson fought gamely before fading in a 15-8 loss, four days before the Loyola game.

But the Tigers clearly have responded to a call for action. It's even more impressive when one considers how heavily freshmen and sophomores populate the Tigers' roster.

"That [Loyola loss] was a debacle. Our warm-up was flat. Our energy was gone in the [pre-game] locker room. That's a scary thing as a coach," said Nadelen, recalling how Loyola sprinted to a 9-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. "We did some soul-searching after that game. It was a blessing that we got that bad taste out of mouth with the thrill of competition only three days later [against Georgetown]."

The biggest part of Towson's season is just around the bend. The next two Saturdays take the defending CAA champions to Hofstra and UMass, before they return home to face Penn State, Drexel and Penn.

The Tigers aren't racking up style points by averaging 9.7 goals per game, winning 45 percent of their faceoffs and shooting 27.4 percent.

But Towson is winning the ground ball battle consistently, getting clutch stops and allowing only seven goals per game during its winning streak. Freshmen Joe Seider and Ryan Drenner have combined to produce 34 points, and senior Thomas DeNapoli (14, 13) has pulled the offense together with his usual, versatile game.

"We're not a pretty team, not a finesse team. We have to muck it up to be successful," said Nadelen, who added he can always remind the Tigers of the Loyola debacle on days when their hustle is lacking. "You have a standard in mind that is realistic and tangible. You hold them accountable to it. I've been impressed with the way our guys have kept their heads engaged."

Irish not taking Syracuse lightly

On paper, it would appear that Syracuse is in big trouble on Saturday against Notre Dame. The Irish lead the nation in faceoff winning percentage and are averaging 12.5 goals per game, while the Orange are among the worst in Division I at the faceoff X, with a young defense that, besides clearing the ball inconsistently, has gotten abused by allowing 18 goals per game in its 0-3 start against the ACC.

Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan shrugged off the statistical data. He said he expects a different team to show up at the Carrier Dome, a Syracuse team that resembles the one that dismantled Notre Dame twice last year, by a combined score of 19-7.

The Orange must win its last two conference teams to have a chance at making the semifinals round of the ACC tournament on April 25.

"A long time ago Lou Holtz told me that you only prepare for the absolute best a team can be. Syracuse could turn around and do all three things [facing off, clearing, making stops] well," said Corrigan, who recalled last year's Big East tournament final, won by Syracuse, 9-3.

"We've prided ourselves for years on having a chance to win games in the fourth quarter. That [loss] was the only time in the last five or six years when we had no chance to win the game in the fourth quarter. We're preparing for that Syracuse team."

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