Notre Dame Spring Premiere Preview: Perkovic's Time to Shine
Notre Dame senior midfielder Sergio Perkovic scored 26 goals last season, good for third on the team. Still, he's been working all offseason to improve his shot, making minor tweaks to bolster one of college lacrosse's best weapons.
That weapon will be put to use often for Notre Dame during the 2017 season. Matt Kavanagh —Perkovic's former teammate that tallied 50 points to lead the team in 2016 — has graduated, meaning Perkovic will step into a leadership role and be looked at to shoulder much of the lost production.
"The challenge is not unique, but it is pointed because Matt was such a special player for us and a guy that had the ball on his stick so much these past few years," coach Kevin Corrigan said. "But we haven't looked at it as we need someone to fill in for Matt. We just looked at it instead and said 'Here's the guys that we have now and what do we need to do?'"
Perkovic and Notre Dame will begin its preseason this weekend trying to find their new identity. They'll face off with Team USA on Sunday as part of the Spring Premiere, which takes place at IMG Academy in Brandenton, Fla.
There, the Irish will have a chance to evaluate their roster just a handful of days into the preseason. Fittingly, Corrigan and his team will do so with Kavanagh, a member of Team USA's powerful attack, on the opposing side.
"It'll be pretty cool to play against him," said Perkovic, who texted back and forth with Kavanagh earlier this week. "Matt had a tremendous career here. He was a huge part of our offense. ... But we have some young attackmen that are good players that can step in."
As much as Perkovic could be the face of the Notre Dame offense, he'll have an experienced group of returners capable of putting up big numbers. Attackman Mikey Wynne (44) and Ryder Garnesy (39) combined for 83 points last season as a sophomore and freshman, respectively.
Perkovic will work with Brendan Collins in a midfield that should help the transition game as newcomers make their mark in the lineup. Corrigan said he hopes Perkovic can develop into an even better all-around midfielder.
So far, he has passed the four criteria Corrigan uses when analyzing players: athleticism, skill, lacrosse IQ and the intangibles, which includes Perkovic's hard shot. If he can continue developing these traits, he will develop into the leader that the Irish need, one that can get others involved and score when necessary.
"He's somebody that we can count on in every situation and someone that other teams have to account for in every situation," Corrigan said. "We just have to get Sergio to play now with the maturity and poise of a veteran that has seen everything."
RELATED: Give and Go - Sergio Perkovic
Notre Dame goalie Shane Doss started every game last season and finished sixth in Division I with a 56.3 save percentage.
Five Things to Watch
Doss Returns for Another Year in the Cage
Goalie Shane Doss broke onto the scene in 2016, starting 15 games for the Irish and finishing 12th in the country in save percentage (.563). He's back to lead a Notre Dame defense that will need him to have an encore this season.
"Having that success last year has really helped and given me more confidence that I can be a successful starting goalie in this league and maybe improve on it last year," Doss said.
Holes on Defense
There's no hiding it. The Notre Dame defense will look drastically differently without two-time ACC Defensive Player of the Year and Tewaaraton finalist Matt Landis. Add in the fact that Edwin Glazener graduated and lone returner Garrett Epple is injured, and the Notre Dame defense will shuffling a few new faces into the mix this weekend.
Who can step in?
Doss will return to watch a new group of defensemen make their mark on the Notre Dame program. He said he's already seen progress from some of the younger pieces, like Pat Healy, who played in three games last season.
Also look for U.S. under-10 national team member Hugh Crance to step up on defense. He played in all 15 games for the Irish last year.
Playing Against Team USA
For both Doss and Perkovic, it will be the second time they face Team USA. However, the honor is the same. Perkovic said he's excited to face many of the players he looked up to as he was growing up.
"Anytime you get to play against the best players in the world, it's kind of fun," he said. "Obviously you're going to elevate your game and play the best you can. I know I'm up for that challenge."
With Kavanagh and Landis not in the mix for 2017, Corrigan and his team will work this preseason to maintain the momentum it has built over the past few years. Perkovic heads a roster that will have its eyes set on winning a national championship.
There will be a few new faces playing more important roles, but Perkovic doesn't think it will take long for this team to mesh.
"I think there's always a little bit of a learning curve with any year," he said. "Nothing is going to change too drastically. We're going to play like we did in the past and work just as hard. It takes a lot of time to figure out what your team's identity is and a lot of teams don't figure out until into the season."
By The Numbers
Consecutive NCAA quarterfinal appearances for Notre Dame. The Irish lost to eventual champion North Carolina is last year's NCAA quarterfinal.
Notre Dame's goals-against average last season. Led by Matt Landis and Doss, the Irish finished sixth in the nation in that category.
Percent of the team's scoring that came from Matt Kavanagh in 2016. He led the team with 50 points.
Goals scored by Mikey Wynne as a sophomore in 2016, a number that led the team.
Sergio Perkovic's shots on goal percentage from last season. He said he's been working to add consistency to his powerful shot.
Single-day tickets to Team USA Spring Premiere, held Jan. 14-15 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., are $8 and $15 for the entire weekend if purchased in advance. Discounted tickets for groups of 10 or more are also available. To purchase tickets, please visit www.uslacrosse.org/springpremiere.
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