[b]NOTRE DAME vs. LOYOLA (MD)
Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.
Records & Rankings: No. 1 Loyolya (16-1), No. 4 Notre Dame (13-2)
Time/TV: 2:30 p.m., ESPN2
Last Meeting: Notre Dame won 11-9 on March 6, 2010
Junior All-American John Kemp leads the nation in goals against average and save percentage.
For the second time in three years Notre Dame will look to punch its ticket to the national championship game this afternoon in Foxborough, Mass. To get there the Irish will have to get through a Loyola Greyhounds team that has been almost unbeatable for the past four months.
Loyola’s climb in the national rankings took the course of an entire season to reach its peak. It's been a while since the small Baltimore area school reached the top of college lacrosse. This year’s Greyhounds team is the first to get past the first round of the NCAA Tournament in more than 8 years and the first to reach the final weekend since 1998. Notre Dame’s recent experience might be one of its biggest assets Saturday afternoon.
“It helps the whole the team,” said senior attackman Sean Rogers, who had a goal and an assist in the national championship loss to Duke two years ago in Baltimore. “We can help the younger guys manage the whole weekend and all the different distractions that could be going on.”
Rogers said playing in front of 30,000-plus for the first time was a bit of a shock two years ago. Knowing what the environment will feel like this weekend is another slight edge the Irish might hold heading into Saturday’s match-up. They’ll take any advantage they can get against Loyola.
The Greyhounds’ one loss this season was a 10-9 overtime defeat to Johns Hopkins in the regular season finale. It was one of only thee games that Loyola’s high-powered offense didn’t reach double digits on the scoreboard. They have averaged just less than 14 goals per outing in the four games since then.
Saturday’s game will match strength versus strength as Notre Dame’s No. 1 ranked defense and All-American goalie John Kemp attempt to slow down Loyola’s offense. Kemp and fellow All-America defenseman Kevin Randall will go head-to-head with the Greyhounds All-American duo of attackmen, Mike Sawyer and Eric Lusby.
“I'll be honest with you, it's a little bit of concentrating on everything else,” said Irish coach Kevin Corrigan when asked about stopping the pair that has combined to score 96 goals this season. “When those guys get the ball in certain situations, there's little you can do, you're hoping for your goalie to make a play.”
Kemp gives Notre Dame plenty of reasons to hope. He has the best goals against average (6.22) and save percentage (.636) in the country. He’s the hub of a defense that has succeeded by ignoring star opponents all season long. Notre Dame finished the season with a 7-1 record against Top 25 opponents mainly thanks to a dominant defense.
“I would take our defense against any offense in the country. There is no group that our defense fears," Rogers said.
During the playoff run, it has been Rogers’ group that has pulled the Irish out of some close games. Eight different players scored goals in Notre Dame’s 12-10 win over Virginia to reach the Final Four. The game before that nine shooters scored on the way to beating Yale 13-7.
The recent offensive firepower won’t change the recipe that has made the Irish into one of the country’s top program during the past five years, but it does give the Irish faith that no matter what type of game unfolds Saturday afternoon they will be equipped to compete.