Notre Dame head coach Kevin Corrigan bristles at the thought that one year is rolling into the next for an Irish lacrosse program that has carved a spot among the sport’s East Coast elite.
All-American goalie John Kemp and several other key pieces return from Notre Dame's Final Four run a year ago.
The Irish return to the field Saturday night in much the same way they left it after a loss to Loyola in the NCAA Semifinals last May — as the country’s third-ranked team with an All-American veteran in net and many familiar faces in front of him. After falling in quarterfinal, semifinal and NCAA championship game appearances over the course of the last three years, the 2013 Notre Dame team might have the right mix of experience and athleticism to bring home a national title.
For Corrigan, his team’s success in the recent has no bearing on their immediate future.
“Every year is its own entity and kind of needs to be approached that way,” he said. “I can’t improve last year’s team. That ship has sailed, and we’re trying to look at this year’s group and figure out what we have to do.”
Notre Dame has the luxury of starting with some very stable building blocks. Irish goalie John Kemp will start his 31st consecutive game Saturday when Notre Dame faces off against Detroit at 7 p.m. inside the Loftus Center. Kemp, with help from a stingy, disciplined defense, led the nation in goals against average (6.22) and save percentage (.636) as a junior.
The team’s top five scorers from 2012 are also back on the field to start the season. Senior captain Sean Rogers led the way a year ago with 22 goals and eight assists. He’ll be joined up front by explosive freshman attackman Matt Kavanagh. The incoming rookie was named the MVP of the U-19 world championships while winning a gold medal with Team USA last summer.
“I don’t think there’s any question that Matt can help us right away,” Corrigan said. “He’s a unique freshman because he’s got a real variety of skills. He can do so many different things that I think he becomes an easy guy to play with.”
Corrigan said he expects last year’s freshmen class to make as big a leap as any group on the team this season. Several sophomores — like Nick Ossello, Jack Near and coach’s son Will Corrigan — are in line to become major contributors as midfielders. At least one of them is likely to make his first start against Detroit.
After the Titans, Notre Dame jumps into a difficult schedule starting with No. 4 Duke in North Carolina on Feb. 16. The Blue Devils have ended two of Notre Dame’s last three seasons in the NCAA Tournament. They topped the Irish with a sudden death overtime goal in the 2010 national title game then knocked them out in the quarterfinal round a year later.
They have also started the year playing one another early in each of the last four seasons. Notre Dame has yet to lose one of those meetings.
“I think it sets a standard for us in practice and in the way we want to play. That is very much intentional and something our guys really like,” Corrigan said about leading off with Duke. “You open up with a very, very strong team and you’re going to find out early where you are.”
Corrigan might not know if his newest Irish team is ready to match the groups they are following, but he’ll get a good idea real soon.
Correction: A previous version of this story had Notre Dame playing Duke, not Detroit, on Feb. 2.