Notre Dame gets second chance at Denver in NCAA lacrosse semifinals
Huddled to hear what their head coach had to say that day, they couldn’t let any immediate disappointment or lingering dejection keep them from deciphering the message about to be delivered.
The Rocky Mountains served as the early-March backdrop when the Notre Dame men’s lacrosse team was handed an 11-10 overtime loss by Denver. The Irish had multiple chances to kick-start a trip that would take them to the other part of the country to play Atlantic Coast Conference colleague Virginia with a big road win. Notre Dame jumped to an early four-goal lead, and then was 79 seconds away from a one-goal win. But Denver kept coming, kept coming, kept coming…
Notre Dame eventually ran out of answers and goals and stops.
As the Irish prepared to leave Colorado, coach Kevin Corrigan insisted they think not of missed opportunities left behind on the floor of sold-out Barton Stadium, but one that likely lay ahead weeks down the college lacrosse road.
If everything worked out the way Corrigan and his staff had figured, Notre Dame would see Denver again come NCAA tournament time.
The rematch has arrived.
Notre Dame has designs on advancing to the NCAA championship game for the third time in school history, where a shot at its first-ever title awaits. To get to Championship Monday, Notre Dame (12-2) first must deal with Denver (15-2) in a national semifinal (1 p.m., ESPN2) Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. Maryland (14-3) and Johns Hopkins (11-6) follow in the other national semifinal.
“This is a great second chance for us,” said Irish sophomore goalie Shane Doss. “A lot of guys didn’t play as well as they would have liked to (in March). We’re excited to get another chance to correct those mistakes and get the win this time.”
This is a different Notre Dame outfit than the one that Denver defeated back when snow still was on the ground and temperatures in the 40s classified as a heat wave. Corrigan since has added as many as seven contributors to the rotation. When the teams met the first time, he was comfortable going maybe 23, sometimes 24 and seldom 25 deep. Now he believes he can count on as many as 30 guys to contribute to the cause for a program that has found a competitive and communicative cohesion on offense and defense.
Losing to Denver may have been just what Notre Dame needed to get back to Championship Weekend for a second straight spring, the third time in the last four seasons and fourth in the last six.
“It really helped focus us,” Corrigan said. “I don’t think we lost any confidence from it (but) it did focus our guys and made them realize it’s a fine line when you’re playing top teams.”
To do better against fourth-ranked Denver, top-ranked Notre Dame will have to do lead on its defense, which has limited opponents to 28 goals in the last three games. That means getting another big effort from junior Matt Landis, the ACC defensive player of the year.
Landis helped push the Irish to Philadelphia with his work last weekend against Albany attackman Lyle Thompson, considered by many to be the most talented player to ever wield a crosse and work the ball at the collegiate level. For most of his career, Thompson was able to do as he pleased, when and where he pleased. His 225 assists and 400 points in his collegiate career rank as the most ever.
The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Landis shadowed Thompson all over Sports Authority Field. Thompson assisted on four of Albany’s 10 goals, but also committed six turnovers while getting only one score on 11 shots.
“That Landis kid is as good as anybody we’ve played all year,” Albany coach Scott Marr said afterward.
Landis downplayed any notion that he single-handedly shut down someone many consider the LeBron James of lax. He had a role in it, sure, but being good defensively is not about individuals.
“I was going to give my best and do the best job that I could, but I knew that he was going to make some plays,” Landis said this week. “Defense is a seven-person responsibility.
“Our success against him was going to be determined by all seven of us, not just me.”
Seeing Landis work so well so close to the goal has allowed Doss (11-2, 137 saves) to remain dialed in with his job responsibilities. When Landis kept constant contain on Thompson, it kept the clutter away from the goal area and gave Doss clean looks of any shot attempts.
“It’s a game-changer when you have guys like that who can win their one-on-one matchups,” Doss said. “I don’t have to go out and make the super-human saves or anything like that.”
Having grown up playing defense in his first two sports of choice — football and hockey — Landis picked up lacrosse in eighth grade because he wanted the chance to score. But the native of Pelham, N.Y. soon realized that as good as he was at firing the ball into the opponent’s net, he was just as good working to keep it out of his own.
He switched to defense, in part, because nobody else on the team played it and it gave him a chance to hit people. Oh, and he was good at it. Really good. Still is.
“He’s a kid who just doesn’t stop playing hard and doesn’t stop whether he’s on the ball or off the ball,” Corrigan said. “He’s dialed in every second when the ball is at that end of the field.
“He’s kind of got the whole package.”
As does Notre Dame. Landis and Doss and sophomore Garrett Epple and junior Edwin Glazener will tag team on defense to limit the looks of two of the game’s best scorers, Connor Cannizzaro (88 points) and Wesley Berg (70). Sophomore Nick Koshansky and senior Jack Near mind the midfield while attacks Matt Kavanagh (51 points), Mikey Wynne (33 goals) and Conor Doyle (30 goals) handle the bulk of the scoring heavy lifting.
Notre Dame was 60 minutes away from it winning it all in 2010 and 2014. Those near-misses won't be part of Corrigan’s pre-game speech in Philadelphia. This is a team that has been together working and sweating and grinding since September. Everything they’ve done – from the workouts in the fall that included an exhibition in Seattle against Team USA to the early-morning winter workouts in Loftus Center – has been designed to get to this point. And beyond.
“This is our one chance as a team, this group, to do this,” Corrigan said. “That’s enough. They don’t need to bring in other years into it.
“We’ve got a lot of pieces.”
Time to complete that championship puzzle.
• WHO: No. 1 seed Notre Dame (12-2) vs. No. 4 Denver (15-2).
• WHERE: Lincoln Financial Field (68,532), Philadelphia.
• WHEN: Saturday at 1 p.m.
• TV: ESPN2.
• RADIO: None.
• WORTH NOTING: The winner advances Monday to the NCAA Championship game to face Johns Hopkins (11-6) or Maryland (14-3). … Only lower-level and club level seats are available and cost between $55 and $140 dollars for each game. … The Irish are the tournament’s No. 1 seed for the first time in school history. … Notre Dame has won three straight since an April 24 loss to Duke in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship. The Irish have won nine of their last 10. … The Irish have outscored the opposition 48-18 in the first period. … Notre Dame attackmen Matt Kavanagh (27 goals, 24 assists for a team-high 51 points) and Mikey Wynne (a team-high 33 goals) have combined for one goal in two postseason games. … Sophomore P.J. Finley won 16 of 25 face-offs in the NCAA quarterfinal victory over Albany. … Denver is participating in Championship Weekend for the fourth time in the last five years. The Pioneers have never played in a Division I national championship game. … Denver is 9-7 all-time in NCAA tournament play. Notre Dame is 17-19. … The Pioneers trailed Ohio State 7-1 in an NCAA quarterfinal at Sports Authority Field in Denver before winning 15-13. …. Denver was 2-1 during the regular season against ACC teams with wins over Notre Dame and Duke and a loss to North Carolina. … Pioneer attackman Wesley Berg (50 goals, 20 assists, 70 points), is one of five finalists for the Tewaaraton Award, lacrosse’s version of the Heisman Trophy. … Berg has attempted 125 shots on goal while teammate Connor Cannizzaro has 147 shots. No other Pioneer has more than 75 shots. … The Pioneers have won 11 straight since last losing March 14 to Ohio State. … Denver is a member of the Big East conference and received an automatic bid after winning the league tournament championship. Notre Dame received an at-large bid to the postseason field of 16.
• WORTH QUOTING: “Early on when you first walk out, it’s kind of hard to relax. Once you get in the game, you can relax and focus, so it’s nothing crazy for us. It’s not going to faze our guys. We’re just excited to go play.”
-Notre Dame sophomore goalie Shane Doss on the atmosphere of Championship Weekend in an NFL stadium.