May 5, 2010
Notre Dame's Nicholas Beattie tries to turn the corner on Loyola's Taylor Ebsary. © John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com
Notre Dame's Nicholas Beattie tries to turn the corner on Loyola's Taylor Ebsary. © John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

Despite Big East Woes, Irish Hope for Bid

by Justin Feil | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

"We want to just get in," says Notre Dame goalie Scott Rodgers. "If we get the opportunity, we're a dangerous team."

© TD Paulius/Midwest Lacrosse Photography

Scott Rodgers and his Notre Dame men’s lacrosse teammates are in the midst of final exams this week.

The real sweating begins Sunday when NCAA tournament bids are handed out.

At 7-6, the 20th-ranked Fighting Irish are a bubble team. It’s far different from last year when they had wrapped up the Great Western Lacrosse League automatic qualifier, gone 15-0 and were ranked second in the country.

“You have to put the blame on us,” said Rodgers, Notre Dame’s senior goalie. “We dug ourselves in a hole by not being consistent. The lack of consistency is something we’ve said all year.”

The Fighting Irish fell to No. 2 Syracuse, 12-6, last Saturday to finish 2-4 in their inaugural Big East Conference season. The Fighting Irish were thrilled to jump from the GWLL that they dominated to the Big East, but it could be their undoing, particularly with their inability to beat any of the three conference teams ranked ahead of them. No. 2 Syracuse, No. 14 Georgetown and No. 11 Villanova – along with unranked Rutgers – all hung losses on Notre Dame, yet nobody is wishing they were still in the GWLL.

“We have a great opportunity to get in when we’re 7-6,” Rodgers said. “We were 15-1 last year, and we were struggling to get seeded.”

In joining the Big East, the Irish replaced GWLL foes Air Force, Bellarmine and Quinnipiac with the likes of Syracuse and Georgetown. Last year, they also played current Big East teams Villanova and St. John’s. Notre Dame is 18th in the latest RPI.

“We want to just get in,” Rodgers said. “If we get the opportunity, we’re a dangerous team. Last year, we go 15-0 and people thought we were going to go far. We’re a little more battle-tested with the Big East.”

The Irish think the conference change will help in recruiting and it was the perfect way to open their new Arlotta Stadium. More than 4,000 fans sold out the place to see Notre Dame host Syracuse. Rodgers just hopes it wasn’t his final game for the Irish.

“We’ve taken our lumps,” Rodgers said. “But I think it’s been a great experience.”

Without the Big East schedule, Notre Dame might actually be in better shape for an NCAA bid. The Fighting Irish kept the only two GWLL teams to regularly challenge them – No. 12 Denver and Ohio State – on this year’s schedule and beat them both. They also have quality wins over No. 5 Duke and No. 8 Loyola.

“We have some better quality wins than some of the teams on the bubble have,” Corrigan said. “We also have six losses.”

Four of them are in the Big East, and three of them are teams new to Notre Dame’s regular schedule. Corrigan was excited to join the Big East, and still is.

“We had our chances,” he said. “Anything good or bad that happened to us, happened because of what we did.”

Corrigan can’t put his finger on the one thing that cost Notre Dame this season. Of the Irish's first four losses, two were by one goal and the other two were by two goals.

“They all bother me in their own way,” Corrigan said of the losses. “I could go through each game and tell you what drives me crazy. We lost one game where gave up five shots in the second half. Three went in.

“It’s been a very frustrating year,” he added. “The only thing that’s been game-to-game is we seem to be inconsistent in our execution of everything.”

In that inconsistency is also a silver lining. While there were bad spurts, there were also moments of brilliance. After falling behind, 5-0, in the first quarter, the Fighting Irish rallied to make it 5-4 with still nine minutes left in the third quarter against Syracuse. It was still a one-goal game with three minutes left in the third quarter before fouls did them in in the fourth quarter.

“That was one of the better games we played,” said Rodgers, who made nine saves in the loss. “To get better at the end of the season, it would be a shame for us not to make the tournament.”

Notre Dame’s at-large chances will improve if No. 8 Loyola defeats Johns Hopkins, a team unranked in the poll but with a strong RPI. The Irish are focusing on their exams, and they continue to practice.

Said Corrigan: “We’re moving forward with the assumption that if we get in, we’re going to be ready to play.”

Big East notes

If Notre Dame does get an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, it could mean that four Big East schools would be accepted -- though without an automatic qualifier this year, all the Big East teams will need at-large bids. Last year, four teams were selected from the ACC and three from the Ivy League… Syracuse is getting scoring from everyone. Longstick midfielder Joel White became the first Orange defender since Joe Ceglia in 2000 to score twice in a game with his two goals against Notre Dame. The Orange concludes its Big East regular season at St. John’s. The Orange is looking for its 11th straight win, which would clinch the outright regular-season Big East title…. A Syracuse loss would open the door for the winner of Saturday’s Georgetown-Villanova game to earn a share off the first conference championship. Georgetown needs a win over No. 11 Villanova to strengthen its stance after dropping back-to-back non-conference games to No. 8 Loyola and No. 16 UMass. The Hoyas have beaten just one team in the current top 20 – Notre Dame… Villanova likewise hurt its NCAA chances with an overtime loss to Lehigh in a game rescheduled from Feb. 27. Since then, the Wildcats have bounced back with solid wins over Rutgers and Providence. Freshman goalie Billy Hurley is 15th in the country in goals against average. He isn’t the only young player making an impact. Freshmen and sophomores accounted for 63 percent of the Wildcats scoring through 13 games…. Senior midfielder Tom Manes leads St. John’s with 13 assists after tying his season-high with three assists against Penn State. It was a tale of two halves in an 8-6 loss to Sacred Heart on Saturday. After trailing, 7-0, at halftime, the Red Storm did not allow a goal until an empty-netter after cutting it to 7-6…. Justin Pennington leads Rutgers in points (36) and assists (14), and is second in goals (22). He has scored a point in 22 straight games for the Scarlet Knights…. Providence has found its goalie for the future – and the present – in Christian Dzwilewski. The sophomore made 14 saves in the loss to Villanova, the sixth time in seven games that he has double-digit saves. He leads the Big East in saves per game (12.75). The winless Friars host Rutgers on Sunday in their final chance to pick up a victory in 2010.


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