Notre Dame's Defense Not Sexy -- Just Solid
by Paul Krome | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff
NCAA DIVISION I SEMIFINALS: NOTRE DAME 12, CORNELL 7
BALTIMORE, Md. -- To a man, Notre Dame’s starting defensemen led their postgame interviews by crediting goalie Scott Rodgers with orchestrating the nation’s second-best defense that boasted a 7.67 goals against average entering Saturday’s NCAA semifinal against Cornell.
For good reason – Rodgers made 16 saves in the Fighting Irish’s 12-7 shutdown of the Big Red. But as anyone associated with Notre Dame’s defense will say, its success will never rest upon one man.
“It’s like socialism. We all contribute to the good of the defense,” said defensive coordinator Gerry Byrne, whose defense has ranked no worse than fifth nationally since his arrival prior to the 2007 season.
The defense was plenty good today. Starters Kevin Ridgway, Mike Creighton and Kevin Randall, along with play-making LSM Andrew Irving, held Ivy League Player of the Year Rob Pannell and Co. to their lowest output since an 8-7 loss to Syracuse April 13. It marked the Irish’s 56th single-digit defense in its last 64 games.
“It starts with us not being caught up in individual accolades,” Byrne said. “We focus on technique and trust that, ‘I’m going to do my best in that moment, but if I fall, the next guy’s going to be there, and then the next guy.’”
Cornell’s attackmen got to the next guy plenty of times, and they got off their share of shots. But the offense never flowed – only once did it score consecutive goals – and the Irish held the Big Red scoreless for 15:44 during the first half. And that’s not even close to what they did to Maryland in the quarterfinals, holding the Terps to droughts of 18:01, 16:24 and 12:15.
“Kevin Ridgway’s been doing an unbelievable job, regular season and postseason, shutting down the other team’s top guy,” said senior Creighton, who’s in his first season as a starter. “Pannell’s a great player and Ridgway did a great job on him. Kevin Randall’s been coming on. He played great on Hurley. That’s two big-time scorers – when you take them out of the game, it really helps a lot.”
Pannell credited Notre Dame’s defense and Rodgers. A late, forced feed to a covered Hurley on the crease that sailed high summed up the day on offense for Cornell.
Creighton’s been around long enough to see Byrne entrench his teachings. A unit that lost second-team All-Americans Regis McDermott to graduation and Sam Barnes to injury hasn’t missed a beat, pairing sophomore Randall and senior Creighton alongside All-Big East junior and two-year starter Ridgway.
“From day one, it’s been about commitment,” Creighton said. “We don’t necessarily have guys who can go out there and take the ball away from people. We play as a unit with a lot of communication.”
“It’s been a pretty easy transition. We’ve jelled pretty well,” Ridgway said.
Of course, no defense is complete without a good long-stick middie.
Irving played aggressively, and he effectively ended the game with a goal late in the fourth quarter after grabbing a key ground ball on the other end.
“He makes us better with ground balls, on the wings and all the little things he does,” Ridgway said. “He gives us a big spark.”
The Irish can lull some folks to sleep, but they’ll take the results as they head to their first national championship game.
“We don’t really throw takeaway checks,” Ridgway said. “People think we’re boring.”
After its up-and-down season, Notre Dame will take another boring effort from its defense on Monday.
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