30 in 30: Do Irish Have Canada on Their Mind?
|Notre Dame, which reached its
fifth NCAA quarterfinal in six seasons last year, has incorporated
indoor-style thinking into its fall practices. Senior midfielder
Jim Marlatt has been elected one of two team captains.
© AJ Mast
From a scheduled intrasquad indoor scrimmage in Denver later this week, to weekly pick-up box games starting on campus next week, to a visit from the coaching staff of the National Lacrosse League’s Minnesota Swarm, you could say the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are going clearly Canadian this fall.
While some prognosticators may be more interested in gauging how Notre Dame will fare in its first year in an even-stronger ACC conference -- with Duke, Maryland, North Carolina, Syracuse and Virginia -- it is more important for the Irish coaching staff to follow the on-field trends that can dictate wins and losses. And that, over the last decade or so in particular, has included the heavy influence of the indoor, or box, game on the field product in the United States.
While Canadians going back to Stan Cockerton, the Gaits and Tom Marechek, for example, have impacted NCAA lacrosse before, the influence of indoor-trained players is now shown in depth and numbers. As noted by Paul Tutka of the US Box Lacrosse Association in this insightful piece, since 2008 no fewer than 24 percent of the top 50 goal-scorers (single season) in NCAA Division I have been Canadians, a big jump from single-digit percentages in the 2000s. Last year, 60 percent of the nation’s top 15 scorers were Canadian or Iroquois.
Picks or screens have become hallmarks of college offenses, as they long have been in the tighter quarters of box games. This spring, in addition to the ACC slate, Notre Dame will play two teams in the non-conference -- Denver and Ohio State -- that count multiple Canadians among their top contributors.
“What things do we see that we’re going to have to defend, as far as trends in other teams that we’re playing?” Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan said on the topic in an interview last week. “Increasingly, in the last couple years, you look at getting better in the two-man game, and understanding that it’s a lot different than it was eight years ago.
"[We want to] get a better appreciation for guys playing in space and guys playing in tight quarters as you see the influence of, call it box, call it Canadians, guys who bring a different skill set. We’re trying to incorporate that into our practices and preparation, both to become better at it ourselves and become better defending it.”
Notre Dame is in fall break this week, and the team will travel to Colorado on Thursday for a full slate of activities, among them an intrasquad indoor scrimmage and a traditional outdoor scrimmage with Air Force on Friday, which is on as scheduled despite the recent tragedy involving the family of Air Force coach Eric Seremet.
When the Irish return, their NCAA-allotted fall practice time will be finished, but members of the team will play weekly pick-up indoor games at the recreation center on campus. Box lacrosse is the latest addition to the team's annual O'Leary Cup competition that also features basketball, soccer and flag football in the November training period.
Earlier this fall, the Swarm staff visited South Bend, Ind., for a day. Swarm owner John Arlotta is a Notre Dame graduate and the Irish’s lacrosse complex is named Arlotta Stadium.
“A little indoor action won’t hurt,” said Notre Dame sophomore attackman Matt Kavanagh, who led the Irish with 48 points as a rookie last year and whose youth hockey background serves him well in box-styled offensive themes. “They put in a little circle offense and we’ve been doing that with two-man games and picks. I love it. The middle of the field is wide open. It’s pretty cool and opens up some space for our guys. I’m hoping that we use it this year as one of our sets.”
Not only the offense is focusing on box tactics. For every offensive set, there’s a defense aiming to stop it. It figures that the unit coordinated by assistant coach Gerry Byrne -- which finished 10th last season in Division I in scoring defense, breaking a streak of top-five results in each of the previous six seasons -- is at the forefront of two-man proficiency.
“Part of knowing the two-man game isn’t just knowing how to do it offensively,” Corrigan said. “But it’s going: What are the reads? What are the tells? How do you defend it? And it’s not the same everywhere. It’s not the same at X, as it is at goal-line extended, as it is tight on the wing, as it is in the high corners of the box. It’s not as simple as saying: here are the rules for defending this, or playing it. We’re trying to become proficient at that.”
Last year, Notre Dame had one Canadian on the team that reached the NCAA quarterfinals for the fifth time in six years. Just goes to show that, even without north-of-the border natives on a roster, their influence is real.
Kelly in line as next Irish goalie
Redshirt junior Conor Kelly, who was an Under Armour All-American his senior year of high school at Haverford (Pa.), is in line to replace departed All-American goalie John Kemp.
“[Conor] has done a great job,” Corrigan said. “He’s come in and played very, very well. He’s been in command of himself and the situation. And Shane Doss has come in as a freshman and really done a great job of battling and competing with him every day. I feel good about that spot.”
Kelly was an alternate for the U.S. under-19 men’s national team that won gold in the summer of 2012 in Finland. He played in an exhibition event with the team in Texas, but didn’t travel with the group overseas.
“He’s going to be fine,” Kavanagh, MVP of that U.S. U19 team, said of Kelly. “He’s been working behind and learning from John the last couple years. He looks great in practice. I don’t think we’re going to miss a step there.”
Who’s back, who’s not
Kavanagh returns on attack with starter Conor Doyle, a junior who posted 30 points a season ago. The Irish will need to fill the spot let by departed Mr. Clutch Sean Rogers. Junior and California-native Kyle Runyon, who played just one game for the Irish last season, has been getting first-line reps.
Jim Marlatt, the team’s most-productive midfielder by 16 points in 2013 (he had 32), is back for a senior year as is John Scioscia. Three of the next four highest-scoring middies graduated, but Notre Dame returns 10 midfielders from last year, and has been working with different combinations within the deep group this fall.
Senior defenseman Stephen O’Hara, who was elected one of two team captains (Marlatt is the other), will lead the back-end after the departures of Matt Miller and long-stick Tyler Andersen. Both faceoff men, Liam O’Connor (52 percent) and Nick Ossello (50 percent), are back.
Of newly-elected captains O’Hara and Marlatt, Corrigan said: “I’m excited that we have guys that the majority of our team felt very strongly about. The better news of the election of those captains is how many guys in our senior class got support from their teammates. We ask them to do more than vote. We ask them to explain their votes and justify them. It’s clear that a lot of our guys have a lot of respect for our senior class and across the board.”
About that ACC…
Corrigan on Notre Dame moving from the Big East to the ACC: “It means that you’re going to play five conference games against top-10 teams and then you’ve got the ACC tournament. Add to that Penn State, Ohio State and Denver, there’s just no breathing room on our schedule. I think our guys understand that, and they understand the urgency we need to prepare with and what we need to do every day. But there’s no trepidation on our part either. This is a schedule that anybody would love to play. We’re fortunate to be playing it.”
It’s not like the Irish will be in uncharted waters when it comes to strength of schedule. They played eight games in 2013 against teams ranked inside the top-10 at the time of the game, winning five of them. Notre Dame also played Duke, North Carolina and Syracuse last season, facing both the Blue Devils and Orange in the regular season and post-season. Duke eliminated the Irish from the NCAA tournament in a tight 12-11 quarterfinal, and Syracuse bested Notre Dame in the Big East tournament semifinal.
“It’s not like we’ve been playing in the minor leagues and now we’re going to the majors,” Corrigan said.
Steak and hot dogs, busy fall
Friday marked Notre Dame’s annual fall streak and hot dog game. The Irish assistant coaches each draft a team of seniors and then those seniors draft the rest of their squads in the lead up to the game, which traditionally features creative goal celebrations. The scrimmage winners get steak at a dinner later in the day at Corrigan’s house. The losers get hot dogs. … Earlier this month, Notre Dame scrimmaged Michigan. … The team also traveled to Chicago on Oct. 12 for a Playing for Peace service project and clinics at inner-city schools. … During the first part of this week’s fall break, Corrigan will take the team's juniors to New York City for a professional networking trip. The group will meet with Notre Dame alumni and others who work at key companies in the city. … After scrimmaging Air Force on Friday, the Irish will stay in Colorado Springs and watch the Notre Dame-Air Force football game on Saturday.