January 29, 2011

Champion Challenge Notebook: Behind Enemy Lines with Scott Rodgers and Acacia Walker

by Matt DaSilva | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | Champion Challenge Blog

Former Notre Dame goalie Scott Rodgers will suit up against his former teammates Sunday for the U.S. national team.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Familiarity breeds contempt, even if it's good-natured contempt. Just ask Scott Rodgers and Acacia Walker.

Rodgers and Walker will play against their former college teams Sunday at Champion Challenge, a US Lacrosse event, in games that will be broadcast on national television.

Rodgers will suit up for the U.S. men's national team against Notre Dame (1:30 p.m. ESPN3.com, 10 p.m. ESPNU), the team he led last year to the NCAA Division I championship game with a tournament MVP performance. Irish assistant coach Gerry Byrne sent the 6-foot-5, 255-pound goalkeeper a text message Friday with a picture of his backup stick from Notre Dame being burned in effigy.

"He's trying to get in my head, but it's all fun," Rodgers said at Team USA practice Saturday. "It's all good."

At about the same time Rodgers received that ominous text message, Walker, a midfielder for the U.S. women's national team, received a nervous visit in her hotel room from Caitlyn McFadden, Brittany Poist and Katie Schwarzmann. All four are either current or former Maryland women's lacrosse players. Team USA will face the defending NCAA Division I champion Terps twice Sunday, with the 11 a.m. game being broadcast live on ESPN3.com and on tape delay at about midnight on ESPNU.

McFadden was the 2010 Tewaaraton Trophy winner for Maryland. Poist is currently a senior and a starting defender for the Terps. Schwarzmann is a midfielder for Maryland and one of just two natural sophomores on the U.S. team. (Michelle Tumolo of Syracuse is the other.)

"They came into my room and they said they were feeling a little 50-50 about it," said Walker, who graduated from Maryland in 2005. "They didn't know how to sway their emotion. And I said you just have to remember you're playing for the USA team, and your [Maryland] teammates are proud of you. They want you to play your best."

Rodgers, making his debut for the U.S. men's team, said he was reluctant to reveal too much about how he will take advantage of his knowledge of Notre Dame. Earlier this month, Irish head coach Kevin Corrigan had a tongue-in-cheek approach. "We know his weaknesses," Corrigan said, with a tone admitting there are few.

Rodgers will watch for Notre Dame's dangerous shooters from the midfield.

"Those are my boys. I don't want to give up too much, but Zach Brenneman's a great middie and Dave Earl's a great middie," he said. "We just have to make sure they're not getting free shots."

Cassese: Doc will be great coach

Sunday's game will mark former Team USA goalkeeper Brian Dougherty's first on the sideline. Dougherty -- whose antics on the field, propensity to chat up opponents and ability to work the crowd made him a fan favorite -- retired from professional lacrosse in 2010 after his clutch 15-save performance helped the U.S. defeat Canada in the gold medal final of the world championships.

"We might appear to be the odd couple, but we're great friends," said Kevin Cassese, who has also moved to the sidelines after playing for three U.S. teams. "It was a pleasure to play alongside him this summer, and really an inspiration. What people don't know about him is, he knows his stuff. Defensive end, no one can predict what an offense is going to do better than Brian Dougherty. He can do it as a player and as a coach. We're having fun together, and we're trying to win together."

Dougherty is in his first season as the head men's lacrosse coach at Division II Chestnut Hill.

"He's a winner. He's a natural competitor. He's going to be successful in whatever he does, whether it's coaching lacrosse or playing checkers," said Cassese, who's the head coach at Lehigh, a Division I team. "This guy wants to win. Absolutely, he'll be successful."

Rodgers said he has enjoyed learning under the tutelage of a childhood idol.

"For me, it's great. I looked up to the guy for years," Rodgers said. "He's helped me out with things I can learn form him. He's a big lefty, like me, and I'm just taking what I can from him."

News and notes

Team USA defenseman Nick O'Hara missed practice Saturday due to a work conflict, but assistant general manager Jimmy Butler said O'Hara will play Sunday... Two U.S. women's national senior team players, attacker Casey Ancarrow (James Madison) and defender Alyssa Kildaire (Johns Hopkins), did not play Saturday and will not play Sunday to help preserve them for their college teams, head coach Ricky Fried said. Both are on the mend from injuries...The U.S. men's and women's national teams each held clinics Saturday that drew about 100 players each from Florida and surrounding areas. Each team's coaches also held separate clinics for area coaches as a continuing education credit for the US Lacrosse Coaching Education Program.


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