(From an InsideLacrosse blog article) Last season Notre Dame rattled off 15 straight wins on their way to a #2 ranking nationally and a #7 seed in the NCAA tournament. However, their perfect season came to an abrupt end in the first round of the NCAA tournament where they were upset by unseeded Maryland 7-3 at home. This year the Fighting Irish find themselves in a new conference playing in a new world-class stadium with many new faces. But a closer look at the team shows why even with all the ‘new’ they will be as competitive as ever.
There are plenty of losses, but Scotty Rogers is back after a breakout 2009
With the departures of Ryan Hoff, Duncan Swezey and Peter Christman, Notre Dame also loses 40% of their goals and assists from a year ago (69 goals, 40 assists combined). Hoff had been a staple in the Irish offense over his four year career at ND, averaging over 30 goals per season as one of the premier finishers in the NCAA. Swezey led the team in points last season and was the primary initiator for the offense at attack. Conversely, Christman was the most dangerous dodging midfielder and served as the initiator from up top. The graduation of these players leaves a lot of questions to be answered on the offensive side of the ball.
While the majority of the staunch defense that limited opponents to an NCAA best 6.2 goals per game returns, the Irish do lose their leader Regis McDermott. McDermott was a third team All-America last year and key contributor on defense, handling much of the communication on defense and Notre Dame will surely miss their captain in the middle directing traffic.
With these losses also comes the addition of a number of talented freshmen. Touted as “one of the best classes we’ve ever signed” by Corrigan, many new players look to have an immediate impact this spring. Among these players are Steven Murphy, Pat Cotter and Quinn Cully who will all compete for playing time at the midfield position. All three bring a lot of size, strength and play-making ability to the field. With their size and athleticism they have potential to be effective on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Additionally, Ryan Foley is another freshman who has impressed so far this fall but at attack instead of midfield. With the holes left by Hoff and Swezey he could certainly find himself in a contributing role this year.
The battle for starting spots is far from over heading in to the winter. Due to the abundance of young talent at attack and midfield, it is still anyone’s guess who will start when they take the field for the first time in February. The front-runners in the competition to join returning starter Neal Hicks at attack look to be senior Matt Ciambella, sophomore Nick Beattie, redshirt freshman Sean Rogers and freshman Ryan Foley. Ciambella is a good inside finisher who might be able to fill the void left by Hoff on the crease and Beattie produced very well for the Irish late last year in limited playing time.
The midfield this year looks to be led by returning honorable mention All-American Grant Krebs and Zach Brenneman. Junior David Earl, who had 12 goals for Notre Dame last year, is also likely to see an increased role within the offense. A number of other midfielders, including the highly regarded freshman recruits, are all likely to see significant playing time in a number or roles at the midfield. Only time will tell what the top midfield lines will eventually look like.
On defense and at the faceoff X there is much more certainty. Even with some competition from younger players earlier this fall, it appears that Jake Marmul and Trever Sipperly are the clear favorites to take faceoffs for the Irish again this spring. Both players were used relatively evenly last year and won a solid 55% of their chances. At close defense the return of third team All-American Scott Rodgers and honorable mention All-American Sam Barnes headlines a unit also featuring returning starter Kevin Ridgway. Many players have noted how Ridgway and senior Mike Creighton have stepped up this fall and are very confident in their defense. One last player that should contribute is talented sophomore Kevin Randall. Randall started two games last year as a freshman and it appears is competing with Creighton for the last starting spot on defense.
STRENGTHS, WEAKNESSES & OUTLOOK
Without question the strength of this Notre Dame team will be the same as it was a year ago: defense. The return of so much talent (including two All-Americans) at close defense along with addition of some very physically gifted midfielders should result in another solid defensive year. Notre Dame has always played with a disciplined team defense and the experience factor is definitely on their side again.
On the other side of the ball, if there is one big question mark/weakness coming into this season it is: how will the new attack unit perform? Notre Dame has always employed a very balanced approach to offense by stressing ball movement and making all six players scoring threats. As such, much of the focus this fall has been on developing chemistry between the new blood on offense. With the work they have put in they have shown marked improvement over the course of the fall. It remains to be seen how much they will miss players like Hoff but the fact that they have never relied on any one player to carry the team bodes well for the Irish.
“Last year a lot of our goals ended with Ryan Hoff,” says sophomore attack Nick Beattie, “but they all started as part of our offense and many of the players that made that happen are still here.”
Truly, Notre Dame’s success this season will ride largely on just how well these new players step up and execute against top-tier teams. ND will face many more of the traditional ‘east coast elite’ this year and the players are excited for the opportunity to prove they can compete with anyone.