With Duke, Notre Dame, expect exciting match

Will Cinderella team win at this ball?

May 30, 2010|By Mike Preston

It has come down to style now. It's the speed and athleticism of No. 5 Duke against the defense and overall discipline of unseeded Notre Dame.

The national championship game is set for Monday, and it's an interesting matchup. As always, a traditional favorite makes it such as Duke (15-4), but Notre Dame (10-6) is the surprise team.

Every year there is a Cinderella team, but that team usually gets knocked off in the quarterfinals, or, at the least, in the semifinals. But the Fighting Irish continue to make their run. Here's a team that stunned many lacrosse fans by making the 16-team field, and now Notre Dame is in the championship.

Maybe there is something to all this parity talk the past couple of years.

"I have said that if we got the opportunity to make the playoffs we would be a dangerous team," said Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan. "I just thought we had the talent all year; we were just a little inconsistent. I believe in this team, and I knew we could do this."

"I feel like we have been knocking on this door," Corrigan said. "I am excited that we are in the championship game. I am really hoping if we can win a championship I can stop getting questions about lacrosse outside the traditional areas. The game has been growing. There have been a number of teams, ours included, that have played very, very well in the NCAA tournament."

It would be a major upset if Notre Dame wins the championship. If you took a poll among the announced 44,389 who attended Saturday's two semifinal games at M&T Bank Stadium, only that small section of Notre Dame fans probably thinks the Fighting Irish have a chance.

Duke is loaded with superior speed and offensive talent. The show both teams put on in the second semifinal game was spectacular.

But Notre Dame at least has the formula to beat Duke. The Irish play nasty, ornery defense led by long poles Kevin Ridgeway, Mike Creighton and Kevin Randall.

The Fighting Irish have a sensational goalie in senior Scott Rodgers, who had another superb effort with 16 saves in Notre Dame's 12-7 victory against Cornell on Saturday.

"Scott Rodgers did a great job of making saves," said Cornell star attackman Rob Pannell, who had two assists but no goals. "We were shooting at places that we thought were going to go in. Credit to him for a great job; he had 16 saves on the day, so it's just a credit to him and the defense around him."

Before we tab Notre Dame as having the best defense of the century, we should remember that Cornell was a young team and really didn't have much going for it except the Big Red had the experience of playing in the title game last season.

But the X-factor will be Notre Dame's offense.

The Fighting Irish are deliberate, and they could slow things down enough to contain the Blue Devils. Notre Dame attackmen Neal Hicks, Nicholas Beattie and midfielder Zach Brenneman win just enough physical matches one-on-one to give most teams trouble.

"We've heard a lot of the talk that Notre Dame's attack is a little bit soft, and I've been trying to tell the guys, 'Let's go out there and prove to everybody that we can play, that we're good players,'" Hicks said.

There is no doubt about Duke's attack. Max Quinzani, Ned Crotty and Zach Howell are excellent. When they are on, they can put points on the board in a hurry. But it's not just Duke's attack.

The Blue Devils have excellent midfielders in Willie McKee, Steve Schoeffel and Justin Turri, and even better long poles who can start the fast breaks in C.J. Costabile and Tom Montelli.

"They eat you up in the midfield," said Virginia coach Dom Starsia. "When you have long poles that can gobble up ground balls and run, then you have a very strong transition game."

Corrigan likes the underdog role. He has been feeding it to his players since the tournament began, and he can't get enough of it. The Fighting Irish were also helped by Duke and Virginia slugging it out until the final seconds Saturday night in the late game.

Duke has been to the championship game two of the past five years, and to the semifinals the past two seasons. If Blue Devils goalie Dan Wigrizer can hold up for one more game, Duke should win. Wigrizer started to melt down against Virginia, but the offense bailed him out.

His counterpart, Rodgers, will have to play the game of his life, and it might be too much to ask. The way the Blue Devils are scoring, they appear set to win their first NCAA Division I lacrosse title.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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