May 16, 2014

NCAA Notes: Notre Dame 'D' Prepped For Danes

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | Lambrecht Archive


The Notre Dame defense has a tough task ahead with the Thompson-led Albany attack. "We have to play sound [technique], play to their bodies. We're not in the shot prevention business. We have to limit the easy stuff," says senior Stephen O'Hara. (Kevin P. Tucker)

Notre Dame senior defenseman Stephen O'Hara has watched enough video of the Albany offense, particularly the remarkable attack duo of Lyle and Miles Thompson, to help him arrive at one conclusion.

The Thompsons [Lyle, Miles and Ty] are going to generate highlights that make any defense look bad. The idea is not to assist them too much by making fundamental mistakes.

"They are really crafty, unlike anything we've really seen," said O'Hara, who will try to help the Fighting Irish corral the most dangerous attack unit on Saturday at Hofstra, where sixth-seeded Notre Dame will face the unseeded Great Danes in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals. "They're great cutters and shooters, really good at reading when a defender is panicking. They wait for you to get out of control.

"We recognize that there are going to be four, five or six plays they make that are un-defendable," O'Hara added. "They back people down. They go behind the back, do the underhanded stuff. It's hard to dislodge the ball from their sticks. We have to play sound [technique], play to their bodies. We're not in the shot prevention business. We have to limit the easy stuff."

"[The Thompsons] bait you into going after their sticks and bringing double teams," added Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan, who is trying to steer the Irish (10-5) to their third final four in five seasons by denying Albany (12-5) its first trip to the semifinals. "We have to force them to make spectacular plays in six-on-six."

This has not been a typical season for Notre Dame. The Irish, normally known for their stingy, slide-and-recover defense and stout goaltending, have surrendered 9.5 goals per game with a two-goalie system (junior Conor Kelly and freshman Shane Doss).

The offense has picked up a notable amount of the slack in 2014. Led by sophomore attackman Matt Kavanagh (32g, 30a), Notre Dame has averaged 12 goals and has four players with at least 21 scores.

The Irish entered last month's ACC tournament with a 6-5 record then earned an AQ by beating Maryland and Syracuse – the latter in a 15-14 shootout for the league title. Notre Dame ended its regular season with an 18-17 thriller over Army, before dispatching Ivy League runner-up Harvard, 13-5, in the first round of the NCAAs.

In its last three games, Notre Dame is averaging 15.3 goals, which means the Albany contest could result in a shootout.

Hopkins Faces Another Tough Defensive Task in Duke

Unseeded Johns Hopkins (11-4) has faced some of the top offenses in the nation over the past two months. Those opponents included Albany, Loyola, Syracuse and North Carolina, against whom the Blue Jays went 1-3 in the regular season.

With no. 1 seed and defending national champion Duke awaiting the Blue Jays in Sunday's quarterfinal round at Delaware, Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said his team's toughest defensive test is at hand.

"It's because of the way that first midfield [led by sophomores Deemer Class and Myles Jones] has developed. Duke is the most talented team we've faced," Pietramala said. "They make you make choices on defense. If we double-pole the midfield, we're going to put a short stick on [attackmen] Christian Walsh or Josh Dionne? C'mon. Talk about picking your poison.

"Duke is more talented than us, but that [alone] doesn't win games. We could go up there and get our ears boxed. We have to play hard, fast and loose. We have to play like there's no pressure on us. And we have to be willing to out-score them."

In other words, for Hopkins to spring an upset – as the Blue Jays did in the 2007 championship game or the 2008 semifinals against Duke – it must get a huge game out of its potent offense and win the ground ball and transition games. It wouldn't hurt if Hopkins got a scoring boost from an unlikely source, such as sophomore midfielder Connor Reed (eight goals on 34 shots). He has emerged as a serious dodging threat.

"We have to threaten [Reed] to shoot the ball," Pietramala said. "He's a wonderful athlete who is learning the game."

Jones and Class Emerging as Stars for Duke

A big, athletic midfielder at 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, Myles Jones has become a huge threat in the Duke offense this spring with 50 points. (Peyton Williams)

Duke (14-3) is pursuing its third NCAA title in the past five seasons, and is one victory away from its eight consecutive final four. The Blue Devils have averaged a whopping 17 goals while winning 11 of their past 12 games. The emergence of the 6-feet-4 Jones and Class has been a huge spark throughout the run.

At 240 pounds, Jones (30 goals, 20 assists) is a threat to run by or over anyone. Class (33g, 27a) is on a two-month tear that continued with his four-point effort in last week's 20-9, first-round win over Air Force, Class became the first Duke midfielder to produce 60 points in a season. He is eight goals away from setting a single-season school record at his position.

The only Division I midfielders with a better points-per-game average than Class (3.53) are Princeton's Tom Schreiber and Ohio State's Jesse King (each with four points per game) and Drexel's Ben McIntosh (3.65).

Confidence Key for Bryant as it Prepares for Quarterfinals

As unseeded Bryant (16-4) prepares to meet no. 7 seed Maryland with a chance to earn its first-ever appearance in the final four in only its sixth year as a Division I program, Bulldogs coach Mike Pressler is preaching confidence. Not that the Bulldogs weren't already feeling plenty of it, in the wake of their first-round takedown of Syracuse in the Carrier Dome.

A year ago, Bryant earned an AQ in its first year of eligibility for one in the Northeast Conference, and played Syracuse tough, before falling in the first round. This year, behind the 1-2 punch of outstanding faceoff weapon Kevin Massa and goalie Gunner Waldt, the Bulldogs have won 10 of 13 games away from their Smithfield, R.I. campus.

"We couldn't even practice at the [Carrier] Dome, because of graduation," Pressler said. "There's no way we beat Syracuse this year without playing them in the Dome last year. When you believe it and expect it and it happens, you're not surprised or shocked."

As for the task ahead against the playoff-seasoned, defensive-minded Terps – who counter with faceoff star Charlie Raffa and possible first-team All-American goalie Niko Amato – Pressler said Bryant has to believe and execute.

"I told the guys after the Syracuse game to repeat after me," Pressler said. "After we beat the Terps, we're going to the final four."

New World Order Shown in First Round Results

Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan was surprised but not shocked to see four unseeded teams advance to the quarterfinals.

"Anytime the no. 2 [Syracuse], 3 [Loyola] and 4 [Penn] seeds get knocked off, it's news. But it's probably the logical course of events in our game," he said. "When Denver and Notre Dame are considered traditional schools in the quarterfinals, it's official. We've entered a new age."


comments powered by Disqus