The next installment of the Western Rivalry moves to Southern California as the feature game of the Pacific Coast Shootout.  Notre Dame (#10 2-1, 0-0 ACC) and Denver (#8 4-1, 0-0 Big East) will face off on Saturday at 10:00 pm EST, at Lebard Stadium at Orange Coast College.  This is the second time the teams have met in Costa Mesa. The game will be streamed on YouTube.

The Western Rivalry

Notre Dame and Denver are the two success stories of the western lacrosse frontier.  The teams have met 25 times, with the Irish holding a 15-10 lead, but with the Pios making significant inroads into this gap in recent years.

Because of their location far outside the traditional lacrosse hotbeds, these teams have forged a fierce rivalry.  Both have a perennial presence in the NCAA tournament and are often in Final Four weekend.

Other than an unfortunate pounding by the Pioneers in the 2017 NCAA Quarterfinals, the last decade of this series has been a stream of exceedingly close and compelling games.  The scores have read 7-9, 11-9, 10-11, 8-9 OT, 10-11 OT, 10-11 OT, 7-10, 13-12 OT, 10-9 3/OT, 10-9 and have included some memorable Irish performances such as Sergio Perkovic’s 5-goal 4th quarter in the NCAA semifinals and 4 goals in 41 seconds in 2017.

There is no doubt the Irish, both past and present, want this win.

The Opponent

The Pioneers are let by Hall of Fame coach Bill Tierney, who has won and amazing 7 national championships, including one with Denver.  He is 2 wins shy of his 400th.

Good news:  faceoff prodigy and Irish nemesis Trevor Baptiste has finally graduated.  Bad news:  his successor, Brett Boos, is pretty good, too.

Denver is returning nearly its entire 2018 defense.  So far it has held opponents to an excellent 7 goals per game.   Matt Logan and Danny Neufeldt are familiar names on this defense.

The Pioneer offense is well know for its methodical and precision passing and shooting.  Even in this new shot clock era, they take their time with the ball and dissect defenses.  Ethan Walker, Colton Jackson and Austin French are all names familiar to Irish fans and folks who follow this series.  Freshman Ellis Geis is an added weapon to this offense with 11 goals and 4 assists already this season.

Three Questions

Our attention will be focused on three key elements:

  1. Fast Start:  Too many times in this series the Irish have fallen behind early only to need late game heroics to stay in the game.  In last year’s victory at Arlotta, it was the Irish that jumped ahead early and all was well.  Even with the shot clock, Tierney will certainly have the Pios take as much air out of the ball as they can to frustrate any comeback attempt.  However, Denver isn’t as well equipped as other teams to play fast, so any lead the Irish can develop will be powerful.
  2. Shot clock:  As noted in several places above.  The Pioneers are methodical and will go deep into possessions, knowing that their shooting is excellent and that they can afford to wait for the perfect shot.  Historically, this has meant possessions several minutes long.  The Irish must be disciplined with ground balls and rebounds to make sure there are no resets of the 80 second clock.  Second chances to Denver would be devastating.
  3. Continue offensive progress: This season has seen the development of a fast, quick-passing Irish offense.  It’s still a work in progress prone to occasional periods of stagnation, but it is well-balanced and creative.  If the Irish can continue on this track and move the ball, all will be well.  The metric we will be focused on is the Notre Dame time of possession, which we hope will be south of 40 seconds.

Other Stuff

This trip to the West Coast is part of Notre Dame Lacrosse’s cross-country spring break trip.

And so that we don’t forget, last year’s regular season matchup had this famous faceoff battle:

The Irish are +1, o/u 19 for those interested in this sort of thing.