03/15/2013 9:14 AM ET
ND meets Denver with future uncertain
Conference realignment may doom lacrosse matchup
By Eamon McAnaney / SNY.tv
Notre Dame goalie John Kemp helps anchor a stingy Irish defense. (Notre Dame Athletics)

Lacrosse history will be made on Saturday, as a team from Colorado (No. 3 Denver) will host a team from Indiana (No. 4 Notre Dame) and both teams are ranked in the top five.

"It hadn't really dawned on me, but when you put it into historical perspective, it is somewhat monumental and pretty amazing," said Denver hall of fame head coach Bill Tierney.

"Everybody wants to talk about the Michigans, the High Points and the Marquettes coming on board, which I get," said Notre Dame head coach Kevin Corrigan. "But to me the real story in college lacrosse the last five to 10 years is the growth and depth of quality programs. That is what stands out to me about this game."

Maybe the most amazing thing though is that no one should be surprised that this is a matchup of top-five programs. Either the Irish or the Pioneers have advanced to the national semifinals in each of the last three seasons, and both programs were in the quarterfinals last year.

"There was always a lot of talk in the sport about what can't happen but now the unnatural is becoming the expected," Tierney said. "Notre Dame has been in the top 10 for years, and now we come in with our highest ranking ever, so it's certainly fun and eye-opening. For a lot of reasons it's good for the game -- with this people will continue to realize that growing lacrosse is not impossible."

And anything other than a last-second white-knuckler would be a disappointment. The last two meetings have been 10-9 decisions won by Notre Dame, and last year's game in South Bend went into three overtimes. One-goal games are standard operating procedure for the Irish, as they are 5-3 in them since 2011 and have played in three straight already this season.

The Irish needed bonus lacrosse to knock off Penn State and North Carolina before being upset, 8-7, by Hofstra. Corrigan simply laughs when asked about how battle tested his players are.

"I can't believe you're even asking me that," he said. "What we have to do is ignore the rankings and what people may perceive about an opponent and appreciate the unique challenge that each team presents."

Both coaches feel this game will be decided when Denver has the ball against an Irish defense, led by All-American goalie John Kemp, that is allowing fewer than eight goals a game.

"This is the best defensive system in the country with the best goalie in the country, so we cannot take frivolous shots," Tierney said.

"You have to defend them," said Corrigan. "They have a lot of different weapons and they have a unique, hybrid system that matches their styles. They have players with the Canadian indoor background and also the more traditional field game."

They first met in 1992 as members of the Great Western Lacrosse League and have kept the series going with Notre Dame in the Big East and Denver in the ECAC. This rivalry has helped grow the sport, but its future is uncertain as lacrosse expansion collides with conference realignment and the Irish packing their bags for the ACC.

"We need to support each other," said Corrigan. "I think it's a great rivalry, and I love the challenge of playing them."

Eamon McAnaney is an on-air host for SNY and a contributor to SNY.tv. Follow him on Twitter @EamonMcAnaney.
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