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May 26, 2012
History says Notre Dame won't win a national championship this weekend.
Fortunately for head coach Kevin Corrigan, the future screams it's simply a matter of time before the Irish break college lacrosse off the East Coast by bringing home a trophy.
Notre Dame has been the sport's upstart evangelist the past five seasons, making four quarterfinals, falling to Duke in the title game, building some of the sport's best facilities, holding down a No. 1 ranking and taking lacrosse to Texas, California, Georgia and Japan.
The University has committed to Corrigan with chartered flights, including for last weekend's quarterfinal win over Virginia. The community has committed to the team, nearly doubling attendance since Arlotta Stadium opened two years ago. The team drew 2,367 per game this season, which included outdoor home games in February.
"We don't want to be hockey's baby brother," said midfielder Jim Marlatt. "We want to spread it and make it a primetime sport. I think it's going to be a long process, a slow process. But it is growing."
Next year's NCAA tournament will include quarterfinal games in Indianapolis. If the Irish play there as the sport's defending national champion they'll have taken a big step toward diversifying a game with a major East Coast bias.
In the last 35 years just six teams have won national championships: Syracuse, Princeton, Duke, Virginia, North Carolina and Johns Hopkins. College football has had 22 different national champions in that same time frame. Men's basketball has produced 16. Hockey has turned out 15.
"You could call that power base about 100 miles wide if you wanted to, but that doesn't mean a lot of teams haven't been competing at a high level," Corrigan said. "I think that would be kind of narrow-minded to look at it that way. You miss the story of the growth of the game. Depth and width. It's growing."
From this Final Four, Duke (2010) and Maryland (1973, 1975) have already won titles. When the Blue Devils beat the Irish in overtime two years ago, they were the first first-time national champion in lacrosse since the turn of the century. Loyola, which will face Notre Dame in the semifinals at Gillette Stadium on Saturday (2:30 p.m., ESPN2), has not won a title.
"I see us as a national power," said attackman Sean Rogers. "I think winning a national championship definitely would help solidify it."
Even without a title, Notre Dame has established itself as a major player in the sport, finishing the regular season unbeaten three years ago and holding down a No. 1 ranking for the first time last spring.
In the last five seasons, Notre Dame has been a wire-to-wire Top 10 team four times.
Assembling a roster to do that still means Corrigan must recruit the East Coast more regularly than Brian Kelly invades the SEC's backyard. The lacrosse roster has just two Midwest products, one being Corrigan's son. The Irish have a dozen players from Maryland, six from New Jersey, eight from New York, five from Pennsylvania and three from Virginia.
Still, maybe the sport's expansion can be found in Notre Dame's two California products and one Colorado native. From a national perspective, the country's leading scorer, Peter Baum of Colgate, went to Lincoln High School in Portland, Ore., with former Irish defensive end Ethan Johnson.
Notre Dame has tried to turn its coast-to-coast travel into a recruiting pitch, finding enhanced success the past half-dozen years.
"Instead of feeling like we're on the edge of lacrosse looking in, we've looked out and said we'll play in California, we'll play in Texas and Minnesota and we'll play all over the country," Corrigan said. "Let's make people go, 'I'm missing out on something by just playing on the East Coast.'"
What's left for the Irish to prove is that a national championship trophy can come to the Midwest. Notre Dame beat Duke to open the season. It knocked out defending national champion Virginia in the quarterfinals. It beat Syracuse in front of 4,522 at Arlotta in April.
Notre Dame expects to return home with a trophy next week, even if that means breaking the sport's long-term East Coast lease. The Irish have the momentum, coaching, resources and talent to do it.
"We're not just satisfied with getting there," Marlatt said. "It's obviously nice, but that wasn't our goal at the beginning of the year. It wasn't just to get to Boston, it's to win it all."
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