By Mike Camarda
Special to Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 2/25/10
When it comes to lacrosse, Notre Dame travels far and wide to both play and recruit.
The Fighting Irish roster has players from 13 different states – none from the home state of Indiana – and historically has depended heavily on talent from Philadelphia. This year’s team has four Philly players, including co-captain and standout defenseman Mike Creighton (Malvern Prep).
Last weekend Creighton played a key role for Notre Dame in its stunning 11-7 triumph over then second-ranked Duke in Durham. Now ranked third in the USILA poll, the Irish gear for their home opener Saturday (1 p.m.)against Penn State. Notre Dame will come to Philly March 9 to meet Drexel.
Notre Dame’s incoming recruiting class also features three highly-rated recruits from Philly: defenseman Stephen O’Hara (St. Joseph’s Prep), midfielder Liam O’Connor (Haverford School) and attackman Westy Hopkins, a key member of two-time state champion La Salle and now a post-grad at Lawrenceville Prep.
While this class is perhaps Notre Dame’s largest from Philly, the school has recruited many big names out of the City of Brotherly Love. Two-time All-American midfielder Mike Podgajny, a 2008 grad from Ridley High, was a key recruit from Philly.
Podgajny, nicknamed “Pogo,” was selected No. 7 in the Major League Lacrosse draft after an illustrious career with the Irish. The pipeline to Notre Dame from Philly also has included Malvern Prep grads D.J. Driscoll (2005 captain and a current member of the US National Team), Bill Liva (2007 captain) and Sean Dougherty (2008 captain), in addition to Creighton and junior midfielder Tim Bemer.
Driscoll was a three-time All-American for the Irish while Dougherty was a two-time All-American and the No. 34 pick in the MLL draft. Beyond the Malvern Prep connection, Duncan Swezey (Hatboro-Horsham) led ND in assists last year and this year’s team features midfielder Adam Felicetti (Central Bucks East) and freshman defenseman Tyler Andersen (Radnor). Also, assistant coach Brian Fisher is a Ridley grad and even freshman manager Jimmy Catalino (La Salle) is from Philly.
Fisher won a Pennsylvania state championship his senior year at Ridley and is intimately familiar with the lacrosse of Philly.
“Many youth programs have sprouted up all over eastern Pennsylvania in the past 10 years, giving kids the opportunity to grow up with lacrosse,” said Fisher. “In addition to the lacrosse culture in Delaware County, high schools north of the city, such as Hatboro-Horsham and Emmaus, have followed suit and now offer lacrosse.
“The Philadelphia area kids that we have had on our team and (those that we) recruit have strong athletic backgrounds stemming from multiple sports. They possess a drive to be great and (a) love to compete…so it is a natural fit for those athletes who want to attend a university with such a vibrant athletic culture.”
While Notre Dame is attractive to Pennsylvania players for its athletic culture, strong academics and highly-rated lacrosse program, the appeal is certainly a two-way street. Philly recruits are attracted to the Irish because Notre Dame is a team built on tough team defense and athleticism.
“We love Philly guys… and that is tough for a die-hard Long Islander to share,” said assistant coach and head recruiter Gerry Byrne. “Tthe Philly players we have had, those that are committed for next year, and the one’s we are currently recruiting, have all the key attributes we look for in a lacrosse player: off-the-charts drive to be great, super competitive, high game IQ and a work ethic that is evident to their coaches, teachers and teammates.”
With the high premium Notre Dame puts on work ethic and lacrosse IQ, the players coming out of Philly are a perfect fit for the Notre Dame system. “These players are a product of the great coaching they receive,” said Byrne. “(John) Nostrant, (John) McEvoy, (Tony) Resch, (Bill) Leahy, (Bill) McDonough, (Paul) O’Grady, (Mark) Petrone, the Keatings (Dan and Mike), (John) Rohde, (John) Begier, (Ryan) Greer, (Eric) Gregg, (Tom) Slate, (Brian) Samson and many more are some of the smartest, hardest working and most responsive coaches in high school sports.
“Throw in Mesa Fresh, the Duke’s Lacrosse Club and the other club teams, and there is simply a great lacrosse culture in Philly.”
Added Creighton: “I think this Notre Dame-Philly connection has been so successful because of the correlation in coaching and what kind of players coach Corrigan, Byrne, and Fisher are looking for. The type of players that Philly produces -, tough, competitive, athletic, fundamental players – are a testament to the elite coaching in the Philly area.
“When you look at coaches like McEvoy, O’Grady, Nostrant, Resch, Leahy, Slate, the Keating brothers, I’m not sure if you can find a better concentration of coaches at that level in the country.”