Musings of a Lacrosse Dad

So Long

So Long

Feeling a little tired – even after a week of recovery from the 2014 season.  As I did a couple of local errands yesterday I realized this is my first weekend home since February 9th.  Might explain some of it.

This being my last post, you’ll excuse me if I reflect a bit.

Zach Brenneman arrived on Notre Dame’s campus in the fall of 2007.  Since then the lacrosse team has played 114 games in 19 different states over the past 7 years.  We have been to 112 of them and full disclosure – I witnessed 111 of them.  As I sit here today, even in the midst of exhaustion from another season, I’m sorry that we missed the other 2.  The blogger in me knows it would have made for a better story.

We’re not alone in our (my) obsession.  Doug Hopkins attended every game this season.  Darryl Ciambella attended every game for the 4 years that Matt played – traveling from Buffalo.  Still remember one trip where his flight was cancelled because of a snow storm.  Darryl drove to Philadelphia – the nearest airport that would get him to where he wanted to go.  That’s a 280 mile drive just to get to the airport.  And then the same drive home after the game.  Nuts.

The Keppeler’s and the Beattie’s may have done the same over their four years.  The two gentlemen in those families are a tad loose with the facts from time to time so one never knows.  I’m sure there are others.  Not surprisingly, I got to know the families Ciambella, Hopkins, Keppeler and Beattie pretty well over the years.

The team has played in 3 different conferences during that time.  First the old Great Western, then the Big East, and now the Atlantic Coast.  This year’s schedule, and I know I’m not telling anyone anything they don’t already know, was far and away the most challenging.  And winning the ACC Tournament is right up there with the most rewarding.

For most of us, even home games at Notre Dame are away games.  As an example, I traveled approximately 21,000 miles this year from door to door.  I haven’t gone back all 7 years but it isn’t a stretch to say that I traveled over 125,000 miles.  And because of that – I firmly believe our Notre Dame parent group has greater bonds and relationships than any other program in the country.  We share more overnights, more meals, more drinks, and as a result just more time together.  Its one of those secrets the coaches should be sharing when recruiting the parents.

The first game I ever attended was, of course, very memorable.  Notre Dame played Georgetown in  a fall ball match up at some high school in Virginia.  Bob and Cheryl Kemp hosted the team and the parents for dinner back at their home after the game.  Kind of ironic that I found myself hugging Cheryl at my final tailgate on Monday.


Wine tasting in the caves of Schramsberg

Best trip ever?  That is an easy one.  In the fall of 2011, Notre Dame played Johns Hopkins in Kezar Stadium in San Francisco.  A large parent group traveled out to the game and I organized a day trip to Napa Valley.  Should have known that an organized trip of day drinking with this group would turn into spontaneous hilarity but what followed exceeded all expectations.  A bus took about 25 of us for the hour-long ride from San Fran up to Napa.  We started with a tasting and a tour of Schramsberg at 10 AM.  Followed that up with a lunch at Gott’s Roadside (Taylor’s Refresher) and then another tasting and tour at Rubicon (now Ingelnook) in the afternoon.   Let’s see, sparkling wine in the morning, a glass of wine at Taylor’s with our Ahi sandwich and then some more wine in the afternoon.  Coors Light then made an appearance on the ride back as I recall.  Mr’s Keppeler and Dobson provided the entertainment.  No one on that bus ride will ever forget the day.


PPL Park

Best venue?  Philadelphia’s PPL Park in the shadows of the Commodore Barry Bridge.  Great architecture and a perfect size for a quarterfinal game.  Notre Dame has played there three times – and won all three with wins over Virginia in the NCAA tournament and Maryland and Syracuse in the ACC tournament.

2014_Notre_Dame_vs_Albany_NCAA_20Best game during my 7 years?  I may be viewing this through a narrow lens but Notre Dame’s quarterfinal overtime win over Albany two weeks ago.  Just watching the Thompson show was memorable.  Coming back from 12-7 with 8 minutes left to win in overtime was, well, unforgettable.

The 2010 and 2014 national championship games are right there of course.  Especially 2010 because it was just so unexpected.  A different result and it wouldn’t even be a discussion.

Best part of having a son go to Notre Dame?  That’s also easy.  All  of you.  Schools like Notre Dame don’t just attract good kids – they attract great families.   So many wonderful friends and terrific memories.

ND - Hofstra NearsFollowing a long line of devoted parents that have taken the leadership role, John and Liza Near have “volunteered” to take the lead next year.  We are in good hands.

This is it for me as it is time for a new voice to carry this forward.  We created a blog to track our experiences 3 years ago and now have over 62,000 hits.  If I could only figure out how to monetize the thing!

So long everyone.  Loved every minute.







And the beat goes on…

ACC ChampionsFive incoming freshman have been named Under Armour All Americans.  Looks like the Irish pipeline is alive and well.

For the article:

More Final Four Photos

Liza snapped in excess of 700 so it is taking a while to get through them all…

Final Four Lep

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Thompsons Win Tewaaraton


And our Irish mom’s apparently…



Carole and Thompsons

Final Four Photos

Enough of the melancholy.  Let the party begin!  I appear to have been in a hugging mood.  This is just the start of Liza’s amazing catalogue of the weekend…

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Italy Itinerary

From the men’s lacrosse web site:


All Tournament Team

Congrats to Matt Kavanagh, Conor Kelly and Sergio Perkovic for being named to the 2014 NCAA DI All Tournament team.  Well deserved.  For the full team:


Heart of a Champion

bal-mens-lacrosse-final-four-photos-20140524-001Duke won the National Championship yesterday with an 11-9 victory over Notre Dame.  Down 8-2 midway through the 3rd period, the Irish staged a furious rally to pull within a single goal twice in the 4th.  It wasn’t enough.

Sergio Perkovic scored 5 goals and had a coming out party at the sport’s largest stage.  Matt Kavanagh, the object of Duke’s attention throughout, added 2 goals and an assist.  Conor Kelly recorded 12 saves in goal.

I’m not breaking new ground by pointing out the team did not play well at the start.  They sputtered offensively, recording 11 turnovers and missing on a couple of early scoring opportunities.  One wondered as Duke raced onto the field almost immediately after the national anthem if it was a choreographed  move designed to show how ready they were for the game. And if it was, it worked.

But if there was a trademark for this year’s Notre Dame team it was their resilience. It was on full display again yesterday.  The defense stiffened and began to stifle the Duke attack.  The Irish started to own the middle of the field and the offense began to find its mark.  By midway into the 4th quarter the team was firing on all cylinders and we had a game.   For the second game in a row Notre Dame played 26 players against an opponents 22.  Depth started to show late in the game.  It was the high-flying Duke attack that slowed the pace.  Notre Dame ran out of time but the comeback revealed the heart of a champion.

Congratulations to Duke.  Classy program that does it the right way.  Recruiting and coaching and culture.  For my money there are only two DI college lacrosse programs in the country that have all three.  You watched them play yesterday.  #1 recruiting classes get magazine covers in September.  Culture and coaching get them in May.

The silence at the end of a season is always deafening.  The sting of defeat painful.  The beauty and the curse of a season ending tournament is that only one team walks away happy.  Agonizingly, this year it wasn’t us.  Notre Dame is going to get one however – and soon.  Each trip lays the brickwork necessary.  Remember all those Duke losses a couple year’s ago?

What a season for the Irish.  Playing the sport’s most difficult schedule (they finished 1st in strength of schedule), Notre Dame recorded a record of 12-6.  ACC Tournament Champions.  “Game of the century” win against Albany to gain entry into the Final Four.  Perhaps the most complete game of the season in the semi-final domination of Maryland.  Facing the prospect of being left out of this year’s NCAA tournament, Notre Dame reeled off 6 consecutive victories.  The list of teams the Irish defeated in that stretch is impressive – Maryland, Syracuse, Harvard, Albany and Maryland again.

The guess here is that the sting from yesterday will stay with the parents a bit longer than the boys, who will be meeting up again on Wednesday evening at New York’s JFK airport for their quadrennial trip overseas – this time to Italy.  There is no more agreeable place on earth, and 10 days of the most welcoming people and pastoral beauty, will be the best possible salve for wounded pride.  And then there is the incredible art and history.  Oh, and the food.  Mangia!

We had a terrific final four worthy tailgate again yesterday.  Many, many thanks to Brian Connolly who arranged for our group to both park and tailgate privately in the parking lot of the Gameday Warehouse.  It was a superb locale.  Did you see what Brian did yesterday?  While the rest of us were socializing and enjoying the fruits of his connections, Brian “took one for the team” and played the part of parking attendant.  The man ate dust for three hours while we sipped drinks in the shade of our tent village.  We have a lot of great parents but they do not come any better than Brian Connolly.  Everyone raise a glass please.

Speaking of raising glasses, lets do it again for Geoff and Jane Marlatt.  And to Lee Corrigan for bringing in and setting up our little tailgate village.  Said your blogger to Jane, “Geoff always says ‘thank God for Jane’ and now I know why!”.  What a tailgate.  Geoff never said that to me by the way, (but he needs to!).  Thank you to Geoff and Jane.  And where would we have been this year without Bob?  I stayed to help take down the village last night.  Bob was there right beside me.

As always, the tailgates grow as the team advances.  The last three, the quarterfinals last week on Long Island, and then the two over this weekend, were spectacular.  So many alumni and parent alumni could be seen in Baltimore.  Cheryl Kemp.  Need I say more?  Mike and Laura Jean Podgajny, Mike Ridgway, Mike and Debra Will, Duncan and Laura Swezey, Bob and Barbara Rogers, Marty and Janet Irving, Mark and Betsy Keppeler, Kristy Krebs, Ric and Gretchen Andersen, Jim and Judy Beattie, Phil and Donna Pfeifer, Todd and Michelle Tripuka, Phil Dobson, Bob and Alicia Ashenburg, and on and on.  They honor us with their presence.  They connect us and our children.

How to describe the state of the current parent group?  “Exhausted” comes to mind.  In my case, after 15 straight weeks of tailgates and airports, “overweight” as well.  Can anyone say elastic wasteband?

The end of the season always brings an odd mixture of relief and loss.  The relief of a respite from the grind of constant travel.  And the loss of the weekend fellowship of so many wonderful friends.  Hugs and shrugs in the parking lot after the game. Too spent for tears. The team joined the after party briefly before many of them headed back to South Bend on the charter.

There will be photos galore in a coming post.  Liza Near was ever-present at the tailgate and as always her photos will tell the story better than any words.  The 2014 season comes to an end. But there will be more from this blogger in the coming days. I’ve got some things to say before handing over the keys so you aren’t done with me yet.

Your humble blogger continues…



Same Bat Time

DenverTail1Well, not really but it will be the same bat place. Our finale tailgate of the season will begin around 10 AM tomorrow at the Gameday Warehouse parking lot – on the other side of the street from Parking lot J at M&T Bank Stadium. The team will be joining us briefly after the game.

The last 4 weeks have been scramble mode for the parents and the next two days will be no different. The team is scheduled to fly to Italy out of New York’s JFK on Wednesday evening. Some of the kids will fly back to South Bend tomorrow night – some will leave with their parents after the game.

Hope to see you all there.

Here We Go Again

In a dominating performance, Notre Dame defeated Maryland 11-6 yesterday in Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium and now advances to the championship game on Memorial Day. The Irish used a familiar formula- stingy defense, terrific goal tending and an opportunistic offense – and the brew proved toxic for the Terps.

An attendance of 30,428, many clad in all things Maryland in what was essentially a home game for the Terps, saw Notre Dame jump out to an early lead and never look back. Matt Kavanagh led the Irish offense with 5 goals and 2 assists on the afternoon. It may have been Kavanagh’s best game of his already memorable Irish career. Conor Kelly recorded 14 saves behind an improving defense. Steven O’Hara spent most of the afternoon in Mike Chanenchuk’s back pocket and didn’t allow the first team AA a goal until the 37 minute of the game. Matt Landis recorded 3 caused turnovers and he and his defensive mates turned in what was likely their best all around game of the season.

Senior Pat Cotter also recorded a goal yesterday. Lost in all the other story lines is this little tidbit: Pat is in his 5th season at Notre Dame as a result of a red shirt year last year after blowing out his Achilles. And that means he is only player in Irish history to appear in 3 final fours. Cotter was a freshman on the 2010 team and played a prominent role in the 2012 run to the final four. George and Jean live just 30 minutes or so from the stadium and got to watch him score a goal in the sports biggest stage. Special.

Meanwhile Tyler Brenneman arrived in Baltimore without his equipment bag. “We don’t know what happened”, said Jonathan Rodak on Friday evening. “We’ve looked everywhere and can’t figure it out.” Not so fast. The bag was found on the team bus on Saturday – shoved all the way in the back. Brenneman, who seems to have inherited a back case of “the illusion of control” from his father, was none too happy Friday evening. All forgotten Saturday.

Speaking of All Americans, Maryland had an eye popping 4 first team All Americans when the list was released on Wednesday. Hmmm. Who played more kids on Saturday? Which team had the deeper talent? Inside Lacrosse dictates the conversation through the season. The kids determine the games.

The parents gathered at a bar called the Gameday Warehouse just outside the stadium and had a terrific tailgate before and after the game. Brian Connolly arranged for the parents to have exclusive access to the private parking lot behind and Lee Corrigan provided tents, table and chairs. It was the perfect set up. Jane Marlatt organized a feast and team joined us for a quite bite before being hustled back to the hotel for some rest – and preparation for Monday.

Parents, new and old, and ND laxer alumni where everywhere. Mike Ridgway, Kristy Krebs, Duncan and Laura Swezey, Todd and Michelle Tripuka, Marty and Janet Irving, Mark and Betsy Keppeler, Bob and Alicia Ashenburg, Bob and Barbara Rogers, Jim and Judy Beattie, Phil and Donna Pfeifer and Phil Dobson were all on hand. Former laxers Andy Will, Kelly McKenna, Mike Creighton, Grant Krebs, Devon Dobson, Lucius Polk, Taylor Tripuka, Eric Keppeler, Andrew Irving, Zach Brenneman, Sean Rogers, Ben Ashenburg, and John Kemp were also on hand. Yes John and Liz Kemp were in attendance. “We had a family wedding today”, said John. “There will be more of us on Monday”. Tears and beers at the tailgate.

Signs of Bob Kemp were everywhere – the team sported BK stickers on their helmets and Rob Kelly had an enormous banner made up for Notre Dame Lacrosse which included Bob’s initials.

I’m sure I missed a handful of parents and alumni so my apologies.

Cue the 2010 National Championship game tape. See CJ Constable racing to the goal and Duke’s 6-5 overtime victory. They called us boring in those days – not any more. Coach Corrigan was quoted after the game, “the perspective is, this is the 2014 team’s chance to win a national championship and I’m not focused on anything else, and I don’t even care to be focused on anything else.” Good for him. And good for this team.

The goal in February is to be playing on Memorial Day. Here we are. For the seniors, one last time to strap on the equipment. For the senior parents, one last anxiety filled morning and afternoon. For both, the past 4 weeks have felt just like this – win or go home.

Notre Dame enters the final playing its best lacrosse of the season. An all ACC final. The Irish have avenged their two other regular season losses with wins against Maryland and Syracuse at the ACC tournament. Now Duke. Why not us? For the last time this season, Go Irish.