SOUTH BEND - They’ve moved beyond the days when Kevin Corrigan had to worry about getting run over by the Notre Dame football team during his men’s lacrosse practices.

Past the point where the public address announcer had to warn the Irish men’s lacrosse crowds that ringing a cowbell constituted an NCAA violation.

It is still impossible to separate the sport’s westward sprawl from Notre Dame’s continual accumulation of milestones, but Saturday’s 13-6 NCAA Tournament first-round dismissal of Penn had an unfamiliar but welcome ring to it.

Normalcy.

“All the growth, all the progress, that’s all kind of happening around us,” said Corrigan, ND’s 23rd-year head coach. “Our team isn’t thinking about that.

“It’s like when we became No. 1 this year. It’s a significant thing for our sport to have a team in the Midwest or West become No. 1, but it’s insignificant to this team. Years from now, our guys will look back on that as a proud moment, but for this particular team. we’re just trying to win that next game. All we did today was earn that right to play once more.”

And next for the fourth-seeded Irish (11-2), next Sunday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., is a date with destiny of sorts. Notre Dame faces fifth-seeded Duke (13-5) in an NCAA quarterfinal matchup.

The Blue Devils severed unseeded ND’s NCAA title run last season with a 6-5 overtime verdict in the national championship game. The Irish then opened this season with a 12-7 bullying of Duke that launched ND toward an eventual turn at the top of the national rankings for the first time in school history.

Top-seeded Syracuse and eighth-seeded North Carolina, the two teams to hand ND its regular-season losses, are also swimming in the Irish side of the bracket. The Final Four is May 28 and 30 in Baltimore.

“I look at this Notre Dame team as one that has all the makings to make a deep run in the tournament,” offered Penn coach Mike Murphy, his Quakers finished for the season at 8-7.

“Their (midfielder), David Earl, is as good as anybody in the country. They play fast, they’re aggressive, they’re athletic, they fly around, they pick up ground balls, they clear well, they face off well, they can play well man up or man down.

“I don’t think there’s a great team out there that’s just more talented than everybody else. So why not Notre Dame?”

What turned out to be the second-highest scoring NCAA Tournament game in ND’s 24-game history and its most lopsided tourney victory was expected to be a defensive tussle. The Irish came in as the nation’s No. 2 scoring defense and Penn ninth.

Only ND’s defensive rep remained intact at game’s end.

An Arlotta Stadium crowd of 1,266, that included Irish men’s basketball coach Mike Brey, saw the Irish hold Penn scoreless for a stretch of 27 minutes, 12 seconds. The Quakers scored just one goal over the final 36:55 of the game.

“I think we were slow to slide on defense in the first half,” said Irish first-year starting goalie John Kemp, whose brother Joey was a three-time All-America goalie at ND and whose father Robert played football for Lou Holtz at William & Mary.

“(Penn) caught me dipping my stick a couple of times. Thankfully, we settled down in the second half and I made a couple of saves. And the offense obviously had a great game. We had a lot of contributions from everyone.”

The Irish outshot Penn, 41-24, and dominated the face-offs by winning 17 of 23.

“It’s hard to play offense when you don’t have the ball,” Murphy said.

ND’s offense, though more potent than normal, was balanced as usual. Colin Igoe led the way with three goals, including the final score of the game with 4:20 left.

Zach Brenneman. Westy Hopkins, Nicholas Beattie and Pat Cotter had two goals each. In all, seven Irish players scored goals and ND recorded a season-high nine assists.

“Penn is a very good team,” Corrigan said, “but I thought we played one of our best games of the year.”

So good, in fact, that ND could break out the clichés, and they seemed to fit.

“Something we can learn from last year,” Kemp said, “is you’ve got to be ready for every game. I think a lot of people overlooked us last year and we were able to upset a couple of teams. So we’ve got to take it one game at a time and week by week.”

Staff writer Eric Hansen:
ehansen@sbtinfo.com
574-235-6112