While Notre Dame's 12-10 win over Towson in the first round of the NCAA Division I men's lacrosse tournament on May 9 might have been an afterthought to many, the pain of the loss lingered with Tigers goalkeeper Tyler White for much of the summer.
"It hurt," the redshirt senior recalled. "We had such a special team last year. … Everyone left everything out there on the field. We just came up short. It left a bad taste in my mouth, but I know that we gave our full effort. It hurt, but I think it taught a lot of people a lot of things."
White has one final season to make things more savory for himself and his teammates, and the 2016 campaign has gotten off to a good start with an 11-2 dismantling of Mercer on Friday. No. 17 Towson (1-0) welcomes Mount St. Mary's (1-0) to Johnny Unitas Stadium on Saturday at 2 p.m. for a chance to open 2-0 for the first time since 2007.
White enjoyed a breakout year in 2015. His 7.57 goals-against average ranked fourth in the country, and his .567 save percentage ranked ninth.
White joined Maryland's Kyle Bernlohr, Monmouth's Garrett Conaway (Liberty), Richmond's Benny Pugh and Bryant's Gunnar Waldt (St. Paul's) as the only goalies to rank in the top 10 in both goals-against average and save percentage. For his efforts, White was named the Colonial Athletic Association's Defensive Player of the Year and a second-team All-American.
Although this is a new season and top defenseman JoJo Ostrander has since graduated, the Tigers welcome back two starting defensemen, two starting short-stick defensive midfielders and one starting long-stick midfielder. Based on that returning experience, White said he expects to match or better his numbers from last spring.
"I've been busting my butt in the offseason, and I don't expect to take a step backward at all," he said. "I want to take a step forward. I learned how to play in those big-time games last year. Coming to this year, bring them on. I'm excited to play. We lost JoJo, which is a huge loss, but we have some big-time returners on attack and the main core is still there on defense. I think you can expect some big things from our defense this year, and the offense is as confident as ever. So I think we can get some of that scoring that people thought we were missing last year."
The Tigers ranked sixth in the nation in defense, allowing just 7.7 goals per game last season. Critics pointed out that the unit had to play that well because the offense averaged just 8.6 goals, but coach Shawn Nadelen said he wants to alleviate the pressure on White and the rest of his defensive teammates.
"I don't want to make it that way that we have to rely on him to be outstanding every game," Nadelen said. "He is great, but we want to be outstanding in front of him. We want our defense to be that much better. We want to make it easier on him, and we're capable of that because we have a lot of guys that have returned and have played in the system and understand what's expected to help him out."
For his part, White said the defense doesn't shy away from any challenge.
"One of the things you'll see is we have an us-against-ourselves mentality," he said. "We always respect our opponents and know our opponents, but we really feel like we can play with and beat anyone. So we really feel like if we bring our A game, we can be good enough to beat anyone."
At 6 feet 3 and 230 pounds, White is deceptively quick with his feet and his stick. But his size is a noticeable deterrent, according to Mount St. Mary's coach Tom Gravante, whose aim is to help his players find holes in White's game.
"Tyler White is one of the top 10 goalies in D-I," Gravante said. "He has great size, skill and positioning. He takes up much of the cage and plays angles very well. His defense in front of him is equally as good as him — very stingy and forces their opponent to take bad shots. Tyler's outlets are very quick, which creates transition and instant offense for his team. This puts much pressure on our offense to make smart decisions when shooting the ball. … Honestly, I'm not sure Tyler has many weaknesses. He's legit."
Towson was voted to finish first in the CAA's preseason poll and is regarded by some as a dark-horse candidate to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. But White said the players are driven by the memory of that setback at Notre Dame when the Tigers failed to protect a 6-2 advantage in the second quarter.
"People didn't really give us a chance, but like I told you earlier, we have an us-against-ourselves mentality," he said. "… It was kind of a letdown to be up at halftime and not be able to close out the game. I do think we learned a lot from playing in that type of game against that caliber of opponent. It hurt for a little while, but I think those kinds of games will drive us. We have a target on our backs now, so we have to bring our A game."