Q&A with ESPN's Quint Kessenich
ESPN analyst and former Johns Hopkins All-American goalkeeper Quint Kessenich will provide commentary for the NCAA Division I Tournament semifinals and final at M&T Bank Stadium this weekend. Kessenich offered his thoughts on Notre Dame’s first trip to the Final Four since 2001, the Virginia-Duke semifinal and the head coaching vacancy at Maryland.
Question: Can getting to the Final Four reap benefits in the long run for a team like Notre Dame?
Quint Kessenich: "It’s been a steady upgrade for them in the past 15 years. This year, the big deal was that they were entering the Big East conference and they had a new lacrosse-only stadium with state-of-the-art locker rooms. It’s a tough academic school, and the travel is difficult. [Coach] Kevin Corrigan continues to do a great job of finding kids. It’s a huge win. It’s not a program-making win. They’ve been a well-established top 10 program for the last five years. And keep in mind last year, they were 15-0, and they hosted the first round. That was pretty upsetting last year."
Q: So is it fair to say that Notre Dame enduring a 7-6 regular-season record this year was more beneficial than going undefeated last year?
QK: "Looking back on it in hindsight, they learned a lot about themselves because of those losses whereas last year, because they were 15-0, they were drinking the blue-and-gold Kool Aid. I think a humbling regular season where you had moments of greatness by beating Duke and Loyola and then moments of shaking your head because you just lost to Rutgers and you just lost to Fairfield and you just got shut out by Georgetown in the second half, the kids had to kind of swallow their pride and the coaching staff got them together and said, ‘If we don’t play well, we won’t win. And here’s what has to happen for us to play well.’ I think those losses gave that team a better sense of self and what has to happen to win. And they surrendered themselves for the good of the team. I think Notre Dame right now is very aware of who they are as a team, what their strengths and weaknesses are and how to play to those strengths and weaknesses."
Q: Was Army’s performance in a 14-5 loss to No. 7 seed Cornell a case of nerves?
QK: "I think there were a lot of things that conspired against them. I think talk of the Syracuse win lasted well into the week, Thursday, Friday. I think it was an unusual week in terms of the schedule with their graduation being on Saturday. Lots of stuff going on out of their routine. And I think the match-up was difficult for them. They struggled to cover [senior attackman] Ryan Hurley [who recorded four goals and one assist]. They fell behind and just didn’t have any punch from the midfield, and Cornell did a nice job against [junior attackman] Jeremy Boltus and [freshman attackman] Garrett Thul."
Q: How fortunate was top-seeded Virginia to escape No. 8 seed Stony Brook with a 10-9 win on Sunday?
QK: "When they took a 5-1 lead, I thought they had the potential to run away with it and end the game early. But face-offs, they just couldn’t get possessions, and so Stony Brook wore them down. That was a Virginia team that looked kind of tired late in the ballgame. They didn’t really have that many possessions in the second half, and their defense was really tested. [Junior goalkeeper] Adam Ghitelman was, I thought, their MVP. He made three really key stops that could have been momentum changers. I give Stony Brook credit because I didn’t think they could match up with the Brattons. [Junior midfielder] Shamel Bratton got off to a good start [with three goals], but after that, they [the Seawolves] really kind of found themselves on the defensive end and settled down. Had they shot the ball better in a couple instances, they could have pulled the upset off."
Q: With that in mind, how concerned should the Cavaliers be about meeting No. 5 seed Duke?
QK: "Very much concerned because that’s a game that could go either way. Both teams know each other very well. I think the best thing about the Virginia win was that they were tested. They had to make some late-game decisions. Keep in mind that during the regular season, they really only had two close games. So to play through some late-game strategy-type stuff was a positive for them. I think the players will benefit from the physical exertion because the Mount St. Mary’s game [in the first round] for them, for the starters, was a walk in the park, and this game on Sunday was taxing to them physically, which will really help them break through their fatigue this week and get ready for what should be a great semifinal game. I think they’ll really move forward off of that game."
Q: Some are already labeling the national semifinal between Virginia and No. 5 seed Duke as the championship final. How unfair is that to Cornell and Notre Dame?
QK: "I absolutely refuse to go there. The last time I checked, Notre Dame beat Duke during the regular season. We’ve seen what Cornell can do in the NCAA playoffs. Duke-Virginia is going to be more of a high-scoring, athletic contest. Notre Dame-Cornell will be a defensive struggle. On one day of rest, anything goes. I think it’s totally unfair. There’s a good chance that Virginia and Duke knock each other around a little. That’s what happened with Johns Hopkins when they won the title in 2007. They had the easier semifinal with Delaware, and that’s why they were able to beat Duke, who was taken to the limit by Cornell in the other semi. Hopkins jumped on them in the first half. So you really have to hold off on any championship predictions until the smoke is cleared on Saturday night."
Q: How surprised were you by Dave Cottle and Maryland parting ways?
QK: "I know Dave well, so I know that he and [Towson coach] Tony Seaman were in the same situation and working without a contract for next year. It seems ironic that Dave makes the playoffs and plays a game and Tony doesn’t, but it’s Tony who gets the extension and not Dave. So it’s just maybe a new era for college lacrosse where coaches at certain programs are being told to make it to championship weekend and bring home trophies or you’re not going to coach here. It’s a shame because if you put up his nine-year resume, other than a playoff here and there, it’s an extremely strong resume that he’s built over the last nine years in terms of games won in the toughest conference in America and playing a great schedule against Navy and Hopkins. I think [senior goalkeeper] Brian Phipps said it best in Patrick Stevens’ blog [d1scourse.typepad.com]. Dave has changed in the last two years for the better in terms of being a players’ coach, and I know that he really loved this group. He had a connection with this group that I hadn’t seen there before. So it is a shame that he can’t stay with this group."
Q: How deep is the pool of candidates to replace Cottle?
QK: "I have about 10 people that I would want to interview if I were [athletic director] Debbie Yow."
Q: Is there any coach who tops that list?
QK: "No, I’d like to talk to them first."
Q: Will this be an easy search for Maryland?
QK: "I think Maryland’s the fourth- or fifth-best coaching job in America. So I think they’ll be able to attract strong candidates."