SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame has reason to feel like an outsider at the NCAA lacrosse semifinals in Baltimore this weekend.
Not only are the Fighting Irish the only unseeded team left, they also are just the second squad ever from outside the East to advance this far since the NCAA began holding championships in 1971. The other was Notre Dame in 2001.
Midfielder Grant Krebs said the Irish (9-6) know they are lucky to still be playing after losing four of their last six regular-season games and barely qualifying for a tournament berth. But he said they don't feel like party crashers.
"We think we're one of the top teams in the country. As a program, it's what we expect," he said.
But teams from outside the East aren't expected to make the Final Four. The odds are stacked against them. Only six of the 60 Division I schools that play lacrosse are from outside the East. The others are Air Force, Detroit, Denver, Ohio State and Bellarmine in Kentucky.
Cornell coach Jeff Tambroni said it's good for the sport of lacrosse that Notre Dame is in the semifinals.
"I think it's symbolic of our game right now," Tambroni said. "I think there's significant growth at the youth level and its continued into the high school and I'm hoping into the college level over time. I think this will only help that expansion through the Midwest and West and keep people excited."
Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan said the Irish should feel like they belong.
"We've been in and out of the top 10 for most of the past 15 years," he said.
Notre Dame was expected to have a shot at a semifinal berth last season after finishing the regular season 15-0, best in school history. But the seventh-seeded Irish were upset by Maryland 7-3 in the first round.
This season, the Irish turned the tables, upsetting the third-seeded Terrapins 7-5 in the quarterfinals after beating sixth-seeded Princeton 8-5. Next up is seventh-seeded Cornell (12-5) on Saturday. The winner plays either top-seeded Virginia (16-1) or fifth-seeded Duke (14-4) in the championship game on Monday.
Irish players say the difference this season is they are playing looser.
"Last year we were kind of pressured after going 15-0 and we lost our focus," goalie Scott Rogers said. "This year we have no stress. We just played every game like we had nothing to lose. I think that's a huge part of where we are now."
Corrigan said he can't think now about what beating Cornell and making it to the championship game would mean for the Notre Dame program.
"If we win one more and then lose, we'll be crushed," he said. "The goal right now is the national championship."