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Friday, March 1, 2024
The Observer

Irish cruise to season-opening win against Marquette

After unexpectedly being left out of last year’s NCAA Tournament, Notre Dame men’s lacrosse entered the 2023 season with expectations of returning to the postseason and going on a deep run. On Wednesday night, the Irish defeated Marquette 21-10 in a season opener that indicated that those lofty goals are within reach for the talented and motivated squad.

Playing indoors at Notre Dame’s Loftus Sports Center due to inclement weather conditions, the Irish came out red hot in front of their home crowd. Notre Dame jumped out to a quick 5-0 advantage in the game’s opening minutes. They expanded the lead to 11-2 before a second-quarter surge from Marquette saw the Golden Eagles briefly get within striking distance. However, a strong second half from the Irish helped them seal a blowout victory.

Notre Dame’s performance in their return from a long offseason included several positives that they can build on, but for a team with national title aspirations, there is always room for improvement.

“We did some things well and we did some things not as well,” Irish head coach Kevin Corrigan said after the game. “There was a lot to work on, let’s put it that way. I just felt like we did a lot of things uncharacteristic of who we think we are and who we want to be.”

Several of those things done well came on the offensive end, where the Irish surpassed 20 goals for the first time ever against Marquette. Junior midfielder Eric Dobson got Notre Dame started by firing a laser into the back of the net less than 30 seconds after the opening faceoff. It wasn’t long before his teammates got in on the fun, as five different Irish players scored in just over five minutes of action to put Notre Dame in full control of the game. The Golden Eagles eventually got on the board, but the Irish would hold a commanding 9-2 lead after the first quarter, with Dobson, sophomore attacker Chris Kavanagh and junior attacker Bryce Walker each slotting home a pair of goals.

As the Notre Dame offense continued to roll in the early stages of the second quarter, Marquette switched from man-to-man defense to a zone. While the change didn’t catch the Irish off guard, it immediately took them out of their rhythm.

“We forced them into zone and that just kind of slowed the whole tempo of the game,” Corrigan said. “We were playing really good offensively with the man-to-man. With the zone, not as good, not as fluid, but we haven’t spent as much time on that. We prepared for it, but maybe not as well as we could have.”

After the Irish went up 12-3, Marquette’s zone would hold them scoreless for nearly nine minutes as the Golden Eagles trimmed a seemingly insurmountable deficit to a far more manageable five goals. A crucial score from Notre Dame senior midfielder Reilly Gray with just seconds remaining in the quarter helped the Irish carry some momentum into the break, but they were in need of a bounce-back third period to keep the Golden Eagles at arm’s reach.

That is exactly what they got. After a long stretch of ineffective play, the Notre Dame offense showed patience and used long, drawn-out possessions to find the holes in the zone. Kavanagh scored his third goal of the night and sophomore attacker Jeffrey Ricciardelli tallied his fourth.

Meanwhile, the Irish defense, after ceding five goals in the second, held Marquette scoreless for the entire quarter in what was a joint effort between Notre Dame’s defenders and All-American goalie, senior Liam Entenmann. The improved play on both ends of the field helped the Irish pull away on the scoreboard and regain control of the game’s pace.

“It was good to see the defense respond,” Corrigan said of the unit’s third-quarter play. “It was good to see us just kind of get back in control of the tempo of the game. We lost that for a short time there. Sometimes that happens early in the year.”

With Notre Dame holding a nine-goal advantage in hand, the fourth quarter felt ceremonial. The Irish continued to play hard and would eventually close out a double-digit victory to kick off the new season.

Kavanagh and Ricciardelli each finished with a game-high five goals, with Kavanagh adding two assists for a career-high seven points. His older brother, All-American senior attacker Pat, did not find the net himself but served as the catalyst for an explosive Irish offense, posting six assists. Beyond that trio, though, Notre Dame received positive contributions from a wide range of players, which sets the Irish coaching staff up with a good problem to have.

“We have a lot of guys who can play,” Corrigan said. “I think part of that is, whether it’s man or zone, figuring out the right combinations of guys out there to be most effective.”

Winning by a lopsided margin and still feeling not completely satisfied with the performance? That would also fall into the “good problem” category.

“It’s nice to win 21-10 and feel like you can be a lot better than that,” Corrigan said. “We can’t judge ourselves by the scoreboard, we have to judge ourselves by what our potential is. The scoreboard comes first on game day, but then you turn your thoughts to, ‘what’s the stuff we have to get better at,’ and I think we saw a lot of things today that need some fine-tuning for sure.”

The Irish will have the next several months to address that fine-tuning before Selection Sunday arrives. In the meantime, they’ll focus on continuing to improve while winning games. Their next chance to do so comes on Sunday when they play host to Cleveland State at noon. The game will be available on ACCNX.