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Sunday, May 26, 2024
The Observer

Irish fall to No. 3 Virginia in battle of top-ranked teams

On Saturday afternoon, No. 1 Notre Dame men’s lacrosse hosted No. 3 Virginia in one of the most highly-anticipated matchups of the year. While the Irish matched the Cavaliers step for step through most of the game, a decisive second-half run carried Virginia (7-1, 1-0 ACC) to a 15-10 win and handed Notre Dame (6-1, 0-1 ACC) their first defeat of the season.

Despite dismal weather conditions that included temperatures in the 30s, heavy winds and intermittent snow, the atmosphere was electric for a duel between two of the nation’s best teams. Arlotta Stadium was filled to the brim and then some. Over 3,000 fans packed the bleachers and stood in any open space they could find.

“It was great, it would have been even better if we’d had a beautiful day for it,” Notre Dame head coach Kevin Corrigan said after the game about the crowd. “But it was a terrific atmosphere.”

Like they had done in five of their first six games, Notre Dame struck first when sophomore attacker Chris Kavanagh tallied his 22nd goal of the season. But unlike those earlier games, that score was not the start of the Irish building a big early lead, but rather a prelude to Virginia doing so.

The Cavaliers feature a pair of star attackers, Connor Shellenberger and Xander Dickson, who were both on top of their game Saturday. Shellenberger wasted no time answering Kavanagh’s goal with one of his own. Virginia put on a clinic during the rest of the quarter, scoring four more times while stymying the normally-potent Irish attack. The last came from Dickson off a Shellenberger feed and put Virginia firmly in the driver’s seat, leading 5-1 after the first.

Following nearly 18 scoreless minutes, Notre Dame finally ended their drought early in the second quarter. Graduate student LSM Jose Boyer gained possession after a Virginia turnover and went coast to coast to score his first goal of the season. The Irish would score again soon after but were held at bay by quick Cavalier answers that pushed the score to 7-3.

The final minutes of the half were tense, with Notre Dame working hard to make the halftime deficit more manageable. With under two minutes to play, senior attacker Pat Kavanagh scored to trim the Cavalier lead back down to three. And senior attacker Jake Taylor followed that up with a critical goal in the final seconds. Taylor’s score made the contest a 7-5 game and gave the Irish some momentum for the second half.

Adding to that momentum was the arrival of the Notre Dame football team at halftime. After finishing their practice, the team walked to Arlotta Stadium and watched the game from the grass berm.

It might seem unrealistic that anything that went on in the crowd could have a tangible impact on the game, but the energy brought by the football team’s appearance (and enthusiasm) seemed to provide Notre Dame with a jolt of energy. Chris Kavanagh scored a leaping goal just over a minute into the third quarter. Soon after, Pat Kavanagh’s long-range score knotted the game at 7-7 and sent a jubilant crowd into celebration.

In addition to the Kavanagh brothers’s shot-making, the Irish’s ability to create possessions was critical in their 4-0 run. Virginia won six out of seven first-quarter faceoffs. Over the final three periods, each team won 11.

“We got the ball some,” Corrigan said about the Irish’s comeback. “Their faceoff guy did a good job early, I thought [junior Colin Hagstrom and sophomore Will Lynch] did a nice job [later]. Our faceoff guys and our wings battled and got some possessions back.”

A tie game in the second half was a scenario that Notre Dame was comfortable with. Unfortunately for the Irish, it was all Cavaliers the rest of the way.

“We had everything we wanted. Five minutes gone in the second half, we’re right where we wanted to be in the game. We’re right where we wanted to be with the score,” Corrigan said. “We just got outplayed from that point forward.”

Trying to gain separation from the nation’s top team, Virginia turned to its bread and butter. The combination of Shellenberger and Dickson proved nearly impossible for the Irish to stop. Even after snow began to fall midway through the quarter, Shellenberger’s play-making ability allowed him to keep setting up easy looks for open teammates. Dickson wasted no opportunity to find the back of the net.

Notre Dame senior goalie Liam Entenmann recorded 11 saves on the day, several of which had a high degree of difficulty. But even he could not withstand the onslaught of Cavalier shots from right on his doorstep. By the end of the third, Dickson had scored four times in the quarter. Three of those goals were assisted by Shellenberger, and Virginia led 13-9.

The Irish would keep battling in the fourth but were plagued by unforced miscues and unable to draw any closer. Corrigan noted that pregame emphasis had been placed on limiting mistakes and capitalizing on opportunities. Virginia’s NCAA-leading offense was sure to create scoring chances for themselves. Giving them even more kept the Irish from getting back into the game.

“We had chances that we didn’t convert and they had some that they did, but also some that we gave them,” Corrigan said. “We came into the game saying that we have to keep them from getting the sloppy, easy goals and I think they got about three of them. Those three make a big difference, and then we honestly just didn’t shoot the ball very well today.”

Virginia stretched the margin to six before ultimately closing out a 15-10 victory. Pat Kavanagh led the Irish with two goals and two assists. Chris Kavanagh and Taylor each chipped in a pair of goals as well. Shellenberger and Dickson finished with seven points apiece for the Cavaliers.

With the defeat, Notre Dame saw its 12-game winning streak snap. The Irish will now face its first taste of adversity this season. They will focus on putting the loss in the rearview mirror, knowing it does nothing to change their postseason goals.

“Whether we won this game or lost this game, Monday comes, we go back to work. Go back to the process of what we do every week to prepare for the next game. We can’t go back and relitigate this one,” Corrigan said. “This one’s over, and we’ll learn from it and get ready for next week.”

Next week will bring a road trip to Syracuse, where the Irish will hope to return to their winning ways and grab their first ACC victory of the season. But bigger picture in mind, it will be their first chance to build on Saturday’s defeat and prepare to challenge Virginia later in the season, during the April rematch in Charlottesville and potentially further down the line in the NCAA Tournament.