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Friday, April 19, 2024
The Observer

Irish look to stay unbeaten in top-five matchup with Maryland

The Notre Dame men’s lacrosse season could not have gotten off to much better of a start. The No. 2 Irish sit at 3-0 and have won each game by at least seven goals, including a dominant road victory against No. 15 Georgetown last weekend. But the team will have their toughest test to date on Saturday when they face No. 4 Maryland.

The Terrapins have established themselves as the premier men’s lacrosse program in the nation over the last several years. In each of the last two seasons, they reached the national championship game with an undefeated record, losing to Virginia in the 2021 final before claiming the NCAA title last year. That marked their second national championship since 2017 and their seventh appearance in the title game since 2011.

In addition to its success on the national stage, Maryland has been a foil for Notre Dame in recent years. The Irish won four consecutive games in the series between 2014 and 2017. But the Terrapins have been victorious in four of the five matchups since then, most notably ending Notre Dame’s 2021 season in the NCAA quarterfinals. The teams’ most recent meeting came in South Bend in March 2022. Maryland won 75% of the game’s face-offs en route to a hard-fought 11-9 victory.

While Notre Dame’s roster looks largely the same as it did last year, the Irish are a much-improved team and appear ready to flip the script in College Park on Saturday.

That loss to Maryland came as part of a difficult stretch that saw Notre Dame suffer four losses in five games. Since then, the Irish have won nine straight — the longest active streak in the country — and have opened the 2023 season playing as well as anyone. Much of their early success has come on the offensive end. Notre Dame ranks second in the nation with 18 goals per game. Their high-octane attack has led to each of their three wins being decided in blowout fashion. The Irish are tied for the best scoring margin in the country with an average differential of nearly 10 goals.

As reigning national champions, Maryland entered the year ranked second nationally and seemed ready to meet those expectations after a season-opening 15-4 win against No. 19 Richmond. That was followed by a shocking road defeat against unranked Loyola, the team’s first regular-season loss in more than three years. Maryland has since bounced back, beating No. 16 Syracuse and taking down No. 4 Princeton on the road last Saturday. Meanwhile, Loyola has risen to No. 7 in the country, making that defeat look much more palatable.

Saturday’s game will feature contrasting styles of play. Maryland’s offense has not been as effective as Notre Dame’s. But they have an elite defense that has held four high-caliber opponents to just over eight goals per game. The few instances of the Irish struggling this season have come when they lost control of the game’s tempo. For example, that is what caused a 4-0 run in the second quarter of their opener against Marquette. Maryland will look to take Notre Dame out of its comfort zone by slowing the pace and limiting the Irish’s shot attempts. Notre Dame will attempt to continue its aggressive, attacking play that has been highly effective thus far in the season.

The Irish’s biggest obstacle will be overcoming Maryland’s face-off advantage. Face-offs were a key factor in the Terrapins’ win in last year’s matchup. And they once again feature one of the nation’s best specialists in Luke Wierman. Notre Dame has won less than half of its face-offs this year. So far, they have been able to make up for that deficiency through strong play on both ends of the field. This will be more difficult against a team as good as Maryland, and the Irish will need a standout performance from sophomore face-off specialist Will Lynch.

Notre Dame is headlined by senior Pat Kavanagh and sophomore Chris Kavanagh, two of the nation’s most prolific play-making attackers. But their talent and depth will make them a challenge for Maryland to match up with. In the midfield, junior Eric Dobson and senior Reilly Gray each recorded hat tricks against Georgetown. Defensively, graduate student (and Yale transfer) Chris Fake was named to USILA Team of the Week just three games into his Notre Dame career. And in the net, senior Liam Entenmann enters the game coming off an outstanding performance, having recorded 10 saves while allowing just six goals against Georgetown.

Notre Dame earned a crucial road win last weekend. They will have to be at their best to do the same in this top-five showdown.

The Irish will attempt to improve to 4-0 as they play on the road against Maryland on Saturday at 1 p.m.