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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
The Observer

Third time’s the charm: Irish topple Virginia, advance to national championship game

Notre Dame sophomore midfielder faceoff specialist and midfielder Will Lynch (left) battles for possession in a game against Virginia on March 25, 2023 at Arlotta Stadium.
Notre Dame sophomore midfielder faceoff specialist Will Lynch (left) battles for possession in a game against Virginia on March 25 at Arlotta Stadium.

The Notre Dame men’s lacrosse team defeated Virginia on Saturday in a 13-12 overtime victory that punched their first ticket to a national championship game since 2014.

The victory came after the Irish appeared almost unbeatable throughout their 10-win regular season. The Irish handed nine opponents their largest loss of the year, won all but one of their games by at least five goals and looked every bit like a team ready to break through and win the program’s first national championship.

That is, other than when they played Virginia.

On March 25, The Irish played the Cavaliers at home, dropping 15-10. On April 30, They played them on the road and lost again, falling 12-8. And through more than 57 minutes of their NCAA semifinal matchup at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field, Virginia held a seemingly insurmountable 11-9 advantage and appeared to have Notre Dame’s number once more.

But a veteran squad fueled by the disappointment of being left out of last year’s tournament field simply would not let that happen. After having scored just three goals in the first 27 minutes of the second half, the Irish stunningly exploded for three in the next three minutes as they shocked the Cavaliers with their victory.

The comeback began when Notre Dame called timeout with 2:52 remaining in the game. Irish senior goalie Liam Entenmann had just made a crucial save to keep his team within reach. Trailing by two, Notre Dame badly needed a goal, and the Irish kept their focus on that singular push, rather than the huge stakes at hand.

“We weren’t talking about big schemes and goal differentials or anything else. We were talking about making the next play,” Irish head coach Kevin Corrigan said after the game. “We were completely focused on the moment in the game, and what came next.”

Less than 15 seconds later, Virginia’s lead was cut in half. Junior midfielder Eric Dobson found sophomore attacker Chris Kavanagh just outside of the crease. Kavanagh, Notre Dame’s leading scorer, found the back of the net for his first goal of the day.

Corrigan praised Dobson’s playmaking ability, noting it as an aspect of his game that gets overshadowed by his elite shooting.

“We told him this weekend, we said, ‘you’re underrated as a passer.’” Corrigan said about Dobson. “I think he proved that at the end with that feed.”

Notre Dame relied on his scoring ability just as heavily. Dobson scored a team-high four goals against Virginia, none more important than the game-tying shot he put past Virginia’s goalie just seconds after his assist to Kavanagh.

Just like that, Virginia’s two-goal lead was erased, but they were not finished yet. In the final minute, Cavalier attacker Connor Shellenberger found midfielder Thomas McConvey for a score that put them ahead again, this time 12-11.

Desperate for a last-second goal to force overtime, Notre Dame got a much-needed faceoff victory from sophomore faceoff specialist Will Lynch before using another timeout with 42 seconds remaining.

Same as before, they wasted little time after the timeout before striking. Graduate student midfielder Brian Tevlin threw a pass across the middle of the field to senior attacker Jake Taylor, who made a nifty spin move before scoring the game-tying goal.

“It surprises me every time even though he does that kind of stuff every day,” Dobson said about Taylor’s ability to convert shots with a high degree of difficulty. “He’s just a different type of player. He’s a guy that has some of the nicest, craziest hands I’ve ever seen, and he trusts himself.”

With the game tied, Notre Dame won the faceoff and controlled possession until the clock ran out, sending the game into overtime, where the next goal would determine the winner. In sudden death situations, possession is more crucial than ever. The Irish won another faceoff to start overtime, part of a stretch that saw them win six of the game’s final nine.

“In a game when you’re down, possession is everything,” Corrigan said. “Our guys just made plays when we needed them to make plays today. Couldn’t be more proud of [junior faceoff specialist] Colin Hagstrom and Will Lynch.”

Needing just one big play to win the game, the Irish turned to Tevlin, a player with experience on a similar stage, having been part of a national championship team at Yale.

“Those are the situations you want to be in as a player. You dream about that. You don’t dream about counting down ‘three, two, one,’ and hitting one to go up 12, you dream about ‘three, two, one,’ and hitting one to send your team to the national championship,” Tevlin said. “I think that we have a lot of guys on this team who have dreamt that and who have thought about that all year.”

Coming off of a timeout, Tevlin calmly worked his way past the Cavalier defense and scored the goal that sent the Irish into celebration.

“[I] really appreciate the trust that my coaches have in me to put the ball in my stick at the end of the game,” Tevlin said about the last play. “Really proud of our guys for how calm we were and how much belief we had in ourselves.”

With the victory, Notre Dame will have the chance to win the program’s first national championship Monday. The Irish will face Duke, an opponent that they have already defeated this season.

“Duke, we played them earlier in the year. They’re an outstanding team,” Corrigan said. “I think it’s going to be a great matchup of two teams that know each other well.”

Having extended their season for two more days, the Irish are confident in their ability to finish as national champions and ready to play one more game with a group that Corrigan describes as the one he’s enjoyed coaching the most in his illustrious career.

“As for Monday, we’re just excited for it,” Tevlin said. “Excited to have another practice tomorrow, excited to have another game. It’s a long season, and another opportunity to play with your brothers is obviously all you could ask for.”