“It was great to get all the way there and it was something that that not just our team celebrated but I think the last 35 years of Notre Dame lacrosse, the last 45 years of Notre Dame lacrosse, we're celebrating together. So that was terrific.”
Those were the words from Notre Dame men's lacrosse coach Kevin Corrigan when asked to reflect on an offseason defined by a championship glow. After many great teams before them fell just short, the Irish went all the way in 2023, capturing the team's first national championship. The Irish were a top dog all season, a team with one of the best rosters in the nation who stepped up in the biggest of moments, winning their semi-final game in overtime and surviving a comeback scare in the final.
What the Irish did last season does and doesn't matter as they get set to begin their championship defense, starting Wednesday night against Cleveland State. Perhaps the only thing harder than winning a title is coming back and winning it again. The Irish were plenty banged-up by the time they threw their sticks in delight after the trophy-winning 13-9 victory over Duke on May 29. They'll have a target on their backs in the eyes of the rest of the college lacrosse. And the hangover that can come from winning it all can linger as well.
“There's some part of human nature that wants to be satisfied and content with that and there's some part that wants to use that and say, ‘This was great. Let's get back there,’” Corrigan said. “And I think you just got to kind of acknowledge both of those things and, and try to keep focus and everybody on let's see, let's just get back and do the job ... you don't you don't start on second base, you know, because you won the championship last year.”
But the experience is nice to have, especially considering how much of it will still be around in South Bend this season. Each of Notre Dame's four leading scorers from last season are back. So is starting goaltender graduate student Liam Entenmann, one of the country's top net-minders. With the Cavanaugh brothers Chris and Pat back to lead the attack, the Irish are as formidable as ever.
“I think they understand the challenge of, you know, getting them in their teammates, you know, to where we need to be. And so I think they've been I think our preseason has been very good that way,” said Corrigan.
Still, it is a new roster, with new faces to the program and familiar ones who could step into bigger roles. Junior midfielder Jalen Seymour and sophomore midfielder Max Busenkell were mentioned by Corrigan as returning faces who could help fill the void from some of the players the Irish did lose. Their significance is also amplified by the importance of the team shaping its midfield, a major focus for Corrigan during the three-game exhibition season.
“You don't want your midfield groups to be the sum of its parts. You want it to be more than that, right? And so you have to find those guys that do things, you know, with the ball that do things off ball that make the people around them better, right to bring out the best qualities of the people they're playing with,” Corrigan said.
However, there are a lot of new players with the Notre Dame lacrosse program. The Irish have nine freshmen this year and the importance of developing young players is paramount for every club. That's how teams stay on top. Some of them won't have to wait very long to get into the spotlight.
“As, freshmen part of their job is just to keep getting better every day,” Corrigan said. “And part of their job is to see where they you know, where they have a chance to compete. For playing time and then ... to get in and play their role.”
The Irish specifically mentioned four-star recruits Andrew Greenspan (face-off) and Shawn Lyght (defense) as some of the contenders to have immediate playing time. Lyght is the cousin of former Irish football cornerback Todd Lyght, but isn't even close to the most pertinent connection the Notre Dame lacrosse and football teams have. For starters, freshman midfielder Jordan Faison was a surprise contributor at wide receiver in the fall, and Corrigan also mentioned him as someone pushing to get on the field.
And of course, there's one of the most covered lacrosse transfers in the country, former Irish and Alabama starting quarterback Tyler Buchner. Before his days calling signals for top-10 football teams, Buchner was a highly sought after lacrosse recruit, committing to play the sport for Michigan several years ago. There's naturally some rust to shake of since he hasn't played the sport competitively since high school. But his natural talent is still there.
“He's working really hard every day. He's got a great attitude. He's been a great teammate, you know, so there's I can't think of anything to ask of him that he's not doing right now,” Corrigan said. “And I, you know, I'll be surprised if at some point he's not playing for us because he's got some abilities. He's got great athletic abilities that the poise and athletic confidence.”
Figuring out the future for the Irish is vital. Of those four returning leading scorers, two are graduated students and one is a senior. Next year there will even more turnover. That amplifies the excitement surrounding this season. The Irish have already broken through. Now they look to build on momentum and create another season for everyone who has been a part of the history of Notre Dame men's lacrosse to celebrate.