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Friday, April 19, 2024
The Observer

55, 20240218, Butler, Kelly Denes, Loftus Sports Center, Meghan Lange, Women's Lacrosse-2 copy.jpg

Lacrosse takes center stage in South Bend as Syracuse, Georgetown visit

Both firmly among the nation's best, the Irish lacrosse teams face tests

Two weeks into the 2024 season, Notre Dame lacrosse appears to have hit a golden age. The men’s team, coming off its first national championship, remains the top-ranked squad in America. In the meantime, the Irish women soared from No. 8 to No. 2 in the rankings after downing seemingly untouchable Northwestern. At this point, Notre Dame shines as the only school with two lacrosse teams ranked within the nation’s top four.

But that leaves a plethora of programs hungry to displace them, including two that will visit South Bend this weekend. The Notre Dame women (4-0) will take on No. 7 Syracuse (1-2) in the ACC opener Saturday. Then, the Irish men (2-0) will play host to No. 19 Georgetown (2-1) on Sunday.

Irish women enter conference play with battle-tested Orange

Among its four games to open the year, only one has truly taken a lot out of Notre Dame. That game, of course, was Northwestern. In their other three wins, the Irish outscored their opposition 68-12.

Syracuse, on the other hand, has dug deep in all three games. The Orange opened the campaign in Evanston, falling 18-15 to the defending champion Wildcats. They then came home to top No. 18 Army (18-7) before falling 9-8 to No. 9 Maryland in overtime. With the inclusion of Saturday’s game, Syracuse will have opened the season with four consecutive ranked matchups.

The Maryland game, played before 2,097 fans, never featured a lead larger than two. Syracuse drew even with the Terrapins in nearly every statistical category, with Maryland scoring the winner 2:13 into the post-regulation period. 

Following an 18-3 season and Final Four appearance in 2023, Syracuse occupied the second position in the ACC Preseason Poll. For reference, the conference’s head coaches voted Notre Dame into fourth place. The Orange have enjoyed four consecutive top-two ACC finishes, going 8-1 in league play last season. That included a 15-7 victory over the Irish, which Syracuse has defeated in five straight matchups.

Syracuse enters the weekend with two nine-goal scorers, Olivia Adamson and Natalie Smith. Katie Goodale, the team’s defensive anchor, leads the Orange with 10 ground balls and seven caused turnovers.

Saturday’s game begins a stretch of six consecutive ranked matchups on the Notre Dame side. The Irish come in off a 25-3 blowout of Butler in which they bolstered their national lead in shots per game (41.5).

As expected, Notre Dame’s graduate student trio of midfielder Kasey Choma and attackers Madison Ahern and Jackie Wolak has exploded out of the gate. The three have combined for 33 goals and 15 assists, with Wolak recently taking home the ACC Offensive Player of the Week award. Her four goals — including the game-winner — against Northwestern have her at 13 on the year, a team-high.

Joining Wolak, Keelin Schlageter earned ACC Defensive Player of the Week honors Tuesday. During the two-game weekend, she compiled five caused turnovers, three ground balls and two goals. The senior midfielder and defender now leads the Irish with nine caused turnovers.

Notre Dame and Syracuse promise to match up well in two key areas: draw control and goaltending. The Irish thrive in the draw, ranking fifth in the nation 68.8 control percentage. As their primary specialist, senior Kelly Denes ranks 17th in the country with 7.25 draw controls per game.

Meanwhile, what Syracuse lacks in quality (48.2 draw control percentage), it more than makes up for in quantity. Katelyn Mashewske, a graduate student, entered this season second in program history with 343 career draw controls, 104 more than Denes. However, Maryland limited Mashewske to just one control Saturday, leading Smith to step up with five.

The two ACC foes also set up an intriguing matchup in the cage. Notre Dame’s Lilly Callahan ranks 30th in the country with a .483 save percentage, while Syracuse’s Delaney Sweitzer slots in at 42nd with a .452. Sweitzer finished as last season’s IWLCA and ACC Goalkeeper of the Year, ranking inside the national top 10 for saves, save percentage and ground balls.

Notre Dame men eye repeat performance against Georgetown

Last season, Notre Dame and Georgetown met on the final Saturday of February, ranking similarly to this year. The No. 2 Irish topped the No. 15 Hoyas in Washington, improving to 3-0 in what would become a banner season. Now, Notre Dame looks to reproduce that outcome in a Sunday matinee with Georgetown.

The top-ranked Irish come off a 21-8 Sunday win at Marquette in which they made history. Including a 25-3, season-opening victory over Cleveland State, the 2024 Irish became the first team in program history with 20 goals in back-to-back games. 

Sunday’s game in Milwaukee opened with fairly even play through one quarter. But Notre Dame soon zoomed away from the Golden Eagles, outscoring them 17-5 over the remaining 45 minutes. Attackers junior Chris Kavanagh and graduate student Jake Taylor each scored four times, while graduate attacker Pat Kavanagh delivered five assists. Junior face-off specialist and midfielder Will Lynch contributed heavily as well, going 9-for-13 on face-offs and scooping seven ground balls.

After winning the Big East a season ago, Georgetown is off to a slow start in 2024. The Hoyas dropped their first two games against Loyola (18-10) and Johns Hopkins (11-9) before winning 12-9 at Penn on Saturday.

In the most recent victory, Georgetown owned the opening quarter, racing out to a 5-0 lead on a 6-for-6 face-off performance. James Ball, who ranks 13th nationally with a 64.3% face-off win rate, went 17-for-23 overall. Meanwhile, TJ Haley moved in the nation’s top 10 for assists with a five-helper performance.

Ball’s effort earned him a spot on the Big East Weekly Honor Roll, while two other Hoyas joined him with conference accolades. Graham Bundy Jr. became Offensive Player of the Week with four goals and two assists against Penn. Goaltender Anderson Moore claimed Freshman of the Week with his first collegiate win. In the Loyola game, he made 12 saves and collected three ground balls.

Syracuse and Notre Dame will play in the women’s Irish Wear Green game Saturday at 12 p.m. on ACC Network Extra. Georgetown and the Irish will then meet on the men’s side Sunday at 2 p.m., with ESPNU carrying the game.

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