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Friday, June 14, 2024
The Observer

13, 14, 50, 20240225, Arlottta Stadium, Chris Kavanagh, Georgetown, Jake Taylor, Jordan Faison, Meghan Lange, Men's Lacrosse.jpg

Irish look to finish incredible season with second straight title

Notre Dame men’s lacrosse follows up first national championship with 12-1 season and ACC title, looks ahead to NCAA quarterfinal matchup with Georgetown

The excitement surrounding the Notre Dame men’s lacrosse team following its first national championship in program history was at an all-time high during the offseason. With the return of graduate student superstars Pat Kavanagh in attack and Liam Entenmann in goal, among several other key pieces on both sides of the ball, the Irish looked to be the clear favorites to repeat as champions. Their spot at No. 1 in the nation heading into the 2024 season cemented them as the team to beat in men’s college lacrosse. Going into his 36th season at the helm, head coach Kevin Corrigan’s expectations were unsurprisingly unchanged.

“Every year, we feel like we want to get to the point where we can compete for a championship,” Corrigan said. ”That doesn’t change that much either, whether we get there or not, that’s the expectation and the way we try to prepare.”

However, after routine victories over Cleveland State and Marquette to open up the season, Notre Dame slipped up at home against Georgetown, losing 11-10 in overtime and dropping the No. 1 spot almost as soon as getting it. The game served as an important wake-up call for Corrigan’s team. 

“I think all of us — coaches and players and everybody in that loss — recognized that we just had not played or maybe even practiced up until then with the sense of urgency that you have to have … that was a good lesson for all of us, and understanding that we’re gonna get everybody’s best shot right now, and we’ve gotta be ready for that,” Corrigan recalled.

The loss proved to be an early turning point in the season, and one that this Notre Dame team looks back on as a valuable moment. Since the loss, the Irish have not dropped a game, putting together an 11-game win streak with victories over the best opponents in the country. They quickly reclaimed their No. 1 spot in the national rankings only weeks later, responding with a marquee win over Maryland and a pair of wins over Big Ten opponents Ohio State and Michigan. They followed that up with two challenging ACC tests against Syracuse and Duke, earning competitive 14-12 and 15-12 victories, respectively. One week later, they got a gut-check win against a strong Cornell team. Despite conceding the most goals they had all season, they pulled out an 18-17 victory after a game-winner in the dying seconds from junior midfielder Ben Ramsey.

After overcoming that midseason obstacle, Notre Dame put together its most dominant stretch of the season, with several wins that sent a message to the lacrosse world. After thrashing North Carolina 14-6 at home, the Irish took two in a row over Virginia, the second of which was an 18-9 demolition in the ACC Tournament semifinal. In the final, they handled Duke in a similar fashion, winning 16-6 to take home the ACC title. Despite playing fewer games than most teams in the country, the Irish prided themselves on facing the best of the best, both in the nation’s most competitive conference with teams like Virginia, Duke and Syracuse and through elite non-conference opponents like Maryland and Cornell. Corrigan explained the motivation behind this unique scheduling philosophy and how it prepares his team for the games that matter most.

“We want our guys to have the absolute best experience that they can have, and in my mind, that’s playing big games against great teams … we want to know that when we get to the end of the year, we want to be prepared to play anybody that we might have to face in the NCAA Tournament,” Corrigan said. ”And the more good teams we play during the year, the more prepared we are. We’ve been exposed in the things we don’t do well, we’ve also learned about the things we do well and can do against everyone.”

Many have called Notre Dame the most well-rounded team in the country. From top to bottom, the Irish have shown no holes on the field. In attack, the Kavanagh brothers and graduate student attacker Jake Taylor have terrorized defenses all season. Pat Kavanagh leads the team with 65 points and is a finalist for the Tewaaraton Award, which is given to the best player in college lacrosse. His brother, junior Chris, is right behind with 64 points of his own. The two have set up Taylor all season, who leads the team with 38 goals. The trio of attackers has led the highest-scoring offense in the nation, averaging 15.86 goals per game.

The attack has gotten massive contributions in the midfield from graduate student Devon McLane, senior Eric Dobson and freshman Jordan Faison. McLane, who transferred over from Brown, is the midfield’s leading point-getter with 39. Dobson, who was recently selected 12th overall in the PLL Draft, has contributed 26 points. The two sport-sensation Faison has provided 27.

The story of Notre Dame’s dominant defense, especially down the stretch, is undoubtedly the play of Entenmann. Also a Tewaaraton Award finalist, the graduate student goalie has spearheaded the fourth-best scoring defense in the country, allowing 9.32 goals per game with a .555 save percentage. In front of him, sophomore long-stick midfielder Will Donovan and Ramsey have been outstanding all season, as has graduate student defenseman Chris Conlin, the defensive stopper for the Irish. Ramsey (first-team), Donovan (second-team) and Conlin (honorable mention) joined Entenmann (first-team) and Kavanagh (first-team) on the USA Lacrosse All-American list. Junior faceoff specialist Will Lynch also received an honorable mention, going 157-for-259 on faceoffs for the year. 

Heading into the postseason, Corrigan emphasized the importance of looking at the team and honestly evaluating what needs to be done.

“It’s challenging sometimes when you are having success to really look at yourself and see with clarity where your weaknesses are … but it’s also critically important,” he said.

After a slow start, the Irish cruised to a 14-9 first-round win in the NCAA Tournament and now look ahead to a rematch with Georgetown, the only team to beat them all season. The game offers a poetic opportunity to rewrite the wrongs of their only loss and continue the run toward back-to-back titles. To do this, the Irish will need to play better than in the first round but will know exactly what it takes to do that.