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Wednesday, May 29, 2024
The Observer

4, 20240303, Arlottta Stadium, Colin Hagstrom, Meghan Lange, Men's Lacrosse, University of Maryland.jpg

Irish prepare for ACC semifinal rematch with No. 4 seed Virginia

After winning its first national title in program history, the Notre Dame men’s lacrosse team continued to assert itself as the premier program in the country throughout the 2024 regular season. The Irish came into the season ranked No. 1 and finished the regular season in the same position, only ceding it briefly after an early-season slip-up against Georgetown, a loss they have since followed with an eight-game winning streak.

Following the conclusion of the regular season, Irish players were honored with numerous individual awards. Graduate attacker Pat Kavanagh earned ACC Offensive Player of the Year after leading his team with 53 points on 19 goals and a team-high 34 assists. Kavanagh would be many people’s pick for the Tewaaraton Award, which is given to the best player in college lacrosse. On the other side of the ball, graduate goalkeeper Liam Entenmann took home both the ACC Defensive Player of the Year and Goalie of the Year Award. Rounding out the major awards, in his 36th season as head coach, Kevin Corrigan was given his first ever ACC Coach of the Year award, adding another incredible resume point to his historic tenure at Notre Dame.

The Irish boasted the most All-ACC selections with seven players taking home honors. On top of Pat Kavanaugh and Entenmann, junior attacker Chris Kavanagh, senior midfielder Eric Dobson, sophomore long-stick midfielder Will Donovan, junior faceoff specialist Will Lynch and short-stick defensive midfielder Ben Ramsey all found a spot on the team. Notre Dame’s wealth of talent across the entire field has powered it to its second unbeaten season in the ACC, going 4-0 to earn the No. 1 seed in the upcoming tournament.   

The Irish have had to earn their 10-1 record. Throughout their impressive winning streak, Notre Dame has taken down some of the best competition in the country, but arguably none better than No. 5-ranked Virginia. After leaving Charlottesville with a win last Saturday, Notre Dame now has to gear up for a rematch only six days later in the conference tournament semifinal. The previous two games between these perennial ACC powerhouses have been instant classics, with the Irish avenging two regular-season losses in 2023 with a thrilling comeback win in the NCAA Tournament semifinal last season and most recently finishing off the regular season with a gutsy, 11-9 victory.

Notre Dame's defense shined in the most recent win, especially down the stretch, as the Irish held the Virginia offense to only one goal in the fourth quarter. While the offense did not deliver its usual output, it came through at a vital time from a somewhat unlikely source. It wasn’t the Kavanaghs or leading scorer and graduate attacker Jake Taylor, but rather graduate midfielder Devon McLane who scored two decisive goals, one to tie the game early in the fourth and another to seal it later on. After suffering another heartbreaker, the Cavaliers enter this game hungry for revenge, hoping to spoil Notre Dame’s high postseason hopes.

Virginia enters the game with a lot on the line beyond just its aspiration to win the ACC Tournament. While the Cavaliers will have a spot in the NCAA Tournament undoubtedly, there remains a question of whether or not a top-eight seed will be available, and with it, the opportunity to host a first-round matchup. A win on Friday would likely put the question to bed. Virginia had control for most of the game in Charlottesville, but after losing five of five draws in the fourth quarter and being held to only one goal, it squandered the lead and fell to the Irish.

The offense was particularly disappointing considering how prolific it has been all season, averaging 14.64 goals per game, which ranks seventh in the nation. Virginia's atypically low output against Notre Dame ended up costing it massively. All-ACC selection Payton Cormier was a bright spot for the Cavaliers, however, scoring four of their nine goals. Cormier, who is on the verge of becoming the most productive goal-scorer in ACC history, has led the team with an astounding 52-goal tally for the season. He will need more help from Connor Shellenberger, whom the Irish held to one goal and two assists on Saturday. The Tewaaraton Award candidate and All-ACC selection paces the offense with a team-high 69 points on 26 goals and 43 assists.

Virginia will need the best from its two stars to crack Notre Dame’s defense and pull off the upset. That said, it can feel confident in its defensive performance after holding the nation’s second-ranked offense to 11 goals, well below Notre Dame's 15.82 goals per game average. The loss against the Irish left Virginia's conference record at a disappointing 1-3, earning a No. 4 seed in the tournament. The Cavaliers come into Friday looking to snap a three-game losing skid and punch a ticket to the conference championship.

The matchup in Charlotte will take place on Friday, May 3 at 5:00 p.m. with ACC Network providing the broadcast.