Notre Dame men’s lacrosse has faced many challenges in this year’s conference schedule. After coasting to a 4-0 start in the non-conference schedule to open the season, the team knew what the ACC had to offer: three of the top four teams in the country, all five teams in the top eight and not an easy win in sight. Yet, the Irish have battled and found success in such a demanding league, currently holders of a 6-3 overall record, 2-3 in conference play and the No. 4 ranking in the country. While the team’s ACC record may not resemble that of a top five team in the nation, the Irish have beaten No. 2 Duke and No. 8 Syracuse and their three losses have come by a combined four goals.
This resilience is largely due to a stellar defensive unit. The Irish can do it all. Need a defensive stop? They come through with the fourth-ranked scoring defense in the country for teams having played more than seven games, only ceding 8.56 goals per game. Looking for a timely save? Sophomore Liam Entenmann will get you one, as he boasts the 11th best save percentage in the country for teams having played more than seven games. What about a ground ball to seize back momentum? Done, as the team claims the 14th best ground balls per game in the country. This grit and tenacity on the defensive end of the field has become a staple of the lacrosse program under head coach Kevin Corrigan.
While the Irish have looked strong this season, conference play did not get off to the best start, as they fell at home to Virginia 12-11. The team fell behind early, conceding the first three goals of the game and being shut out in the first quarter. The Irish roared back behind Will Yorke, who netted three of the seven Irish goals in the second quarter to carry a 7-5 lead into halftime. In addition to Yorke, who led the Irish with five goals on the day, Notre Dame also received a breakout performance from freshman Eric Dobson, who scored three of his own. However, an overall stagnant offense could only muster four goals in the second half, leading to a defeat to start the ACC schedule.
Next up for the Irish was a trip to the Carrier Dome to take on then No. 4-ranked Syracuse. Initially, this game felt eerily similar to the Virginia game, as the Irish struggled to score and trailed 5-2 after the first quarter. However, the offense came to life in the second quarter, outscoring the Orange 9-3 to take an 11-8 lead into halftime. The second half featured similar domination on both sides, as the offense continued to score and the defense shut out the Orange in the fourth quarter, and the Irish cruised to an 18-11 victory. Yorke, Pat Kavanaugh and Griffin Westlin all scored four goals in a high-flying offensive performance that was much stronger than the previous week. Additionally, Notre Dame dominated the faceoff circle, winning 23 of 32 faceoffs, as opposed to only 12 of 25 the week prior against Virginia.
Next, the Irish picked up their biggest win of the season in a home game against the top-ranked Duke Blue Devils. In this 13-8 win, Notre Dame was ready to play from the opening faceoff. Kavanaugh opened the scoring with an incredible behind-the-back goal as he was being fouled. At the end of both the first and second quarters, key saves by Entenmann stalled potential momentum for the Blue Devils. The Irish defense had to make stops early and often, as Notre Dame only won seven of 23 faceoffs. However, they were up for the challenge, only allowing eight goals against an impressive Duke offense that averages 15.5 per game. This win was especially notable for Corrigan, who passed Bob Shillinglaw for the all-time wins leader at a single school at the DI level with 311.
After a 12-day break, the Irish again faced Duke, this time in Durham. The Irish led 4-0 after the first quarter and 7-3 at halftime. Sophomore Pat Kavanaugh continued his stellar season by scoring or assisting on all seven first half goals. Notre Dame continued its success in the second half, carrying a 12-8 lead into the last five minutes. However, Duke scored four unanswered in the closing five minutes to force overtime. In the overtime, Duke won the opening faceoff then scored on a man-up opportunity to complete their comeback, and the Irish fell 13-12.
Three days after the devastating loss to Duke, the Irish fell again to North Carolina, 12-10. Entenmann tallied 13 saves, and the Irish defense held the top scoring offense in the country to only 12 goals when they averaged over 17 per game. While Notre Dame had multiple chances to cut the deficit to a single goal in the fourth quarter, they came up short on the second game of the road trip.
Notre Dame has one remaining game on the schedule: at home against Syracuse. After that, the Irish will certainly make the NCAA tournament. To make a deep run, they will need even more from their already stellar defensive unit and talented goalie Entenmann, as well as stars such as Kavanaugh to step up and continue to deliver in big moments.