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Battle-tested Notre Dame men’s lacrosse set for second straight Final Four

IMG_7504by:Jack Soble05/23/24


Asked about the biggest difference between last year’s Notre Dame men’s lacrosse team and this year’s edition — aside from the latter’s business remaining unfinished — junior faceoff/midfielder Will Lynch had a simple answer. One group had been there before.

During Notre Dame’s run to the Final Four and eventually a national title in 2023, only graduate transfers Brian Tevlin, Chris Fake and Jack Simmons had competed on the biggest stage. While Tevlin, Fake and Simmons moved on, the Irish returned nine of 11 starters from the team that won it all.

The returning players are battle-tested. They’re seasoned. And they’ll know how to handle themselves on the final weekend of the NCAA Tournament in Philadelphia.

“I think it just instills confidence,” Lynch said. “We’ve been there. We know how to act. We know what to do, when. … We achieved a national championship last year, and we know what it takes to do that again.”

Last year at this time, Tevlin had to stop practice at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia because he felt the moment was becoming too big for his teammates. They were too focused on taking in the NFL-stadium atmosphere instead of taking care of their preparation. Tevlin called the team out, and the rest is history.

That won’t be an issue for No. 1 Notre Dame at noon ET on Saturday against No. 5 Denver, or at a to-be-announced time on Monday against No. 7 Maryland or No. 6 Virginia.

“It comes with every sport,” junior attackman Chris Kavanagh said. “If you haven’t been there, you don’t know what it’s like. We have players on our team who have been there in big moments. We’ve been in an overtime game in a semifinal [against Virginia in 2023].

“When things aren’t going your way or you don’t know what to do, we have the leaders. We have the guys who have been there in big moments, in crunch time. So I think we’ll be alright.”

The Irish are by no means underestimating Denver, looking ahead to a potential matchup against Virginia (whom they beat twice this season but have struggled with in the recent past) or assuming they’ll win the tournament altogether. That’s an easy trap to fall into as the hottest team in the country and the overwhelming favorite, but Notre Dame has done its best to avoid it.

Denver enters the national semifinals in at 13-3 (5-0 Big East), coming off a minor upset win over No. 4 Syracuse. The Irish talked this week about the challenges the Pioneers pose on both ends of the field.

“They’re big, rangy guys on defense,” Kavanagh said. “They like to pack it in, so we’re gonna have to move the ball well. Offensively, they’re just all over the place.”

In the context Kavanagh used it, “all over the place” is a compliment.

“No one’s dodging from one spot,” Kavanagh said. “They move the ball really well, and they’re never stagnant. They’re always moving.”

Notre Dame comes in at 14-1 (4-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), and aside from a small blip in the first half of its first-round win over UAlbany, the Irish are playing their best lacrosse of the season. Head coach Kevin Corrigan credited that to his players’ drive to get better.

They weren’t satisfied, Corrigan said, with a 3-goal win over Ohio State or a 2-goal win over Syracuse or a 1-goal win over Cornell. The Irish measured themselves against themselves alone, and that’s allowed them to catch fire at the right time.

“I think that’s our team leadership,” Corrigan said. “You just can’t overstate how important that is. You can talk about stuff like that all you want as a coach. If you don’t have guys in the locker room who are buying in, who understand the importance of that and who make sure that their teammates are accountable in that, then it’s falling on deaf ears. And it never does in our locker room.”

At least two of those team leaders, graduate student goalie Liam Entenmann and graduate student attackman Pat Kavanagh, are entering their final weekend with Notre Dame. Entenmann has cemented his place as the best goalie in the nation, while Pat Kavanagh joined him as a finalist for the Tewaaraton Award.

Both will go down as all-time greats for the Irish, for their individual play and their roles in bringing at least one, possibly two national championships to South Bend.

Chris Kavanagh, Pat’s brother, understands what that means for him and his family. Throughout the week leading up to the Final Four, the two attackmen have stayed hours after practice. They wanted to spend as much time with each other at Arlotta Stadium as they could.

When Pat joins their older brother, Matt Kavanagh, on the Boston Cannons of the Premier Lacrosse League, Chris will be the only Kavanagh left at Notre Dame.

“Yeah, it’s been pretty special,” Chris Kavanagh said. “It’s gonna be a sad day when it’s all said in done, but hopefully it’ll end on a good note.”

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