It was senior day at Atlotta as the #1 ranked Fighting Irish of Notre Dame took on the #14 ranked Tar Heels of the University of North Carolina in a noon matchup. I was lucky enough to be there in person and thanks again to Robby Hamman and his team for the opportunity to cover the game from the press box. It was a double-header day for me as I was also covering the Blue-Gold game in Notre Dame Stadium so I stayed through halftime before heading over to the football game to cover things for One Foot Down.
So let’s get into things as I watched the first 30 minutes of lacrosse live, then followed the Notre Dame Stats Broadcast feed for the second half, and finally watched the second half late at night after getting back from the Bend. In all, the Irish won 16-9 and pulled away in the second half after a competitive first two quarters which saw the Irish up 7-5 at the break.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the seniors and graduate students who were honored before the game (and you can see them above in our headline photo - #2 Fulton Bayman, #16 Max Manyak, #44 Liam Entenmann, #17 Reilly Gray, #30 Marco Napolitano, #77 Nick Harris, #48 Jonathan Ford, #13 Jake Taylor, #14 Kevin Lynch, #9 Emmett Barger, #51 Pat Kavanagh, #10 Maximus Schalit, #20 Chris Conlin, #12 Brian Tevlin, #7 Chris Fake, #3 Jack Simmons, #31 Griffin Westlin, #46 Jose Boyer and #15 Quinn McCahon). Luckily for these players, while it was the last regular season home game for the Irish, if things continue to go to plan, Notre Dame should be hosting a first round NCAA tournament game at Arlotta in a few weeks.
Additionally, Max Manyak was wearing #40 for the game in honor of former Notre Dame lacrosse player Mike Sennett who died of a heart attack at 38 years old. Here is a nice tribute to Mike and his legacy from De Smet Jesuit High School where he was a coach when he passed. I cannot think of a more deserving player than Max to wear the #40 for the day as Max has done such an incredible job with his Pediatric Pep Talk and the work they do with young kids who have cancer. AWESOME job Max, you are making such a difference, truly inspiring work by you and the other student-athletes at Notre Dame. Thank You.
Last pregame note....the Irish were rocking some serious green helmets and white uniforms with blue and green highlights. The whole kit was sweet.
Things got underway with the Irish scoring ten seconds into the game as Colin Hagstrom scored the first goal of his career off a rebound that the UNC goalie let up. It was a great start for the Irish and the crowd was fired up as things got going. The Tar Heels tied things up a couple of minutes later and then the teams traded possessions for the next six minutes before Jake Taylor scored on a dodge to make it 2-1 Irish. It was an uncharacteristic play for Taylor as he usually tends to finish off passes inside, but this time he got the ball at X, made his defender fall and then continued to goal line extended and scored from a tough angle as the shot clock was expiring. From there, the Irish then had a man-up opportunity and a nifty feed from Jeffery Ricciardelli to Chris Kavanagh put the Irish up 3-1. We then saw a Brian Tevlin goal from in close in an unsettled situation, followed by a wide open goal from Griffin Westlin as the Irish were causing chaos on the ride (and UNC’s goalie was way out of position). Finally, Hagstrom got his second of the day in another unsettled situation to put the Irish up 6-1 after the first fifteen minutes. The story of the first quarter was unsettled situations and the ride by the Irish which was causing havoc early on.
HAGSTROM AGAIN!— Notre Dame Lacrosse (@NDlacrosse) April 22, 2023
Pat Kavanagh with his THIRD caused turnover of the 1st quarter which leads to Hagstrom's 2nd of the day and we have scored 5 straight. Watch on ESPNU.#GoIrish pic.twitter.com/rgog0hALf3
This was not the best quarter for the Irish as UNC outscored us 4-1. Things did get off to a good start at Chris Kavanagh got his first of the day from the outside to put the Irish up 7-1. It seemed at that point that things could get out of hand, but kudos to the Tar Heels as they fought back and got the last four goals of the quarter to get to within 7-5 at halftime. In all, UNC had five goals from five different scorers in the half. To note, the Irish had a chance to go up 8-5 as Brian Tevlin had a wide open shot in front of the net but he put it off the pipe. Know he would have liked to have had that one back as that is a shot he scores on nine out of ten times.
Instead of scoring the first goal of the game, Eric Dobson got things going for the Irish by scoring the first goal of the second half to put the Irish up 8-5 with 10:41 to go in the quarter. UNC got one back to make it 8-6 before the Irish got the next three across Westlin, Taylor (again on a dodge move) and Pat Kavanagh which made it 11-6 Irish as we headed into the final fifteen minutes.
UNC got the scoring underway as Dewey Egan got his third of the day to get the Tar Heels to within 11-7. The Irish then got the next four goals - Reilly Gray beat his man and scored from the side, Dobson got the next two on a couple of nice outside shots and McCahon then scored from in close off a nice move beating his man one on one. At this point it was 15-7 Irish and the game was ours to lose. The Tar Heels got a couple back to make it 15-9 before Ricciardelli scored with his quick hands on the man-up to make the final score 16-9 Irish. Notre Dame moved to 9-1 on the year, 3-1 in the ACC and will continue to be ranked #1 in the country when the polls come out on Monday afternoon.
Some Notes and Thoughts
While he has played at a First Team All-American level all season, I think this was the game that proved that Liam Entenmann is the best goalie in college lacrosse this year. He finished the game with sixteen saves and he continues to come up huge in big moments. And all of this took place when it looked like he might not actually play as he hurt himself in warmups and had to go to the locker room to get checked out. In the end, it is tough to really quantify all the key saves he makes, but I guess the way to put it best is that there is a reason the Irish keep on winning and winning by large goal margins. It is because he does not give up easy goals, he makes key saves in key times and he is one of the leaders on the team. He keeps on proving out that he has what it takes to get the Irish their first National Championship. And the below tweet is a sequence where Liam makes three consecutive awesome saves at a critical moment in the game. It’s just what he does and he does it consistently well.
This game was chippy, and that tends to be the case when North Carolina and Notre Dame meet. It will be interesting to see what carries over to two weeks from now when the Irish and Tar Heels meet in Chapel Hill to end the season.
From a scoring standpoint, the Irish were led by Dobson with three goals, Chris Kavanagh had three points (2G, 1A), Pat Kavanagh had four points (1G, 3A) and McCahon had three points (1G, 2A).
Great work by Colin Hagstrom today as he scored the first two goals of his career and won eight of his twenty faceoffs. For the day, he took the majority of the faceoffs as Will Lynch saw ten faceoffs on the day. I don’t know how the Irish will handle faceoffs moving forward as Lynch has typically taken the bulk of them during games so Saturday was pretty different. Maybe it was a matchup that the Irish liked with Hagstrom? Maybe it was Lynch was a little hobbled? Either way, great to see Hagstrom step up in a critical moment.
In all, the Irish won ten of thirty faceoffs, but we continue to still be okay in situations where there is a faceoff deficit. But this is definitely going to be something that the Irish will want to improve upon as we all know how key faceoffs will be in May, especially when playing against teams that have elite offenses. Make or take it lacrosse can crush another team (ie see what we did to Syracuse earlier this year).
Bryce Walker was on the sidelines and not in uniform so hoping he is okay with whatever kept him out from the game. He has been a key part of our first line midfield and with him out for the day we say Reilly Gray bump up and Jalen Seymour got run on the second line.
We again saw the Irish struggle a little bit on our clears as it was not the smoothest operation on Saturday. The Irish were prepared for the Tar Heels ten man ride, but we still saw a couple of violations where the Irish failed to get it over the midfield line in time. We also saw a new wrinkle as we saw Pat Kavanagh come into the defensive zone as if he was a middie to see if he could be the one taking it over the midfield line. I still think that as much as we can, we get the ball to Nick Harris and give him space to look to clear on his own, but overall, we continue to mix things up on a game by game basis as we look to clear the ball to start our possessions. We were 22-25 for clears for the day which is really good so I could also be nit picking a little here.
The weather was strange all day. When I arrived in the Bend it was sunny and probably in the mid 50s. From there we saw clouds, we then saw rain and eventually we saw what looked like hail or snow. Midwest lacrosse in April can be a variety of things, but I did not think I would see better weather in February when the Irish took on Cleveland State at Arlotta.
I continue to be impressed with freshman Will Donovan. He is playing wise beyond his years and you can tell how much confidence the coaching staff has in him as he is out there on just about every faceoff. He causes disruption when he is out there, and similar to Jose Boyer, he is really good on ground balls as he just swallows them up.
I think Ben Ramsey might be one of the most improved players in ALL of college lacrosse this year. While he played in every game last year, he has become Notre Dame’s #1 SSDM, he consistently locks down on the other team’s top midfielder and he seems to be on the field all the time. Just great to see the development he has had this year for ND and excited for what is ahead for him.
Speaking of Donovan and Ramsey, I plan to do a midweek article if I can this week where I will focus on Notre Dame players who I think have been some of the unheralded heroes of the Irish this year. I have five or six players in mind for the article, but if you have some thoughts as well, feel free to share with me at my twitter handle @drewbrennan77 or comment below in the article.
The Irish travel to Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday to take on the #3 ranked Cavaliers of Virginia. This promises to the matchup of the weekend and the Irish will look to avenge their one loss of the year as UVA beat the Irish back on March 25th in South Bend with a score of 15-10. At the time of that game the teams were similarly ranked #1 and #3.
I am going to be fully honest, of all the other teams in college lacrosse, I think UVA is the toughest matchup for Notre Dame. And it proved itself out earlier this year as UVA has been the only team to really take it to the Irish in 2023. The other closest game this year was against Maryland, but that game was pretty close throughout. The matchup against UVA just did not seem to ever be in favor of the Irish so I will be interested to see the changes we make as we face them this time. In the first matchup, it was all about the UVA pick game in front of the cage as they got a lot of easy goals off picks with feeds from behind the cage. What changes do the Irish have in store on the defensive side for this matchup? Do the Irish put a middie on one of their attackmen? Can the Irish slow down the Virginia fast break? Can the Irish make the faceoff game more even? UVA has elite offensive talent up and down their roster, they have a big and long defense, and their midfield is physically imposing. It is going to be a great matchup, but even more important to watch will be to see the changes that each coaching staff has made since the last time these teams played each other.
The Irish will be motivated and ready to go for this one and the stakes of this game are HUGE. If the Irish win, I think we could be looking at the #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Lose and Duke and / or UVA will have a good case for the #1 seed. And getting that #1 seed would be so key for the Irish in our run for our first National Championship.
Make sure you tune in for the game, it will be on the ACCNetwork at 2 PM EST on Saturday. The lacrosse world will be watching, you should be as well. Go Irish!!
Lastly, make sure to follow our good friends at 18stripes for all their thoughts and reporting on the Irish lacrosse team too.