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The Unsung Heroes of the 2023 Notre Dame Men’s Lacrosse team

We all know about the superstars, but let’s talk a little bit about some of the players who have also played a huge role this year

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The Notre Dame team gets ready before the UNC matchup
Photo Credit: Fred Assaf

As we head into the final two games of the regular season, the 2023 Notre Dame Men’s Lacrosse team is 9-1. There will be no “will they make it into the tournament” talk on the Irish this year as the only thing that is still to be decided is the seeding the Irish will get as the tournament gets underway in a little over two weeks. Win this weekend in Charlottesville against UVA (Sunday at 2 PM EST) and ND will be close to locking up the #1 seed in the tourney. Lose and the Irish will probably find themselves somewhere between the #2 - #4 seed.

No matter what happens in these last two games, the 2023 regular season will go down as one of the better regular seasons in Notre Dame lacrosse history. But that is not what this team wants to be remembered for, and as we get May underway there will be plenty of time to talk about the run we all want our Irish to make in the tournament.

Today I want to talk a little bit more around some of the players on the team who have been an integral part of the Irish this year, but don’t get the headlines / don’t get the camera on them for most of the game / don’t get the fanfare all the time. What these players do “get” is what it means to play hard, they do “get” what it means to play their role on the team / they do “get” what it means to an integral part to winning a championship. They get what it means to be a Notre Dame lacrosse player.

And thanks to those who commented on some unsung players from this week’s earlier article, it’s great to know folks are reading my writings and have their thoughts on the Irish as well. As a quick note on my earlier read, sorry for missing Sam Assaf in the listing of the seniors and sorry for the picture cutting off and not showing all the seniors (Sam and Fulton Bayman).

Okay, let’s get into it, here below I will highlight twelve players and what makes them a crucial part of this year’s Irish squad...

Jack Simmons

Chris Fake, Chris Conlin and Brian Tevlin were the more heralded of the four transfers that came in this offseason for the Irish (and those three have played exceptionally well). I don’t think a lot of us knew what we would be getting from Jack Simmons coming over from UVA, but all he has done is solidified his position on the second midfield line and he has only gotten better as the season has moved along. He is playing his best lacrosse of the year right now, his run has increased and I think he played his overall best game of the year against Duke (1G, 2A) a couple of weeks ago. He has been an awesome addition to the team and his experience and leadership will only come more into play as we head into the tournament.

Bryce Walker

Coming into this year, we had seen some good run from Bryce Walker as he had opportunities over his first two years coming off the bench and playing a bit of a hybrid attack / middie role. As this year got underway, his talent was too good to keep off the field and he made the full switch to midfield.....he hasn’t looked back. He has been a huge part of our first line midfield as they look to set the tone early on in games. He has speed and attacking ability from up top, the side and behind the cage which makes him tough to defend, and if teams want to focus on Tevlin and Eric Dobson, Walker can make them pay with his quickness. Let’s hope Bryce is okay as he was out last week against UNC, hopeful that whatever kept him out doesn’t do so for long and that he is ready for May.

Marco Napolitano / Ross Burgmaster

The Irish have two high level defensemen in Conlin and Fake, but we all know that your overall close defense is only as good as the sum of all three of those close defenders. As a unit, they have to work together and communicate at a high level in order to form an elite defensive unit. Add in a top-tier goalie and it just all comes together. It has been great to see what Marco Napolitano has done this year as has bided his time sitting behind some great defenders for the Irish over the last three years. He has been beyond dependable and reliable and he has formed the third piece of the triangle that is the Irish interior defense. Ross Burgmaster (ND Bagpiper as well) started out the year with a little bit of an injury, but he has done a tremendous job not only subbing in at times for Napolitano and Conlin at close defense, but also taking the wing on faceoffs and covering the middle of the field. The Irish know they have an all around defender in Ross who can play both close defense and LSM, and his role should only grow as the tournament comes along.

Carter Parlette / Ben Ramsey / Nick Harris

I have not been shy in my praising of Ben Ramsey as I will once again say that I think he is one of the most improved players in the whole country. He has locked down the top SSDM position for the Irish and is a massive part of what we do on defense on so many possessions throughout the game. Joining him at SSDM are Carter Parlette and Nick Harris, both players who have played a lot for the Irish over the years. Harris is a human clear, he looks fully healthy again after sitting out against Duke and the Irish will be relying on him heavily when May comes around. And Parlette continues to provide more than depth at the position and has proven that he will get into it with our opponent across any matchup. He was huge in the Duke game as he played extended minutes and he continues to show he can defend across other team’s top midfield lines.

Colin Hagstrom

Let’s be honest, faceoffs are a massive part of lacrosse and winning them puts your team at an advantage. For the Irish, winning faceoffs has not been easy for years. This year Will Lynch has taken the bulk of the faceoffs, but any good team will tell you that being able to mix up the faceoff strategy / players is a good thing, and Colin Hagstrom has done a great job when called upon this season. He saw most of the draws against UNC (also scoring two goals) and the Irish coaching staff has shown that they have faith in both players (and that they are willing to ride the hot hand / strategy). Both Hagstrom and Lynch will be huge as the season hits May as they will be going up against elite faceoff men on the other side.

Hot take here on my part: If Hagstrom is getting more faceoffs, maybe the Irish ride with Will Lynch running some at SSDM. I think it is something he could handle and something he could be really good at as well. Just a thought.

Griffin Westlin

Leaders lead by example and Griffin Westlin has been a big part of the leadership for the Irish this year. He was an integral part in bringing Brian Tevlin over to the Irish (they played together in HS at Seton Hall Prep), and he has valiantly taken on more of a complementary role for the Irish after being a starter earlier in his career. As a graduate student, he could have easily moved on from ND and probably started at a number of other programs, but he chose to stay at ND and be a big part of the 2023 team. His role has increased in the last few weeks as he is getting more run at middie and he is a huge part of the man-up unit as well. He will be relied upon this year in May more than ever before.

Sam Assaf

If you did not read this article from Pete Sampson in The Athletic on Sam Assaf, definitely do so. It’s amazing what he has been able to accomplish this year as he has gone back and forth between football and lacrosse, while also juggling an almost 4.0 grade point average. And did you see the Blue-Gold spring game? I think he led both teams in overall running back carries after warming up with the lacrosse team earlier in the day. I am sure there are more Sam Assafs on this year’s team that we are not talking about as the article highlighted how he (along with others) is a huge part of getting the team ready during the week for the opponent we have upcoming. Players like Sam can be the backbone of a team.

Sam Assaf warming up before the UNC game
Photo Credit: The Athletic article on Sam Assaf

Max Manyak

I have written a lot about Max Manyak this year and the work he has done with Pediatric Pep Talk, but Max is also a captain on this year’s Irish team. He was a big part of the Irish’s fall practice run, subtly reminding the team around what happened last year, but also focusing the team on what lies ahead. The team has said that 2022 has fueled them, but that 2023 is a season unto itself, and Max has been a massive part of the leadership group that has propelled the Irish to 9-1 and wanting more. I can’t wait to see what Max does later in his life.

Max Manyak and teammates and Pediatric Pep Talk

Will Donovan

Not many freshman have seen run with this year’s Irish team, but the one that has - Will Donovan, has stepped into a starting role since the opening faceoff of the season. He has been a key member on the wing on faceoffs and he has also played a pivotal role at LSM in our defensive sets. He does a tremendous job on ground balls and he plays longer than his frame. It is going to be really fun to watch him develop over his career at Notre Dame as he has the chance to be one of the better LSMs in the country during his time in South Bend.

One definition of team can be laid out as the following:

“A team is defined as a group of people who perform interdependent tasks to work toward accomplishing a common mission or specific objective.”

Lacrosse is a team sport and every player at every position on the field is integral to the success of the squad. There is no hiding weak links in lacrosse as the other team will find them and they will attack them relentlessly. The 2023 Notre Dame Fighting Irish is a complete team across all levels on the offensive and defensive side of the field. They are made up of not just the superstars who we all know and see highlights on, but the other players who show up every day, come together, play their role, lead their units, cheer on the side, work hard in between games, and drive the overall team forward. They are a true team.

Can’t wait for the upcoming weeks and watching what this team does. It’s an exciting time to be an Irish lacrosse fan and the bandwagon is open, all are welcome aboard the train as we make our way to Philadelphia and Memorial Day weekend.