As we continue on in the offseason, I am working on some articles to get us through the summer and thought I would start off with a look at Jake Taylor, and how on an overcast, chilly day in South Bend on April 2nd, 2022, the path of Notre Dame lacrosse was changed forever.
Let’s get ourselves settled back into the moment:
We were six games into the 2022 season and the Irish were struggling. We had started off with a stellar 24-2 win against Detroit Mercy, but after that, we dropped three in a row, all to eventual tournament teams in Georgetown (11-18), Maryland (9-11) and Ohio State (11-14). We followed up those three losses with a win against Michigan in the Bend (12-7) to get our record to 2-3 with a trip to Charlottesville on the horizon. We would lose to Virginia (8-12) to drop to 2-4 with six games left on our schedule, just six chances left to right the ship and get back into tournament contention.
Having lost four of our last five games, there were a small number of things going right, but in general most things were not working, and we were not living up to the potential that many of us saw in the 2022 Irish. Having come within an OT goal of beating Maryland and punching our ticket to the Final Four in 2021, our Irish were a pre-season Top 5 team and the talent was there to challenge for a spot over Memorial Day weekend. Putting it into simpler terms, the 2022 version of the Irish were having a hard time finding the back of the net, we were not shooting well, we were not putting good stretches of lacrosse together, breaks were not going our way, and we just could not get any momentum.
Something needed to change, and little did we all know that our upcoming game at home against Syracuse would be the start of a stretch we will not soon forget.
April 2nd, 2022 in South Bend, IN
We will cover off on this as we go through this Saturday in April a little more, but one thing a successful attack unit has is a combination of complementary pieces. Finding three players who can form a cohesive unit across different set ups, different skillsets, different tactics, different angles, different speeds, different sizes, different spacing, etc., all these can help a team’s attack unit and overall offense thrive. Up until this point in the season, for whatever reason, we were just not melding the way we needed to on the offensive end, and with our 2-4 record, the Notre Dame coaching staff was continuing to mix and match with Pat and Chris Kavanagh to see if something would stick. As our Irish took the field to shake hands with the Orange on this fateful day in April, #13 was in the starting lineup, and it was Jake Taylor’s turn to see if he could help Notre Dame turn things around.
Coming into the game against Syracuse, here was Jake Taylor’s stat line on the 2022 season to date:
Detroit Mercy: 2 Goals
Ohio State: DNP
And even further, here were his freshman and sophomore season stat lines:
Freshman (2020): Played in two games during his rookie season with the Irish as an attackman. Made his Notre Dame debut in the season-opening win over Cleveland State (2/15)
Sophomore (2021): Played in two games as an attackman during his sophomore year before his season was ended due to an injury. Scored the first goal of his career in a win over Bellarmine (3/6) with a behind-the-back finish
Then came this extraordinary day:
April 2nd, 2022 against Syracuse: 8 Goals (from Notre Dame Sports Information: “program-record eight goals surpasses the previous mark of seven which occurred three times prior for Notre Dame. Randy Colley (3/13/93 vs. New Hampshire), Ryan Hoff (3/13/07 vs. Drexel) and Matt Kavanagh (3/25/14 vs. Ohio State)”)
Breakout confirmed?— USA Lacrosse Magazine (@USALacrosseMag) April 5, 2022
Jake Taylor entered last weekend's game against Syracuse with three career goals. He scored an @NDlacrosse record eight times in a 22-6 rout of the Orange.
He's the USA Lacrosse Magazine Division I Men's Player of the Week.https://t.co/A0Wz2oux6C
I think one of the best ways to describe this day is, if you have the time, watch this YouTube highlight video (below) and listen to Paul Carcaterra’s analysis after each of Jake Taylor’s goals. I think it is prophetic how he talks about what is happening across this afternoon, and knowing where we are fourteen months past this time, it really is remarkable to go back and watch where it all started / listen to the commentary.
And to make it easier for you, here are some notes and the times of each goal one can fast forward to:
Goal #1 (Q1) - 1:18 First goal as Taylor gets his day underway with a shot from about ten yards away
Goal #2 (Q1) - 3:03 (Behind the Back) and Paul Carcaterra starts to talk about how he saw Taylor in high school and how these types of plays were common for him back in Denver
Goal #3 (Q1) - 5:10 and he gets his hat trick in the first quarter; Paul Carcaterra talks about “just needing that opportunity” and how he was a proven finisher in the past
Goal #4 (Q1) - 6:56 (Shovel Shot) and Paul Carcaterra talks about how ND needs to “keep him on the field” and how he has “incredible hands”
Goal #5 (Q2) - 11:10 (Around the World) and Paul Carcaterra wonders about where Taylor has been this year, how he (Paul) is not at Notre Dame’s practices, but that Taylor has “ice in his veins” and he is a “gamer”
Goal #6 (Q3) - 16:05 (a “six pack of goals”)
Goal #7 (Q3) - 16:45 and Paul Carcaterra is talking about how attack units need chemistry and different pieces complementing each other; Taylor scores again and then he comments on how Taylor is an inside finisher and how he has the “instincts of an inside guy”
Goal #8 (Q4) - 19:10 “A day he will never forget” and “an unlikely superstar has emerged before our very eyes”
Post note as the game is ending (Q4) - 21:10 and Paul Carcaterra: “8 Goals, and to me, if the Irish roll from this point on you’ll remember this Jake Taylor performance. The turning point of the 2022 season.”
We all know what happened after this game as the Irish went on to win their next five games, making it six games in a row with wins to finish off the season as one of the hottest, most complete teams in all of college lacrosse. Here was Taylor’s stat line in those last five games:
Duke: 2 Goals, 2 Assists
Marquette: 5 Goals
North Carolina: 3 Goals
Syracuse: 1 Goal
Duke: 6 Goals
Final Stat line on the 2022 season (7 games): 27 Goals, 2 Assists
And more importantly, we saw the Irish develop a complementary attack unit that was able to thrive off the passing of Pat Kavanagh, the outside shooting of Chris Kavanagh, and the inside finishing of Jake Taylor.
Not making the tournament, obviously robbed of us our chance to see the Irish challenge for the National Championship, but it also did not allow for the chance to interview Coach Corrigan, Coach Wojcik and Coach Garnsey around the amazing play of Jake Taylor over the last six games of the year. It is notoriously small the number of interviews with lacrosse coaching staffs, but had we made it to the Final Four in 2022, I can only imagine that we would have gotten more to the overall Jake Taylor story and how his 2022 season came together. Questions that I would have had for the Notre Dame coaching staff in 2022:
“Walk us through the week of practice leading up to the Syracuse game and how the decision was made to start Jake Taylor.”
“Across the first six games of the 2022 season, what did Taylor need to improve upon in order for him to see the field?”
“In your career as coaches, have you ever seen such a complete emergence in a player in such a small amount of time?”
“Were there moments in practice across these first three years where you caught glimpses of what Jake Taylor would become?”
“What makes Jake Taylor so tough to defend?”
And much, much more.
What’s Happened Since April 2nd, 2022
Including the Syracuse game, across the last 22 games, the Irish have 20 wins and 2 losses, with both of those losses coming to just one team - Virginia. Included in these 20 wins is a National Championship win. Not too bad.
Across the Syracuse game and the rest of the 2022 and 2023 seasons, Jake Taylor has 55 Goals and 5 Assists. Removing the games where he did not play in 2023 (so across 18 games), he is averaging 3.05 Goals per game.
Across the 2023 season and 16 games, the Irish as a team scored 248 goals, the most in program history.
Across the last 22 games, we have been able to see what our attack and our overall offense has been able to accomplish. The pieces are just fitting, the players know their responsibilities / their roles, the confidence is there, the ball moves fast.....and it finds the back of the net, more often than not.
Now to be fair, and to note, Taylor missed the first three games of the 2023 season (Jeffery Ricciardelli filled in nicely across these games) before coming back in OT of the Maryland game, coming off the bench against both Ohio State and Michigan and then starting against Virginia and the rest of the schedule from then on.
It’s been a super fun ride and for those who follow the team, we know that the Notre Dame attack is coming back intact next year with Jake Taylor and Pat Kavanagh back for one more go, while Jeffery Ricciardelli and Chris Kavanagh have two more seasons of eligibility left. Those four will be the foundation of one of the most imposing attack units in the whole country, and when we include those four on our man-up unit, we are looking at another season of excitement in South Bend. Yep, fall ball can’t come soon enough.
What Separates Jake Taylor
He was a highly recruited player out of Denver in the 2019 class, a Top 35 prospect who was originally committed to Denver before switching to the Irish. He bided his time behind some other really good attackmen at Notre Dame and he also has had two ACL surgeries. So let’s give credit where credit is due as coming back from two surgeries is really, really hard. That takes a tremendous amount of hard work, time, effort and grit. Secondly, as we all know, it is tough to be on the bench and watching others play. Taylor did that, but when he was given his chance, he proved it out. So as a lesson to other younger players, keep doing the work, your time will hopefully come.
I have talked about this in the past around Jake Taylor, but his ability to find windows of space and his positioning is what separates him and makes him elite. He has an uncanny ability to find the holes in other teams’ defenses and he puts himself exactly where he needs to be in order to get the ball. And once he does receive a pass, his finishing ability is second to none, he almost never misses and his shooting % is off the charts. Lastly, his box lacrosse background clearly is a huge plus for him as it allows him to be creative, but he does so within the confines of the game and it never seems showy.
It has to be said here, his game tying goal against UVA in the Final Four is one of the BEST goals I have ever seen. Let’s just relive that moment again:
Can’t stop thinking about how for Notre Dame to win the title, this shot needed to fall. Wow. pic.twitter.com/l29v2j8OkS— Dan Aburn (@dan_aburn_) May 31, 2023
There has been so much that has come together over the last 22 games that led to the Irish’s first National Championship, and I am not trying to discount any other aspect of the Irish and our lacrosse team (ie the Kavanaghs, Liam, our defense, our faceoffs, the transfers, the coaching staff, etc.), but in looking back, we cannot help but think back to 2022 and that cloudy day on a Saturday in early April when Jake Taylor came to the forefront and scored 8 goals. It was completely out of nowhere, but as you watch the highlights, it is striking how calm and natural Taylor looked in that game. It was like he had been there before, like he had been in that position since day one and it was like he knew he was always built for that role. It was a day he, his family, his teammates, the coaching staff and Irish lacrosse fans will remember forever, and we will always look back fondly as “an unlikely superstar emerged before our very eyes.”
April 2nd, 2022: “Jake Taylor Day”
And with that, let’s share some AWESOME Jake Taylor moments (and lastly, a final image from the “original Jake Taylor”).
9. The only thing better than a behind-the-back goal is when it comes after a behind-the-back assist. What a sequence from Notre Dame's Jake Taylor and Pat Kavanagh.pic.twitter.com/EPUXrzPSiP— Jeff Tracy (@JeffreyTracy) April 10, 2023
Is there another player in the nation who has been as unexpectedly transcendent for their team as Jake Taylor has been for Notre Dame— QuickStick (@quickstickblog) May 7, 2022
He scored BTB to tie it up at 14 pic.twitter.com/afAPEy4Ey0
Hounding defense from the Orange still not enough to keep Jake Taylor and Notre Dame from scoring first. pic.twitter.com/9j03O97Deo— WAER Sports Talk (@WAERSportsTalk) April 1, 2023