The Fighting Irish Fight On

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish take down the Duke Blue Devils to claim the 2023 NCAA men’s lacrosse national championship.

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The 2023 NCAA Men’s Lacrosse season is officially over, with the championship game concluding on Memorial Day. There, third-ranked team Notre Dame took down the second-ranked team Duke in a complete 13-9 victory. After not even qualifying for the tournament last year in controversial fashion, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish made sure to fight hard to make it into the championship bracket this year, a fight rewarded by the first national championship in their 43-year history.

The game started off seeming like a convincing win for the Irish. Though the Duke Blue Devils opened up scoring with a goal in the first minute of play, the first half could be more accurately characterized as Notre Dame domination. The Fighting Irish scored six unanswered goals in response to Duke’s opener. Defenseman Chris Fake anchored the Notre Dame defense, stopping a strong Duke offense that included prolific playmaking attackman Brennan O’Neill. O’Neill won the 2023 Tewaaraton Award (given to the best college lacrosse player), the ACC Offensive Player of the Year, and the USILA Player of the Year. He had notched 54 goals and 41 assists heading into the game. Despite his accolades, he was held to just two shots and one turnover for the entire half. Thanks to this complete shutdown, the Fighting Irish had a 6-1 overwhelming lead at the half.

Still, no one could count out the Blue Devils, as they pushed back in the third quarter, with four unanswered goals to tie the game at seven. The Duke offense was clicking and scoring was coming from all around. It was looking like a close game before Notre Dame ended Duke’s push with two quick goals, including a diving buzzer-beater with 0.6 seconds left after the shot, within a minute of Duke’s equalizer. The Fighting Irish then put their foot on the gas, finishing the game on a 6-2 run after the tie. The Notre Dame defense clamped down and prevented the Blue Devils from having open chances. Just like Duke, scoring came from all around.

The Fighting Irish were led by two brothers, attackmen Chris and Pat Kavanagh, and their goalie, Liam Entenmann. Despite Pat Kavanagh’s gruesome hamstring injury, which left him hobbled, the Fighting Irish were able to use him as a decoy to pull off strong defenders, giving other players more chances and space to shoot. Chris Kavanagh finished the game with two goals and one assist, having seven shots, the most out of the entire team. Entenmann, the tournament’s MVP, was light’s out in the cage. He proved why he is one of the best goalies in the world, finishing with 18 saves for a 67 percent save rate.

The Fighting Irish’s win can be attributed to their style of play–positionless. “[W]e try to play in a positionless way that allows us to not redesign the offense during the game if somebody does something unexpected,” Notre Dame’s coach, Kevin Corrigan said. This style of play has clearly worked as it has led them to the holy grail of the NCAA championship.

The Blue Devils look back at what they could have done differently to come out with the win. “Shooters gotta shoot, and you can’t change the way you’re playing just because things aren’t going your way,” Duke attackman Dyson Williams said. Though they did not come out on top, the Duke team showed resolve and grit to fight their way from down five, and they will have lots to look forward to next year.

Undoubtedly, the Fighting Irish will defend their national championship next year and try to continue the success they found in this tournament. After their tremendous success, with notable wins over Johns Hopkins and Penn State contributing to its beauty, the Fighting Irish will look to replicate their positionless style of lacrosse in upcoming seasons. With talented players like Entenmann, Pat Kavanagh, and Fake soon losing eligibility, the Fighting Irish will have to turn to their younger players to bridge the gap. Developing young players like sophomores attackman Jeffery Ricciardelli, midfielder Will Angrick, faceoff specialist Will Lynch, and midfielder Ben Ramsey, who have been key to Notre Dame’s rotation, will be vital for the team to maintain their success in future seasons.