Lacrosse: Irish feel they have the right recipe for a deep NCAA run this season
SOUTH BEND — Ryan Hallenbeck knows Notre Dame lacrosse has a reputation to uphold.
“Part of the reason I came to Notre Dame is that this defense is super special,” said the senior short-stick defensive midfielder. “And it’s been a stalwart of college lacrosse for a while. Whenever you look at Notre Dame, you think defense.”
Notre Dame finished first in the ACC and third in the country last season by allowing just 8.92 goals per game. Hallenbeck, one of four Irish named to the Preseason All-ACC team, will help lead a defensive unit that has experienced significant turnover while most of Notre Dame’s offensive firepower returns.
The Irish began pursuit of its first national title and sixth appearance at Championship Weekend Saturday with a 24-2 drubbing of Detroit Mercy at Arlotta Family Stadium.
Last season, Notre Dame fell 14-13 to eventual national runners-up Maryland at home in the NCAA Tournament Quarterfinals. Twice the Irish have advanced to the NCAA title game, losing to Duke 6-5 in overtime in 2010 and again to the Blue Devils, 11-9, in 2014.
“It was disappointing to not be playing on the last week of the year (in 2021) because we had that kind of team,” Irish head coach Kevin Corrigan said. “And I think all of us are anxious to try to get back and be in that same situation.”
Corrigan, in his 34th season at Notre Dame, is the longest active tenured coach in men’s Division I lacrosse. He said his teams are always fundamentally sound, athletic and stingy on defense.
“This year we’ve got a dynamic group of offensive players, and it should be really fun,” he said.
Leading the charge is maybe the country’s most exciting player in junior Pat Kavanagh. The graduate of Long Island powerhouse Chaminade High School was the Tewaaraton Award’s first sophomore finalist since 2017 last season.
Kavanagh is one of two returners to the watchlist for college lacrosse’s most prestigious individual honor. He finished second in the ACC with 5.33 points per game in 2021, and his 38 assists set a program record. After a season punctuated by four goals that made ESPN’s SportsCenter Top 10 countdown, Hallenbeck said Kavanagh will be “exponentially better this season.”
“I think you're going to see a different type of lacrosse player when you watch him,” Hallenbeck said. “He’s super exciting to watch. He’s super quick. He put on some weight, so he’s a little bigger.”
Kavanagh is a star attacker willing to do the grunt work. He picked up 35 ground balls last season, good for second on the team.
“He’s fearless and he’s tough and he’s skilled,” Corrigan said. “But more than anything else, he’s just a competitor who competes every second of the game when he’s on the field.”
Kavanagh was joined on the Tewaaraton watchlist by fellow Chaminade grad and junior goalie Liam Entenmann and senior defenseman Arden Cohen.
Entenmann led the ACC and was fourth in the country with a 58.5 save percentage. Hallenbeck said the Point Lookout, N.Y., native is the best goalie in the country.
“He’s the kind of guy that makes you feel comfortable getting beat by someone," Hallenbeck said, "because you feel like he’s going to make the save.”
Key defensive departures include All-Americans Jack Kielty and Kyle Thornton. However, Hallenbeck said Kielty, the 2021 ACC Defensive Player of the Year, remains a key resource.
“He’s still around South Bend a little bit,” Hallenbeck said. “So we hang out and we talk, and he’s just been a great mentor for me — talking about the defense, talking through stuff that we’ve done in the past. We still sit down and watch film.”
Scrimmages against Air Force in late January and Cleveland State in early February also helped the Irish defense work out some kinks.
The Irish defense has also added grad transfer Jason Reynolds, who started all 52 games he played at Richmond.
Irish on the attack
The Notre Dame attack shouldn’t take very long to get rolling. The Irish return their top-three point producers last season in Kavanagh, senior middie Wheaton Jackoboice and senior attackman/middie Griffin Westlin.
Corrigan said his attackers are challenging matchups because they are unselfish and possess varied skill sets.
“The ball doesn’t sit anywhere very long,” he said. “And to me, the hardest team to defend is one where the ball keeps moving and you can’t really settle into your roles.”
The biggest question for the Irish is the face-off circle, where Corrigan said his team was deeper than ever in 2021. Notre Dame won more than 62% of its draws last season but lost specialists Kyle Gallagher and Charlie Leonard, who joined Kielty and Thornton in the Premier Lacrosse League.
Corrigan said freshman Will Lynch is leading a group of four underclassmen competing for time in the circle. Lynch, also a Chaminade grad, was Inside Lacrosse’s No. 2 face-off recruit for the 2021 class.
The Irish, ranked No. 5 by Inside Lacrosse, won’t have to wait long to measure themselves against most of their presumed title rivals. All five of Notre Dame’s ACC opponents are currently in the top 10.
Notre Dame was picked to finish third in ACC Preseason Poll behind No. 2 Virginia and No. 8 Duke. No. 5 North Carolina and No. 9 Syracuse were picked to finish fourth and fifth, respectively.
“I don’t think it gives us an opportunity to breathe,” Hallenbeck said of the challenging schedule. “We have to be ready.”
Pat Kavanagh, Attack
2021: 12 GP, 26 G, 38 A, 64 PTS, 35 GB
Named 2021 US Lacrosse First Team All-American, 2021 All-ACC and 2022 Preseason All-ACC. Set Notre Dame single-game records with 10 points vs. Syracuse and seven assists vs. Robert Morris last season.
Pat’s brother Matt, a 2016 graduate, was a four-time All-American for the Irish and now plays for Redwoods LC in the Premier Lacrosse League. Pat will have the opportunity to play alongside his younger brother, Chris, a freshman who entered Notre Dame as the No. 1 attackman and No. 4 overall recruit in his class.
“They just really understand the game. They understand how to make plays within a game.” — Corrigan on the Kavanaghs
Ryan Hallenbeck, SSDM
2021: 12 GP, 4 G, 5 A, 9 PTS, 20 GB
Named United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association (USILA) Honorable Mention All-American and 2022 Preseason All-ACC.
“He’s obviously been a steady leader, and he’s really become a student of the game. And I’ve been really impressed with him this spring.” — Corrigan
“I just love the idea of, ‘it’s going to be a challenge and a battle.’ And so there’s the cerebral part, where you have to understand the defense just like the rest of the guys. And there’s also that athletic component that allows you to be an athlete in guarding guys and picking up (ground balls).” — Hallenbeck on playing SSDM
Arden Cohen, Defense
2021: 12 GP, 26 GB
Named 2021 Inside Lacrosse and USILA Third Team All-American. Won ACC Defensive Player of the Week honors after May 2021 win over Syracuse. Named 2022 Preseason All-ACC.
Liam Entenmann, Goalie
2021: 12 GP, 8.85 GAAvg, 58.5 Save %, 8-4 W-L
Named 2021 Second Team US Lacrosse and USILA All-American. Made 2021 All-ACC and 2022 Preseason All-ACC teams.