Notre Dame lacrosse is ACC co-champs with win over Duke. Is it enough for an NCAA bid?
SOUTH BEND — Three decades at one coaching stop can sometimes feel like a lifetime. And in 34 years at Notre Dame, turning the Irish into a perennial lacrosse power, head coach Kevin Corrigan has seen a lot.
Experienced a lot.
But it's been a while since Corrigan, and Notre Dame lacrosse, have been in this position.
Worrying about its postseason status. Sweating it out on Selection Sunday.
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The Irish have qualified for 15 consecutive NCAA tournaments. A month ago, even as early as halftime of Saturday afternoon’s must-win home game against Duke, a 16th seemed more unlikely than a given.
But something at halftime flipped. The Irish turned an 11-7 deficit into a 16-14 win. And possibly saved its season.
"I've never been more proud of a team," Corrigan said. "Not only did we play a terrible second quarter and go down by four, but we come out in the second half and give up a goal that wasn’t even intended to be a shot. A lot of teams would have felt that was it.
"We just bore down from that point on and made plays for the rest of the game."
It was Notre Dame’s sixth consecutive win to close the regular season. A season turned around.
The reality of no postseason ticket had been building since mid-March when it stared with its worst season-start (2-4) since beginning 2-3 in 2019-20.
Those Irish never had a chance to turn their season around due to COVID-19. These Irish did, and found some late-season magic.
"At 2-4, they were not going to let it end that way," Corrigan said of his players. "They were not going limp off after that and they didn't allow anybody to put their head down."
Saturday’s win over Duke (11-6, 3-3 ACC) still may not be enough to get Notre Dame (8-4, 5-1 ACC) into the tournament, but since the beginning of April, the Irish did everything possible to be in position.
"We told our guys then that we had to win the rest," Corrigan said. "We didn't mince our words in any way. We had to win six straight. That is how we get in the tournament."
Possibly. That was to be officially determined in Sunday's selection show at 9 p.m. on ESPNU.
The Irish may have also bounced the Blue Devils from its own postseason pursuit. That's how important Saturday's game was, between two of the sports' storied programs.
For the majority of the afternoon, it was Duke who looked more like the NCAA Tournament squad. But the Irish weren’t quite done fighting for its season.
With the week of rain finally waned, under clear skies and 60 degree weather, and a rather large crowd who understood the magnitude of the moment, Notre Dame scored six consecutive goals (Jake Taylor and Eric Dobson each with three) to finish off its furious second-half comeback.
"We started making some saves, Our defense tightened up," Corrigan said. "We stopped giving away some of the easy looks they had down low. Our guys, we felt consistently throughout the game that if we had good possessions we could get good shots. We got some guys that can put the ball in the back of the net."
Taylor, who finished with six goals (team high) on eight shots, has been, not only one of the scorers, but the sparkplug.
Notre Dame has won every game since Corrigan put Taylor in the starting lineup against Syracuse on April 2.
"It's our job to put the ball in the net and that’s what I got to do," Taylor said.
Notre Dame jumped out to a 4-2 lead after the first quarter thanks to two late goals by Quinn McCahon and Pat Kavanagh, his team-leading 25th of the season. The second quarter was dominated by Duke, who outscored the Irish 9-3 behind four goals from Dyson Williams and took its 11-7 lead into the break with all the momentum.
That’s when Notre Dame’s season looked over, until it wasn’t.
"There was a lot of talk (at halftime) about just having the heart to do it and doing the right things," Taylor said. "Just doing the little things, scoring one goal at the time. A lot of patience, a lot of care and a lot of heart."
It took a lot of heart for Notre Dame to even get to this point. A chance to hear its name called tomorrow night. In Corrigan's eyes, his team has done enough to do that.
"I don't control that. I hate that I don’t. But we controlled what we could control, which was to win these six games in a row," he said. "I don’t know how anybody watches us over these last six weeks and say that isn’t a team that belongs in the tournament."
As Notre Dame's players celebrated their win, their shared conference championship, their careers and their season on the field following the game, Corrigan was bombarded with congratulations, hugs and handshakes. Over the last three decades of success, those still haven't gotten old.
At one point a young Irish fan came up to him with a request, wanting a game-used stick to bring home with him.
"Sticks are for the end of the season," Corrigan told him.
He, and the Irish, hope that won't come Sunday night.