May 13, 2016
By John Heisler
If it’s May and it’s the NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Championship and Notre Dame is involved-then must-see moments must be on the horizon.
Notre Dame’s veterans including senior captains Matt Kavanagh and Matt Landis already have played nine NCAA games. Those nine have been decided by an average of 2.9 goals (2.25 if you eliminate the outlier-a 13-5 Irish win over Harvard in 2014). Three have been decided by one goal (two in overtime) and three more were decided by a pair of goals.
Those seniors have been to two NCAA Championship Weekends-and they came within a sliver of doing it as rookies in 2013 except for a one-goal loss to Duke in the quarterfinals.
How about juniors like Sergio Perkovic? He doesn’t know anything other than the final four of men’s lacrosse because he and his Irish have accomplished that each of his first two years in the postseason.
Looking for SportsCenter-style top-10 finishes? Consider some of the experiences Landis and Kavanagh and their senior class have in the vault:
- 1st round: When Kavanagh and Landis were freshmen, the Irish fell behind Detroit 5-1 at halftime and then 7-3 after three periods. But Notre Dame came roaring back with the last six goals of the game in the final period (two by Kavanagh) to win 9-7.
- Quarterfinals: A week later in Indianapolis, the second-seeded Irish played their way through eight tie scores to lead 11-9 with nine minutes remaining, only to see Duke score the last three goals of the game (the winner at 2:16) to prevail 12-11. Kavanagh had three goals and three assists in that one.
- 1st round: The Irish eliminated most of the anxiety factor by scoring the first seven goals of the game (pardon if this sounds familiar, but Kavanagh scored two of those and assisted on two more). Final: Notre Dame 13, Harvard 5.
- Quarterfinals: Good luck finding a better game to watch from a fan’s standpoint. Albany, led by the Thompsons (Miles, Lyle and Ty combined for eight goals and four assists), scored six straight times and led 12-7 when the fourth-period clock went under the 10-minute mark. The Irish then scored six times in a 5:09 span of regulation to tie it-and hometown hero Kavanagh (he lives not far from the Hofstra campus where the game was played) won it at 2:29 of overtime.
- Semifinals: Notre Dame scored four of the first five goals after the halftime break (two by Kavanagh) and rolled to an 11-6 win over Maryland, making up for the Terps’ regular-season win in South Bend.
- Final: Down 6-1 early in the second half, Perkovic scored five times after intermission. His late tallies pulled Notre Dame to within 9-8 and 10-9, but it wasn’t quite enough against top-seeded Duke. The Blue Devils won 11-9.
- 1st round: Towson led 6-2 late in the second period before Notre Dame ripped off six straight goals and 10 of 12. The Irish prevailed 12-10.
- Quarterfinals: In a rematch with Albany played in Denver, Landis went a long way to earning the USILA defensive player-of-the-year award by playing a huge role in limiting Lyle Thompson to one early goal and forcing him into six turnovers (he did have four assists). From a 9-9 tie with most of the final period remaining, hometown senior Nick Ossello scored two of Notre Dame’s six goals in a row and the Irish won 14-10 to advance to the final four for a second consecutive time.
- Semifinals: Notre Dame didn’t win this game against Denver, but it wasn’t because Perkovic didn’t put on a show maybe never seen in NCAA play. The Irish faced a four-goal deficit with under five minutes to go, yet Perkovic scored five times in a 5:57 span and then Ossello’s goal with nine seconds remaining knotted it at 10. The Pioneers won in overtime.
What all this indicates is that maybe it’s no surprise ESPNU put the Notre Dame-Air Force NCAA first-round game Saturday in prime time. These recent Irish NCAA outings have been more than a little drama-laden.
Assume the presence of Kavanagh and Perkovic alone is worth the price of admission.
In those nine career NCAA games Kavanagh has contributed 20 goals and 10 assists for 30 points. Perkovic (in seven games) has added 19 goals and an assist for 20 points. No other current Irish player has more than a single goal in NCAA play.
Kavanagh, Landis and the rest of the Notre Dame seniors have one more shot at the brass ring.
Air Force comes to town with a 15-game win skein (the longest active streak in the nation-with 12 wins coming on the road), the third-ranked defense in the country (allowing 7.29 goals per game) and a hot goaltender in senior Doug Gouchoe (he ranks third nationally permitting 7.03 goals per game and is the Southern Conference Defensive Player of the Year).
Notre Dame counters with its own fifth-rated defense paced by Landis and its own highly-regarded goaltender (junior Shane Doss at 7.36 goals allowed per game)
History suggests it won’t be boring.
John Heisler, senior associate athletics director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 1978. A South Bend, Indiana, native, he is a 1976 graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a member of the College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame. He is editor of the award-winning “Strong of Heart” series.