May 20, 2016

By John Heisler

Mammoth Ohio Stadium, home of the Ohio State Buckeyes’ football program, may seem like a bit of an untraditional site for a quarterfinal doubleheader in the NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Championship-but that doesn’t mean Sunday’s Notre Dame-North Carolina contest comes devoid of plots.

Here’s what Irish and Tar Heel fans have been mulling this week:

–There’s plenty at stake in this game.

A victory for the Irish would send them to their third consecutive NCAA Championship Weekend and their fifth in seven years.

A win for the Tar Heels would end a long drought that has seen Carolina drop eight consecutive NCAA quarterfinal games (1994, 1996, 2004, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2013 and 2015). The Heels have not been to Championship Weekend since their last national title-game appearance in 1993. It’s safe to say that’s not lost on fans in Chapel Hill, who last saw their team win it all in 1991.

–It’s a return for Carolina coach Joe Breschi, who was head coach at Ohio State from 1998-2008.

It’s a return for the Irish who played at Ohio Stadium March 26, defeating the Buckeyes 9-8.

Back in 2009 Notre Dame came to Columbus to play in Ohio State’s “Showdown in the Shoe,” a Buckeye men’s lacrosse game played as a preamble to the Ohio State spring football game. The official attendance for the lacrosse game was 30,192 (based on fans in the stadium at halftime of the lacrosse game), then the NCAA regular-season single-game record. The game meant plenty to Irish freshman attack Nick Beattie (both his parents are Ohio State graduates), a Columbus product (Worthington Kilbourne) who finished the Notre Dame scoring in the 14-8 Irish victory. A national record spring football crowd of 95,722 fans turned out in Ohio Stadium and many of those were around to catch all or parts of the late lacrosse action.

–Kevin Corrigan, the Baumer Family head coach at Notre Dame, and Breschi will suggest it plays no real factor Sunday, but the regular-season meeting between these two teams a month ago in Chapel Hill resonated deeply in the lacrosse world.

Notre Dame came into that contest as the unanimous number-one team, needing a win at Carolina to clinch a second straight unbeaten regular season in Atlantic Coast Conference play (against a team picked for last in preseason league voting by ACC head coaches).

The Irish had ruined Syracuse’s party three weeks earlier by winning convincingly at the Carrier Dome on the weekend the Orange was celebrating 100 years of Syracuse lacrosse. Notre Dame wanted to do the same thing in Chapel Hill on a day the Tar Heels were honoring their national championship teams.

For about 50 minutes the Irish appeared to have done what they needed to accomplish that goal. They scored six times in the third period (tying for the most goals in a period all year by Notre Dame) coming out of a halftime tie, led 14-9 after three quarters and 15-10 with less than 10 minutes to play. It seemed unlikely the Irish defense would not preserve that margin.

But somehow the home team scored seven consecutive goals in a span of 7:29-in the process winning six of the last seven face-offs to control possession. The Tar Heels won 17-15, just a week after scoring only seven times in losing at Syracuse (and a week later they again would manage only seven goals against the Orange in an ACC Championship semifinal loss).

That tilted the equation. The victory handed the Tar Heels the number-one seed in the ACC Championship and left the Irish to share the regular-season crown with Carolina.

“The biggest thing from the game at Chapel Hill was that at the end of the game we weren’t winning face-offs and we weren’t stopping them,” said Corrigan. “There’s only two ways to get the ball-either win face-offs or stop the other team and clear the ball, and we did not do either of those effectively in the fourth quarter. Up until that point we played some of our best lacrosse of the year–we had a five-goal lead with 10 minutes to play. So we know what happened at the end-we’re not going to lose our mind over that. I’m not worried about a hangover from that.”

–Of late, these two teams have scored a lot of goals against each other. The 2015 meeting ended 15-14 in favor of Notre Dame. Those 15 Notre Dame goals in 2015 tied for the most scored against the Heels that season–and the 14 by Carolina were the most permitted all year by the Irish.

Those 17 goals scored this year by Carolina represent seven more than any other Irish opponent has managed in 2016. That total tied the Tar Heel season high.

Notre Dame shot at a .405 clip this year at Chapel Hill against the Tar Heels, its second-best effort of the season (tied with .405 against Air Force and trailing only .425 at Syracuse). Carolina’s .378 shooting this year marks the best effort against the Irish in 2016. Both Steve Pontrello and Luke Goldstock scored four times for the Heels in that contest-the most goals by a player against the Irish defense this year.

So maybe the team that finds a way to play more than a smidgen of defense will have the best chance to prevail.

–The Irish shared the ball better than at any other point in 2016 against Air Force in the NCAA first round with 11 assists. That’s the most since a dozen for Notre Dame in a 20-5 win over Dartmouth early in 2015.

–Maybe just coincidences?

First, Notre Dame and North Carolina play against each other in both men’s and women’s lacrosse this weekend in the NCAA Championship quarterfinals. The women play at 1 p.m. Saturday in Chapel Hill. The men play at noon Sunday in Columbus, Ohio.

Second, Notre Dame is the only program with both a men’s and women’s finalist for the respective Tewaaraton Awards-Matt Landis and Barbara Sullivan (she was also a finalist in 2015). Both play defense (they are the only defensive players among the 10 combined finalists), they are both seniors and they both come from New York (Landis from Pelham, Sullivan from Garden City).

For years Notre Dame had only a single Tewaaraton finalist in midfielder Tom Glatzel in 2001 (the first year the award was presented). Now the Irish have had finalists in successive years-Matt Kavanagh in 2015 and Landis in 2016.

–Here are a few leftovers from Notre Dame’s NCAA first-round win over Air Force:
1. Notre Dame’s 15 goals tied for its highest output in an NCAA Championship game (also 15 vs. Loyola in a 15-13 first-round win in 2000).
2. Notre Dame’s 11 assists are a record for an Irish NCAA game.
3. The eight-goal margin tied Notre Dame’s NCAA best (also vs. Harvard in a 13-5 win in the 2014 first round).
4. Mikey Wynne’s five goals against the Falcons tied the Irish NCAA single-game high (it happened five other times, including twice by Sergio Perkovic and once by Matt Kavanagh).
5. Brendan Collins’ four assists tied the Irish NCAA single-game high (also by Jimmy Keenan in 1996 and Will Sutton in 1995).
6. Wynne’s six points versus the Falcons were one short of the Irish NCAA mark (seven by Kavanagh against Maryland in 2014 and Tom Glatzel against Loyola in 2000).
7. Collins’ five points against Air Force have been topped only six times in Notre Dame NCAA play.

–Who is the hottest shooter in the country? Notre Dame freshman Ryder Garnsey certainly is in the conversation. Garnsey currently rates fourth nationally in that category at .473-but over his last four games (North Carolina, Duke, Army and Air Force) he has connected at a .600 rate (12 of 20) and a .705 rate based on shots on goal (12 of 17). He was 2 of 4 vs. Carolina, 3 of 6 vs. Duke in the ACC semifinal, 4 of 5 vs. Army and 3 of 5 vs. Air Force in the NCAA first round.

By comparison, the top-shooting team in the country is Denver at .377-while the individual leader is Justin Huggins of Hartford at .603.

–Notre Dame’s recent NCAA Championship scoring has been dominated by current senior captain Matt Kavanagh and junior midfielder Sergio Perkovic. Kavanagh had a five-goal, seven-point game against Maryland in the 2014 national semifinals, while Perkovic had five-goal games in the 2014 final against Duke and the 2015 semifinal against Denver. Mikey Wynne added a five-goal game against Air Force in 2016.

Here is career NCAA scoring for current Irish players:

Name Goals Assists Points
A Matt Kavanagh 21 12 33
M Sergio Perkovic 20 2 22
A Mikey Wynne 6 2 8
A Eddy Lubowicki 2 3 5
M Brendan Collins 1 4 5
A Ryder Garnsey 3 1 4
M Trevor Brosco 2 1 3
M Ben Pridemore 1 1 2
M Nick Koshansky 1 0 1
M Bobby Gray 1 0 1
M Kyle Trolley 1 0 1
M Timmy Phillips 1 0 1
M P.J. Finley 1 0 1

Meanwhile, both Corrigan and Breschi know none of this will mean much beginning at noon Sunday.

Either the Irish or the Tar Heels will make one more play (maybe several more) on the field, and that will be the difference.

The team that accomplishes that will be headed to Philadelphia for NCAA Championship Weekend.

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.

University of Notre Dame Athletics Communications contact:
John Heisler
Senior Associate Athletics Director
112 Joyce Center
Notre Dame, IN 46556
574-631-7516 (office)
574-532-0293 (cell)

The University of Notre Dame men’s lacrosse team pursues excellence on and off the field through the three pillars in which the program is built: Character, Culture & Community. These three foundational values guide the promise of the program, which is to provide its student-athletes with the most compelling and enriching experience in all of college athletics. Through academics, competition, service and travel, the program aims to immerse its players in situations that enhance their student-athlete experience to help them become the people, students and teammates they aspire to be.

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