March 15, 2014
#7 VIRGINIA (6-1, 1-0)
Sunday, March 16 5 p.m. (ET)
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - On the eve of St. Patrick's Day the Fighting Irish men's lacrosse team would love nothing more than to be unwelcoming hosts to a program making its first trip to South Bend.
No. 11 Notre Dame (2-2, 1-0) will play host to No. 7 Virginia (6-1, 1-0) for the first time ever Sunday evening and when the Loftus Sports Center clock hits all zeroes the victor will leave the field 2-0 in ACC play and join Maryland atop the conference standings.
There is nothing easy about getting a win in a league that has all six teams among the top dozen spots of the major national polls and notching consecutive victories is enormous since the five-game ACC schedule leaves little margin for error. Notre Dame began its ACC era March 1 with a dramatic 11-10 come-from-behind victory at North Carolina, while Virginia rudely welcomed Syracuse to the league with a 17-12 win in Charlottesville.
While the Cavaliers and Fighting Irish opened their respective ACC ledgers with wins, both squads are coming off non-conference losses. Notre Dame fell to Denver, 10-7, last Saturday at the Pacific Coast Shootout in Costa Mesa, Calif., while Virginia lost at Cornell, 12-9, that same day.
A high-stakes showdown between Notre Dame and Virginia is nothing new since four of the seven all-time matchups have occurred in the NCAA tournament. The last meeting was a 12-10 Fighting Irish victory in the quarterfinals of the 2012 playoffs at PPL Park in Chester, Pa. While Sunday's game won't have the win-or-go-home scenario of the NCAA tournament, avoiding consecutive setbacks with plenty more obstacles on the horizon is paramount for both squads.
"Obviously you want to win every game and it'd be better looking at a 3-2 record than a 2-3 record," says Notre Dame sophomore attackman Matt Kavanagh. "If we keep running our system and playing solid lacrosse all-around by doing all of the little things, we should be fine."
The Fighting Irish will have to contain a Cavalier offense that ranks sixth nationally by depositing nearly 14 goals per game. Virginia's Mark Cockerton leads the country in goals scored with 25, while his fellow attackman James Pannell has 24.
"Virginia is a very athletic team and they put you in a lot of tough spots," says Notre Dame head coach Kevin Corrigan, a Virginia alum and former assistant coach for the Cavaliers. "They seem to generate a good offensive opportunity about every 20 seconds and they are a very challenging team to guard.
"At the other end of the field, they're long and athletic. They get out and put some pressure on you on the perimeter and make you make plays."
One way to slow down the Virginia attack is to win the possession battle and that is where Notre Dame's stellar faceoff unit comes into play. The Fighting Irish lead the nation with a .684 faceoff winning percentage. Senior Liam O'Connor has taken nearly all of Notre Dame's faceoff attempts and he boasts the country's third-best individual mark (.675). He is coming off a 15-for-21 performance versus Denver.
"We got a lot of possessions against Denver but we didn't do much with it in terms of finishing balls," says Corrigan. "Being able to win faceoffs is going to be very important on Sunday. You don't want to have to count on stopping them every time to get a possession."
Once the Irish gain possession, they will look to Kavanagh, who has team-high totals in goals (9) and assists (8). After posting a hat trick in each of the first three games of the season, the sophomore was held pointless against Denver. Senior attackman John Scioscia picked up some of the slack with three goals and one assist versus the Pioneers, but the Irish will need multiple weapons to deliver if they want to make their first ACC home tilt a successful one.
"We all came to Notre Dame to play the best competition that we could each week," Kavanagh says. "Now being in the ACC, these are games we look forward to. These teams are very historical and well-respected and we're trying to make a name for ourselves in the ACC."
-- Sean Carroll, Assistant Athletic Media Relations Director
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