March 17, 2014
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Liam O'Connor already was having an outstanding season and on Sunday he made it even better.
The senior midfielder carried the nation's third-best faceoff winning percentage into the showdown with seventh-ranked Virginia and his 19-for-24 performance propelled him to the top spot in the country (.701) and helped the Fighting Irish post a key 18-9 ACC victory. If his performance in the X wasn't enough, he also notched a goal and an assist.
Those faceoff wins contributed to two huge runs against the Cavaliers. The Fighting Irish netted five straight goals in a span of 2:20 in the second quarter to push their lead to six (8-2) and Notre Dame deposited four consecutive goals in just 1:11 in the fourth quarter to put the game away.
"I got a lot of help from the wings," O'Connor said. "We lost the first two faceoffs and then we started to get into a rhythm and body the guy off the ball. Our wings did a really good job of boxing out some guys and pushing the ball up field. I think we were able to get two or three goals off the faceoff, which was a huge momentum swing for us."
O'Connor has been a major factor in Notre Dame's faceoff unit ever since his freshman year, but he also has struggled with injuries during his Fighting Irish career. Now a healthy O'Connor is showing what he's capable of doing on a consistent basis.
"I'm trying to stay healthy and keep my head on a swivel to make sure I don't take any big hits," O'Connor said. "I'm also trying to move the ball around a little bit to some other players. I also get help from (athletic trainer) Mandy Merritt to make sure I have the recovery I need off the field."
After winning a faceoff and darting down the field to score or dish the ball, O'Connor sometimes needs a breather at the X and Nick Ossello has been a fine replacement. The junior went 3-for-5 versus Virginia and is 11-for-15 (.733) this season. The O'Connor-Ossello duo has combined to give Notre Dame the top faceoff percentage in the nation (.696).
"Faceoffs are huge for momentum," Notre Dame head coach Kevin Corrigan said. "If you're down and you can win faceoffs, you have a chance to come back. If you're up and you win faceoffs, you're really hard to come back against.
"Liam has been playing great. He's not only been winning faceoffs, but he also had a goal and an assist (against Virginia). That was terrific and it doesn't totally count all the contributions he had. He made a couple other plays with some stuff we've been working on to play off of the fact he's not just a good faceoff guy, he's a good lacrosse player."
The win over Virginia bumped Notre Dame (3-2, 2-0 ACC) up three spots in the three major national polls. The highest ranking for the Fighting Irish this week is sixth in the Lacrosse Magazine poll, while the Irish are eighth according to the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association (USILA) and ninth in the Warrior rankings.
Along with owning the country's top faceoff percentage, Notre Dame ranks first nationally in man-up offense (.684). The Irish have scored on 13 of their 19 man-up opportunities, including a 2-for-2 showing against Virginia. Senior attackman John Scioscia and freshman midfielder Sergio Perkovic lead the Fighting Irish with five man-up goals each.
Sophomore attackman Matt Kavanagh is 10th nationally in points per game (4.6). Kavanagh tallied a game-high six points on four goals and two assists in the win over Virginia. The four goals tied a career-high total and marked the fourth time this season (in five games) that he scored three or more goals. He leads Notre Dame this season in goals (13) and assists (10).
LOFTUS MEMORIES FOR McANANEY
Former Fighting Irish defenseman Eamon McAnaney (`91) was in town to broadcast Sunday's game for ESPNU. The South Bend weather forced the game inside to the Loftus Sports Center and it brought McAnaney back to his playing days.
"I have some great memories of Loftus," said McAnaney. "You spend a lot more time in here (for practice) than you do on the playing field. I was very fortunate as a freshman that that was the first year of Loftus. I don't think we realized how lucky we were; we used to complain about the walk over here. It's tremendous and it's a great luxury to have. When you have weather like today where at 5 o'clock at night no one wants to be outside, it's great to have. I also think it was awesome to have two top-10 teams playing in Indiana."
Speaking of Loftus, Notre Dame has won 12 straight games played inside the facility. Since 2000, the Fighting Irish are 17-3 when playing inside the venue, which opened in 1988.
-- Sean Carroll, Assistant Athletic Media Relations Director
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