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No. 3 seed Maryland men’s lacrosse NCAA Tournament preview: Second round vs No. 6 seed Notre Dame

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The Terps look to push through to the semifinal on the road.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

No. 3 seed Maryland men’s lacrosse 2021 season was missing some bonafide ACC competition.

The stars aligned to make this year’s Notre Dame and Maryland matchup possible and, unlike previous years, the two will be meeting at the most competitive juncture of the year so far.

The two sides will be meeting for the sixth consecutive season in a highly anticipated ACC/Big Ten showdown in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals on May 23. The contest will be televised on ESPNU at 2:30 p.m.

“[They’re a] traditional Notre Dame team,” defender Nick Grill said, “they’re gonna be really athletic, really balanced, really traditional, really disciplined. So we just have to understand what we’re going to get for them and play our game [and] just make sure we cover all the bases so we’re ready to go Sunday.”

No. 6 Notre Dame (8-3, 3-3 ACC)

Head coach Kevin Corrigan in his 33rd season is the longest active coach of men’s lacrosse at the Division I level, and he’s rightfully earned the distinction. After taking on a lead role at a program unfamiliar with postseason play, Corrigan quickly turned Notre Dame into a regular contender. He has led the Fighting Irish to the NCAA Championship Weekend five times, with four appearances in the last eight seasons, and has led Notre Dame to two NCAA championship games in the past decade.

Most recently, the Irish have struggled to return to the title game, falling short in every year since 2014. However, in the previous five meetingsNotre Dame has had an upper hand in most of the close battles, with a 3-2 record.

“[Coach Corrigan is] just super bright, a guy that is willing to change and not afraid to adjust and think of new ideas or at least listen to new ideas,” head coach John Tillman said, “[The Irish] are tough, they’re good off the ground. They always play great defense, they always seem to have good goalies.”

Players to know

Jack Kielty, graduate defenseman, 6-foot-2, 225 lbs, No. 10, In an offensively stacked conference, Jack Kielty has been a defensive stalwart for the Irish. Kielty is the fourth Irish in the past six years to earn defensive player of the year honors in the ACC and the only defenseman to be named US Lacrosse Magazine’s National Player of the Week during the 2021 season. He was also a Tewaaraton nominee and built a reputation as a stout lockdown defender in his 2021 campaign. As the defensive anchor, Kielty held nine of his 10 main defensive assignments below their season average point total.

“He’s a great defender,” Logan Wisnauskas said, “we had our battles going back and forth over the past three, four years now.”

Liam Entenmann, sophomore goalie, 6-foot-2, 192 lbs, No. 44, With a sizable frame, Liam Entenmann has shown promise to be another defensive mainstay for Notre Dame. As a sophomore, Entenmann has allowed 89 goals while saving 129, marking up a resounding 59% save percentage. Among many other positions at Notre Dame, Entenmann stands as one of the best goalies Maryland has seen in 2021.

“He’s a big body with a wide stance,” Wisnauskas said, “... playing good offense, you know, just being smart and shooting good shots at good angles. [That’s] going to be the key to success.”

Pat Kavanagh, sophomore attack, 5-foot-10, 170 lbs, No. 51, Pat Kavanaugh is the closest thing Notre Dame has to attacker Jared Bernhardt. He’s one of three Tewaaraton finalists from the ACC and his role as the consistent scorer on this otherwise balanced offense has earned him the honor. Kavanaugh’s 25 goals and 36 assists have paced the Notre Dame offense and lead the team in both categories.

“He deserves [the Tewaaraton], he’s really good,” head coach John Tillman said “he’s really blossomed, and he’s always been a guy that has outstanding skill, he’s ultra competitive, tremendous instincts. And he’s just kind of grown into his body.”

Strength

Defense. This defense Notre Dame brings will be unlike any other Maryland has seen this season. In a conference lacking any true lockdown defenses, Maryland has powered through the Big Ten with ease backed by their unselfish offense and Bernhardt.

Though the Irish probably still don’t offer the talent to keep up with the likes of Bernhardt, they bring a collective talent that can potentially pose some problems for the Terps. With a defense led by Kielty, Arden Cohen, Kyle Thornton and Jose Boyer, the Irish have held opponents to two or fewer goals in 27 of 44 quarters and have garnered the third-best scoring defense in the nation.

Weakness

Inconsistency down the stretch. In the games Notre Dame has lost, it has primarily come as a result of its inability to finish strong. In one of their finest moments, the Irish led Duke by five points late in the contest only to fall short in overtime. They were tied with three minutes to go against Virginia after matching the Cavaliers goal for goal only to crumble, concede a goal with two minutes to go and fail to score in the remaining seconds. The Irish also just played well in spurts against North Carolina, spending most of the 60-minute contest chasing the eventual No. 1 seed Tarheels.

Three things to watch

1. Could Notre Dame be the Terps’ toughest opponent yet? As made evident by their offensive efficiency and defensive fortitude, the Fighting Irish bring a combination of strong defense and a concerted offense the Terps haven’t really been accustomed to in this 2021 season. The Terps have enjoyed little resistance against a majority of Big Ten sides and weren’t too challenged by Vermont.

The ACC, meanwhile, has spent the entirety of the regular season piling up competitive matches while consisting of several nationally regarded talents. Because of this, the Irish have compiled plenty of experience to consider themselves battle-tested and especially confident enough to fare with Maryland.

“You put on the film, it doesn’t take long to realize, you know, they’re terrific at every position, they’re very experienced at every position.” Tillman said, “They’re well coached, they’re skilled, they’re athletic. And the teams I’m watching them against, they’re really good too.”

2. How will the battle of Tewaaraton finalists shake out? Bernhardt and Kavanaugh will be facing off in a Tewaaraton finalist showdown. The two attackers will have a chance to make a case as the leading award candidate on their respective offenses. With the performances and narrative Bernhardt has worked in his favor, he looks to be a favorite for the national honor, however, Kavanaugh has shown bursts of Tewaaraton-worthy play as a facilitator. Either way, each will be ultimately playing for the opportunity to play in the semifinal round.

3. Which underdog will prevail? Notre Dame and Maryland ended Selection Sunday as the biggest surprise of the night. With Maryland knocked back out of the top two and Notre Dame left out of the top five, it made for several drastic implications heading into the tournament. For Maryland, it meant that they’d have a much more challenging journey to the final despite being the only undefeated team in the tournament field. For Notre Dame, it meant losing out on a chance to play a more familiar opponent in Virginia who they’ve largely done well against. The loser of this match will be the biggest victim of the seeding, while the winner will likely be reaffirming their missed bid for a higher seed.