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Dartmouth men's lacrosse huddle.

Kirwan Taking Long View Midway Through Quirky First Season in Dartmouth

March 30, 2024
Patrick Stevens
McKenzie Yi / Dartmouth Athletics

Dartmouth has played on a Monday, multiple Tuesdays and a Thursday. It has played on a sun-splashed afternoon to close out non-conference play and a snowy day to begin its Ivy League schedule in the same week.

And amid the quirkiness, it is well past the midpoint of the first season under Sean Kirwan, arguably the most intriguing hire in last year’s coaching carousel.

The Big Green (3-5, 0-1 Ivy) probably aren’t going to end a 21-year NCAA tournament drought this spring. It’s unlikely many outside Dartmouth’s locker room expected an instant turnaround.

But it didn’t take long for Dartmouth to win its first game under Kirwan (against Holy Cross, in the second contest of the year). It locked up its first win away from Hanover in its second true road game of the season (at Siena).

And while it is anything but perfect — a 21-9 loss to Georgetown on March 19 illustrated how things can go sideways in a hurry — Kirwan can see improvement on a daily basis.

“We continue to make progress in little ways and even some big ways,” Kirwan said. “I’m very happy about the growth. We love the guys and the group we get to work with every day, but in a lot of ways, we can be reminded pretty quick how small the margin of error is when we play these great teams.”

It was always a matter of time before Kirwan got a program of his own. He played at Division III Tufts, remained on Mike Daly’s staff after graduation, was the offensive coordinator for Brown when the Bears reached the NCAA semifinals in 2016 and followed coach Lars Tiffany to Virginia about a month after that season ended.

The Cavaliers won two national titles during his time in Charlottesville, but the intersection of opportunity and challenge at what’s long been the Ivy League’s most overlooked program appealed to him.

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Two recent outings have done a fine job of revealing both the strengths and limitations of his first Big Green team. Georgetown deposited its first four shots and bolted to a 5-0 lead, but Dartmouth then settled in and played well for 20 minutes before the Hoyas scored twice in the last 20 seconds of the half. A solid third quarter followed, but the Big Green unraveled defensively as Georgetown scored six in a row in the fourth quarter.

Back home in the snow against Penn, Dartmouth managed to get to halftime tied, only to endure a scoring drought of more than 27 minutes in an 11-8 loss.

“It’s that last piece of execution,” Kirwan said. “Can we not only do it at a high level, but at a consistent level? That’s the biggest thing: Showing up every day, bringing our best, doing our jobs to the best of our ability and do that consistently. That piece is that last piece of the puzzle.”

Kirwan believes the team he has now is vastly superior to the one that began preseason practice about two months ago, even if the Big Green sit below .500. Does Dartmouth have a late-season surprise in it, perhaps when Yale or Cornell pays a visit in the back half of league play? Or maybe Saturday, when it matches up against Princeton?

No matter that answer, Kirwan was always going to take the long-term view this season. It is, put simply, the beginning of a multi-year process.

“For our guys to have that resiliency even through losses to have that energy and enthusiasm [is vital],” Kirwan said. “I think every time we show up, we play hard and give great effort. In a lot of ways, that’s the foundation you need, and in some other ways, that’s the minimum standard.”


One of the season’s more head-scratching plays — at least on the surface — came in Duke’s 11-7 victory over Denver on Sunday.

With the Blue Devils up 8-6 with less than four minutes to go, Andrew McAdorey rolled the ball into the corner like a player normally does when the shot clock is about to expire.

The only problem? There was still about 30 seconds left on the shot clock.

McAdorey scrambled to reclaim possession, and Duke was able to take a timeout. Josh Zawada scored late in the possession to bump the Blue Devils’ lead to three.

“What happened was ‘Victory’ is our call for we’re going to take what is usually the quarter clock down,” coach John Danowski said. “This in particular was [a situation] we were calling for ‘Victory’ for the shot clock, and [assistant] Matt [Danowski] was yelling, ‘Go to the corner.’ Andrew rolled it to the corner when he was supposed to go the corner [himself].”

The fact it didn’t ultimately cost Duke (10-2), which edged Boston University 11-10 on Wednesday and won’t play again until April 7 against Notre Dame in a rematch of last year’s national title game, provides a partial explanation for why Danowski was so willing to patiently explain what went wrong.

But it also encapsulates the element of teaching that Danowski prides himself and his program on.

“I believe this strongly: You have to practice everything,” Danowski said. “We haven’t practiced ‘Victory’ within the shot clock. We’ve practiced ‘Victory’ within the game clock, but not the shot clock. So that’s on me.”