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Chris and Pat Kavanagh after winning the 2023 NCAA championship with Notre Dame in Philadelphia.

Philly Bound: The Essential Men's Lacrosse Final Four Preview

May 22, 2024
USA Lacrosse Magazine Staff
Kevin P. Tucker

Championship weekend has arrived.

The 2024 NCAA Division I men’s lacrosse semifinals Saturday will feature fifth-seeded Denver against top-seeded Notre Dame (12 p.m. EDT, ESPN2) followed by seventh-seeded Maryland against sixth-seeded Virginia at (2:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN2) at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. The winners will meet in the championship game Monday (1 p.m. EDT, ESPN).

Here’s everything you need to know about the four teams still standing.


Record: 14-1
Final Four Appearances: 7
NCAA Titles: 1 (2023)
Coach: Kevin Corrigan (36th year)

How They Got Here: Defeated Albany 14-9 and (8) Georgetown 16-11

Series History: Notre Dame is 14-11 all-time against Denver, but the Pioneers have won all three NCAA tournament meetings.

Last Meeting: Wheaton Jackoboice scored a career-high four goals and the Fighting Irish responded to a seven-goal salvo to close within two late, but Notre Dame fell short in a 14-11 home defeat March 7, 2020.


  • Notre Dame feels inevitable. The Kavanagh brothers are operating with peak efficiency on offense and look a whole lot healthier than they did last Championship Weekend, when Pat Kavanagh played on a makeshift hamstring and Chris Kavanagh absorbed a pair of brutal late hits that left him with a black eye. They were made for this stage, as was goalie Liam Entenmann. The Fighting Irish placed nine players on USA Lacrosse All-American teams. Their overall offensive efficiency of 39.7 percent is tops in Division I, as are their opponent-adjusted offensive (43.1 percent) and defensive (24.3 percent) efficiencies, according to Lacrosse Reference.
  • Will Lynch’s emergence has helped tilt the field in Notre Dame’s favor. He’s 75 percent in the NCAA tournament. He’ll have his hands full with Alec Stathakis but tends to get better as the game goes on. “He's never been better than he is right now,” coach Kevin Corrigan said.
  • Midfield depth, or lack thereof, has shown itself in this NCAA tournament. Give the Fighting Irish another nod here. Eric Dobson was the known quantity. And yet, he’s been content to be the party starter/hockey assister, while Devon McLane (Brown transfer) and Jordan Faison (Sun Bowl MVP in football) have emerged as the alphas of the unit. In preseason, Faison was more a curiosity since Corrigan had yet to see him on a lacrosse field. Now he’s a staple. Moreover, the secondary units have been productive. Max Busenkell, Reilly Gray, Will Angrick and Bryce Walker have played meaningful minutes and combined for 48 points.

USA Lacrosse All-Americans: Pat Kavanagh, A (1st); Ben Ramsey, SSDM (1st); Liam Entenmann, G (1st); Will Donovan, LSM (2nd); Chris Kavanagh, A (HM); Eric Dobson, M (HM); Devon McLane, M (HM); Will Lynch, FO (HM); Chris Conlin, D (HM)

MVP Watch

Three-time Tewaaraton finalist Pat Kavanagh can cement his case for the award by leading the Fighting Irish to their second straight NCAA title — especially since reigning winner Brennan O’Neill (Duke) did not make it to Championship Weekend.  Entenmann is just the third goalie ever to be named a finalist and first since 2011. “I got a quote here on my desk,” Corrigan said. “Jeff Van Gundy says, ‘Your best player has to set a tone of intolerance for anything that gets in the way of winning.’ That's exactly what those guys are like.”

Star in the Making

Freshman defenseman Shawn Lyght got a lot of love during ESPN’s broadcast of Notre Dame’s NCAA quarterfinal win over Georgetown. The 2023 New Jersey Defenseman of the Year with a strong athletic pedigree has started all 15 games and emerged as a centerpiece of the Fighting Irish unit, drawing top ball carriers and distributors like Virginia’s Connor Shellenberger and Duke’s Josh Zawada. The alpha types have not fared particularly well against Notre Dame this spring. Lyght is a big reason why.

Denver defenseman Jack DiBenedetto advances the ball up the field as a Syracuse player gives chase in the NCAA quarterfinals at Towson.
Fifth-year starter Jack DiBenedetto anchors a Denver defense that has propelled the Pioneers to championship weekend.
John Strohsacker


Record: 13-3
Final Four Appearances: 6
NCAA Titles: 1 (2015)
Coach: Matt Brown (1st year)

How They Got Here: Defeated Michigan 16-11 and (4) Syracuse 10-8

Series History: Denver is 11-14 all-time against Notre Dame.

Last Meeting: Ethan Walker had four goals and two assists and Alec Stathakis, then a freshman, went 22-for-28 facing off to pace Denver in a 14-11 victory March 7, 2020 — the last game before the season was canceled due to the pandemic.


  • Bill Tierney’s successor has picked up right where the legend left off. First-year coach Matt Brown, a fixture at Denver since his playing days, has the Pioneers back in Championship Weekend for the first time since 2017. Offensive coordinator David Metzbower was the glitzy offseason hire, but Brown’s former NLL teammate John Gallant deserves credit for turning Denver into a team that wins with defense. “He never played field lacrosse but played in the NLL for 17 years and was the captain of the Colorado Mammoth and a great friend of mine,” Brown said. “He’s like a brother to me and just a phenomenal teacher. I call him The Professor.”
  • About that defense: The Pioneers allow just 9.19 goals per game (second in Division I). They balance aggressive on-ball defense with a more conservative off-ball approach and protect the interior better than anyone in the country. Close defensemen Jack DiBenedetto and Adam Hangland and long pole AJ Mercurio are all fifth-year starters. That built-in trust extends to shutdown defenseman Jimmy Freehill, a junior enjoying his breakthrough season.
  • A rivalry renewed. Denver and Notre Dame staged some terrific battles in the Great Western Lacrosse League. And while the Fighting Irish had a distinct advantage at the outset, the Pioneers’ first win in the series — when Brown was a senior attackman in 2005 — turned the tide. DU is 3-0 against Notre Dame in the NCAA tournament. From 2012-16, they played five games that went to overtime, including one that went to triple OT. And lacrosse fans won’t soon forget the epic 2015 semifinal when the Pioneers staved off Sergio Perkovic and the Fighting Irish thanks to Wes Berg’s heroics. “We haven’t played them since 2020. It’s kind of disappointing,” Brown said. “I thought it was one of the great rivalries in college lacrosse.”

USA Lacrosse All-Americans: Jimmy Freehill, D (2nd); Alec Stathakis, FO (2nd); AJ Mercurio, LSM (3rd); Casey Wilson, SSDM (HM)

MVP Watch

Denver’s cover-all defense has carried it to the Final Four, notably frustrating Syracuse’s multi-pronged, slick-sticked attack in the quarterfinals. But Notre Dame has not once failed to generate double figures scoring. The Pioneers won a couple shootouts over Johns Hopkins and Cornell earlier in the season. If they must keep pace — and especially if the game comes down to the wire — JJ Sillstrop is the guy. He has the clutch gene with 11 career game-winning goals.

Star in the Making

A team’s defense is only as good as its rope. Casey Wilson caught the attention of the Canadian national team last summer to earn a spot on the world championship roster and has continued to make a name for himself as one of the top short-stick d-middies in Division I. The aggressive on-ball approach Denver employs works because Wilson and Mercurio are so sound up top. Wilson can score in transition, too. He had two goals and an assist in the first-round win over Michigan and tied his season high with five ground balls in the quarterfinal win over Syracuse.

Virginia lacrosse stars Connor Shellenberger (1) and McCabe Millon (9) shake hands.
Connor Shellenberger (1) and McCabe Millon (9) both had big moments in Virginia's quarterfinal win over Hopkins.
John Strohsacker


Record: 12-5
Final Four Appearances: 26
NCAA Titles: 7 (1972, 1999, 2003, 2006, 2011, 2019, 2021)
Coach: Lars Tiffany (8th year)

How They Got Here: Defeated Saint Joseph’s 17-11 and (3) Johns Hopkins 11-10 (2OT)

Series History: Virginia is 47-50 all-time against Maryland.

Last Meeting: Midfielder Griffin Schutz tied his career high with six points to lead Virginia to a 14-10 win over Maryland earlier this spring — UVA’s first victory in the series since defeating the Terrapins in the 2021 NCAA championship game.


  • Who will play in goal? Matt Nunes has started 49 of Virginia’s 51 games over the last three seasons, including all 17 games this year, but has struggled recently after a strong start to the season. He was pulled early in the quarterfinals against Johns Hopkins for sophomore Kyle Morris. Morris did not see any game action last year but has played in 11 games this year and matched his career-high with eight saves in the win over Hopkins. “Matt Nunes has been our starter since he arrived here, and Kyle Morris has never started an NCAA tournament game, but he does have some good experience now,” coach Lars Tiffany said. “We’re going to look at it. The one practice that we’ll have is Wednesday, and we’ll make a decision after that.”
  • Virginia’s 31.5 shooting percentage is its lowest since the COVID-shortened season of 2020 (28.2). NCAA goal-scoring leader Payton Cormier is coming off his worst shooting game of the season (1-for-11 against JHU), which came on the heels of an eight-goal effort in the first round against Saint Joseph’s. Tiffany said Cormier’s confidence — and the team’s confidence in him — has not wavered. “If Payton gets his chances, he’s not going 1-for-11 again,” he said.
  • Anthony Ghobriel has eased the loss of Petey LaSalla, winning 56.3 percent of his faceoffs this year. But Maryland has a distinct advantage at the dot. Ghobriel held serve against Maryland’s Luke Wierman in the first game, winning 11 of 22, but Maryland had a 16-12 advantage overall and Wierman is winning at a 62-percent clip this season.

USA Lacrosse All-Americans: Connor Shellenberger, A (1st); Payton Cormier, A (2nd); Griffin Schutz, M (3rd); Cole Kastner, D (3rd); Chase Yager, SSDM (HM); Ben Wayer, LSM (HM)

MVP Watch

Connor Shellenberger was the Most Outstanding Player of the 2021 NCAA Championship. With an OT game-winner in the quarterfinal round already in his pocket, he could be on the way to another award.

Star in the Making

McCabe Millon was already a star before he came to Virginia, so he might not fit the category, but he has certainly risen to the moment this season. Sophomore defenseman John Schroter might fit the bill. He did not play last year but had three caused turnovers in his first collegiate game (Michigan) and is coming off a game in which he had six ground balls against Johns Hopkins. The lanky 6-foot-5 defenseman might be the next big disruptive star to emerge from Virginia’s backline.

Maryland's Luke Wierman wins a faceoff against Duke in the NCAA quarterfinals at Hofstra.
Faceoff specialist Luke Wierman is the ultimate X factor for Maryland.
Maryland Athletics


Record: 10-5
Final Four Appearances: 29
NCAA Titles: 4 (1973, 1975, 2017, 2022)
Coach: John Tillman (17th year)

How They Got Here: Defeated Princeton 16-8 and (2) Duke 14-11

Series History: Maryland is 50-47 all-time against Virginia.

Last Meeting: Faceoff specialist Luke Wierman returned from injury to win 16 of 28 faceoffs, and Maryland rallied from a four-goal deficit to close within one before Virginia pulled away for a 14-10 victory in front of 7,845 fans in College Park.


  • Can the Terps score enough? Maryland’s offense put up a season-high 16 goals in a first-round win over Princeton and followed that with 14 goals against Duke. Prior to those games, the Terps had not topped 13 goals in regulation all season, and they rank 44th in the country in scoring offense (11.3 goals per game). Maryland is generally known for its defense, but with Virginia averaging 14.2 goals per game, the Terps are going to have to find some firepower.
  • Can All-American defenseman Ajax Zappitello win the battle of No. 1s? Zappitello held Connor Shellenberger to three points in the first meeting, and neither of Shellenberger’s two goals came with Zappitello guarding him. That’s a matchup of stars that’s going to be fun to watch. Tiffany lauded Maryland’s ability to play through picks and said UVA would attempt to disguise its screens to get Zappitello switched off Shellenberger, but the Terps also have to account for Millon and the Cavaliers’ dual-QB approach.
  • If it comes down to the wire, Maryland is 3-0 in overtime games this season and 5-2 in games decided by two goals or fewer. Virginia has played only four games all season decided by two goals or fewer, going 1-3 with the double-overtime quarterfinal win over Johns Hopkins its first triumph in a nail-biter.

USA Lacrosse All-Americans: Ajax Zappitello, D (1st); Eric Spanos, A (HM); Luke Wierman, FO (HM)

MVP Watch

Logan McNaney was the Most Outstanding Player of the 2022 NCAA Championship. There’s no reason to think he can’t get hot. The Terps have held four of their last six opponents to single digits.

Star in the Making

Ryan Siracusa had eight goals over his first three seasons at Maryland. He has 19 this season, including a career-high three goals against Duke in the quarterfinals. He scored twice in the first game against Virginia.