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Will Lynch won 18 of 23 faceoffs as the top-seeded Fighting Irish pulled away from fifth-seeded Denver 13-6.

Postseason 'Dawg' Will Lynch Keeps Repeat Hopes Alive for Notre Dame

May 25, 2024
Patrick Stevens
Rich Barnes

PHILADELPHIA — Will Lynch’s emergence as a steady force in last year’s NCAA tournament was a major factor in Notre Dame winning its first national title.

The dominance of he and his wing players have put the Fighting Irish a game away from winning a second.

Lynch won 18 of 23 faceoffs as the top-seeded Fighting Irish pulled away from fifth-seeded Denver 13-6 before 32,269 in the NCAA semifinals at Lincoln Financial Field.

“To have Will on our team, it means the world,” Notre Dame attackman Chris Kavanagh said. “We wouldn’t be in this situation without him dominating this postseason. A lot of credit to him in getting us the ball and playing for extra possessions in the middle of the field. He’s been a dawg.”

Kavanagh had three goals and an assist, brother Pat Kavanagh collected three goals and two assists and Devon McLane added three goals for Notre Dame (15-1), which will meet seventh-seeded Maryland (11-5) in Monday’s title game.

Richie Connell and Michael Lampert scored twice for the Pioneers (13-4), who fell in their first semifinal appearance since 2017. Denver has advanced to Memorial Day just once, when it won the championship in 2015.

“I’m proud of these guys,” Pioneers coach Matt Brown said. “They got our program back to where we belong.”

Given its consistency over the last two and a half seasons, Notre Dame is arguably right where it belongs, too. It showed the makings of a juggernaut with a strong finish to the 2022 season, only to be shut out of the postseason. That fueled last year’s roster, an imposing intersection of incentive and ability, and the Irish paid back two regular-season defeats of Virginia with a semifinal triumph before brushing aside Duke in the final.

Lynch was a combined 25 of 41 in those two Memorial Day Weekend games last year, handling high-profile matchups with Virginia’s Petey LaSalla and Duke’s Jake Naso with aplomb. It was the setup to a fine junior year that in turn has led into a monster postseason.

The Rockville Centre, N.Y., native is 57 of 75 (76 percent) in postseason defeats of Albany, Georgetown and now Denver.

“I know a lot of people think it’s 1-v-1, but the success we have doesn’t happen without all three people being on the same page,” Lynch said. “They did a great job opening exits and competing for ground balls.”

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Chris Kavanagh flies through the air on a shot attempt.
Rich Barnes


Chris Kavanagh produced three goals and one assist against Denver. His 76 points this season are one away from tying his brother Pat's single-season program record. The top four single-season marks for Notre Dame? All Kavanaghs.

Even with Lynch controlling faceoffs, Denver gamely hung around for a half. Goalie Malcolm Kleban was sharp early, stopping nine shots in the first 30 minutes as the Irish maintained a 5-4 lead.

But after Lampert’s shot that appeared to be stopped trickled past Notre Dame goalie Liam Entenmann (12 saves) to bring Denver within 6-5, the Irish gradually pulled away. McLane used some excellent off-ball movement to finish an Eric Dobson feed, and Dobson then scored an unassisted goal less than two minutes later.

“They do move ball off-ball extremely well,” Brown said. “I thought we did a pretty good job in a lot of possessions in handling them, but if you have a slip or you have a fall or fan off on a ground ball, they picked it up. In the scramble situations, that’s when they’re deadly.

Notre Dame then forced a turnover off a ride after Denver had effectively killed off a minute-long penalty, and Chris Kavanagh fired in a shot off a feed from his brother to make it 9-5.

Denver’s Joshua Carlson got the deficit down to three early in the fourth quarter, but the Pioneers were held scoreless for the final 13:37 as Notre Dame won all six faceoffs in the fourth quarter.

“We’ve been in this situation before,” Kavanagh said. “We faced really good netminders in the ACC and out of conference. When it’s not falling your way, you just have to keep shooting and hopefully it goes in. I thought we did a good job coming out with a little bit of an adjustment on offense — not really anything big, just keep firing and they’ll fall eventually.”

The Irish did, eventually. They figured out Kleban, eventually, scoring on all but one of their second-half shots on goal.

And they wore down Denver’s impressive defense, eventually, no small feat given how cohesive and experienced that group was.

“When a bunch of great players have the ball for a consistent amount of time, it’s obviously tough to stop them every single time,” Denver long-stick midfielder AJ Mercurio said. “Our defense, we put up a damn good fight and made them work for everything that they got.”

For much of the season, it was a winning formula. Against Notre Dame and its possession engine, it halted one of Division I’s most satisfying seasons this spring.

Brown took over for the retired Bill Tierney and promptly won his debut at Johns Hopkins. The Pioneers got back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2021, hammered Michigan in the first round and then smothered Syracuse to return to the season’s final weekend for the first time in seven years.

“We all came back as fifth years and seniors for a chance at championship weekend, and that’s exactly what we got,” Mercurio said. “We are a gritty, gritty, gritty team. We fought tooth and nail every single game. We had overtime wins. We went against top-10, top-five teams and came out victorious. It was really just getting back to the Pioneer way.”

As for Notre Dame, it methodically moved on. In the same place but a different year, Lynch and the Irish once again extended their title dreams, keeping the hope of becoming the first team since 2013-14 Duke to win championships in consecutive seasons alive heading into the season’s final day.