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Quint Kessenich’s 2023 Championship Weekend Takeaways

Notre Dame graduate transfers made the difference in May. Brian Tevlin (Yale), Jack Simmons (Virginia), Chris Conlin (Holy Cross), and Chris Fake (Yale) were key figures in the Irish semifinal and Memorial Day wins. Tevlin delivered the game-winner on Saturday against Virginia and scored the critical 8-7 goal on Monday after Duke had clawed back from a 6-1 deficit to make it 7-7. Fake was terrific in his coverage of Brennan O’Neill. Chris Conlin won his matchup with Andrew McAdorey, which I thought would be a liability. I was wrong. Conlin covered with confidence and strong angle play. Make that back-to-back seasons where portal pick-ups pushed a contender over the top to glory on Championship Weekend.

Video replay should be used to confirm goals in the final two minutes and overtime of NCAA playoff games, especially for Championship Weekend. Saturday’s crease call is an avoidable mistake. I do not blame the officials at all. That was the perfect storm or the perfect crime. The referee mechanics were spot on. A player flashed in front of the lead official at the precisely wrong second when he was being screened. The trail official has the push, hold, or cross-check call.

The Crease/dive call is tough. Understand that the two officiate are looking at five different things.

  • What path does the shooter take?
  • Where does the shooter leap from?
  • Is the contact from the defense legal or illegal?
  • Where does the shooter land?
  • Does the ball break the goal line plane before the shooter contacts the ground, goalie, or goal?

I feel for these officials who reffed a near-perfect game prior to this unfortunate ending. They care deeply about the sport, it’s players, coaches, and fans. Hundreds of crease/dive calls during the regular season won’t have a replay available. This was one that could have been rectified with a video review. NCAA Tournament games are all televised. We have the technology. So let’s get the calls right.

30,462 fans for the final on Memorial Day in Philadelphia is an OK number. It’s not great. It’s not awful. It’s not positive growth. Does it warrant playing the games in NFL Stadiums with 40,000 empty seats, jacked-up tickets, and parking prices? The NCAA, school administrators, and coaches must re-evaluate the entire Championship Weekend and playoff format. Is this event being maximized for the fan? Why are we playing a national championship on short rest? The semifinals have consistently been better games than the final. I think more than subtle changes are needed to the entire format, from seeding 1-16 to calendar and game locations. We can’t make progress standing still.

Three big storylines in 2023 were Notre Dame’s first NCAA title, Michigan’s Big Ten Tournament win with an NCAA appearance, and Utah’s success and foray into the postseason bracket. These extraordinary geographic developments highlight the sport’s growth and progress across the land.

On Monday, Duke’s strategy throughout the title game bears scrutiny for those looking to criticize. The failed ten-man ride in the second quarter allowing Quinn McCahon an open long-range look to an empty net was either a poor strategic decision, poor execution, poor communication, or mass confusion.

What was Duke’s offensive game plan? Did they not watch UVA dice the Irish with crease feeds and picks from X? For decades, the book on ND’s defense has been to attack them from behind, push transition, and ride their close defense hard. Too many Duke players can’t play without the ball, including their star Brennan O’Neill.

Meanwhile, on defense, Duke didn’t maximize the matchups. They put their best cover man Kenny Brower on a wounded Pat Kavanagh. That wasted Brower in a trade that favored Notre Dame. Brower should have covered Chris Kavanagh, and Wilson Stephenson could have bumped up to play midfielder Eric Dobson. It was Stephenson who played his best game of the season and career against Penn this spring up top while covering behemoth midfielder Sam Handley. Duke’s defense too often lets Notre Dame shooters get to the middle of the field and let them run to their strong hands. Meanwhile, Notre Dame’s defense pushed dodgers to their weak hand and sold out to protect the paint.

But Duke didn’t lose this game on defense. It was lost on offense, during faceoffs, and groundballs. Will Lynch won 12 of 19 faceoffs while picking up five groundballs? His less than 50% season before the playoffs was a moot point as he stood tall against Virginia’s Petey LaSalla and Duke’s Jake Naso. Sometimes the stats can be deceiving. That’s why we play the games.

Throughout the Championship Weekend, Notre Dame proved to be a tenacious groundball team. It was a three-game span that featured some of the most intense, physical, and spirited groundball scraps that I can remember. Hip to hip and shoulder to shoulder, we fight for the ball. That’s the essence of the game. Will Donovan, Jose Boyer, and Ross Burgmaster, the tag team LSM line, never wavered, and their work off the ground was a thing of beauty. They played each scramble as if the season and game were on the line. Every shift meant everything, and Notre Dame shorties Ben Ramsey, Carter Parlette, Nick Harris, Tevlin, and McCahon never tired. You get what you give.

Virginia had to be kicking themselves on Monday watching on ESPN after failing to close out a two-goal margin late in the fourth quarter. The Liam Entenmann save against Griffin Schutz was the season and weekend-defining play.

At its most basic level, goalie Liam Entenmann, defender Chris Fake, and FOGO Will Lynch gave Notre Dame the extra possessions and stops they needed on Monday to play a man down on offense and still win.

While not their usual selves, the Kavanagh brother’s determination, toughness, grit, and refusal to quit became infectious. When your best players have the warrior mentality, the rest of the team will follow. And when you have grizzled playoff veterans like fake Tevlin and Simmons making plays at crunch time, the result becomes inevitable.

Kevin Corrigan took the Notre Dame job in 1988, and after 35 years of chasing the gold trophy, he’s stood proudly in the sun and got doused with Gatorade. I’m not sure there’s ever been a more deserving coach. His willingness to get off the campus and put himself back in the fray after yearly setbacks is an excellent example for all leaders.