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Quint Kessenich’s 2023 NCAA D1 Lacrosse Tournament Quarterfinals Reaction

The second-round of the 2023 NCAA D1 Men’s Lacrosse Tournament is officially in the books. The bracket is set for the Semifinals, but how exactly did this past weekend pan out?

Virginia vs. Georgetown

The Cavalier’s defensive coverage impacted Georgetown’s shot selection in the second half of their 17-14 NCAA Lacrosse Tournament win on Saturday in Albany. Connor Shellenberger, looking like his healthy mobile self, scored ten points. A seven-goal first-quarter flurry and a five-goal third-quarter barrage were too much for the Swamp Dogs. UVA blew open an 11-11 game with a dominant second half. Georgetown scored the game’s last two goals when the margin was already sealed.

Virginia’s depth of scoring beyond Shellenberger is notable. The Wahoos are difficult to beat when role players like Noah Chizmar, Pete Garno, Petey LaSalla, and Patrick McIntosh get their names in the box score. LaSalla is a deal maker, able to stop opponent runs, grind out possessions, and score when the opponent sleeps on his skill. The quick defensive slides to Tucker Dordevic were effective. The man coverage on Minicus not as much. But overall, you had to be impressed with the defensive scheme in the last 30 minutes.

Brian Minicus was a bright spot for the Hoyas with four goals. His dodging and low-angle shooting put him in the mix for playing time this summer in the PLL.

The Cavaliers are headed back to Championship Weekend. Their locker room celebration resonates. When you do the work, you must savor the big wins. This is a team that gives up alcohol in the month of May; every edge matters.

Duke vs. Michigan

The Blue Devils beat the Michigan Wolverines 15-8 in a game that felt like a formality. Brennan O’Neill scored six goals and an assist sending the top-seeded Devil squad to its 12th NCAA Lacrosse Tournament Championship Weekend since 2007. 

O’Neill put on a memorable show, playing as if he was dropped off from a faraway galaxy in a UFO. No wonder he was selected to play with the Senior National Team this summer at the World Championships in San Diego. He breathes different air. I’ve been impressed with his ability to blend into the Duke offensive scheme this spring, seemingly asserting himself at distinct moments. Saturday was a day he just took over.

His attack linemates were the beneficiaries. Andrew McAdorey and Dyson Williams both registered hat tricks, the unit combined to score 12 of the 15 goals. Tommy Shelling, the grad transfer from Lehigh, was productive in his role. The St. Lawrence grad transfer goalie, William Helm, was reliable and ended the day with 14 saves. The Duke defense was air-tight as Michigan scored three of their eight goals with the extra-man unit. The Wolverines shot 8 of 38. Duke has now tied together stout defensive work against Merrimack late against Delaware and for 60 minutes on Saturday. Assistant Coach Ronnie Caputo has done an exemplary job grooming his stable of short-stick midfielders, a group (Aidan McGuire, Jake Caputo, Jack Gray) that is radically improved compared to recent years. Defender Kenny Brower continues to win his matchup in a subtle fashion. Defenseman Wilson Stephenson has put together a career year. Will Frisoli and Tyler Carpenter are a strong LSM rotation.

Duke skipper John Danowski moves to 37-19 in NCAA Tournament play in his career and 33-11 as the leader of the Blue Devils.

Just go play. Duke (15-2) shook off tournament jitters against Delaware. You knew they would. After a pressure-packed round, the joyous post-game locker room celebration shows us that the quarterfinals mean more than survive and advance. Winning the quarters is an achievement and puts a team within reach of something special. Duke rolls into Philadelphia with team balance and star power a year after watching the tournament from home. Their midfielders will have to make more noise to claim the gold trophy.

The Wolverines didn’t have a plan for O’Neill. You can’t give the big man a running start. It’s like trying to stop a train barreling down the tracks at full bore. After a 5-6 start, Michigan’s five-game win streak ends in the quarterfinals. It’s a year that stamps them as a legit big-time program. The standard in Ann Arbor has been elevated. The results are finally indicative of the investment and hype. That’s a healthy development for the sport, and this team must be commended for their rise.

Penn State vs. Army

The first NCAA Lacrosse Tournament Quarterfinals matchup in Annapolis featured a pair of over-achieving teams who’ve exceeded pre-season expectations. Army and Penn State are very similar in style, work rate, and identity. So it was no surprise that this game nearly went into overtime. Using video review, the referees correctly determined that Jacob Morin’s goal left his stick after the clock struck zero. Penn State held on 10-9 in what has to be considered a low-scoring game in the shot clock era.

Neither team played their A-game. Penn State played more efficiently for a long stretch in the late first and early second quarters.

On a gorgeous sunny Sunday in Annapolis, the Black Knights drew first blood. They seemed more comfortable in Navy-Marine Corps Stadium, been there, done that. The black-clad Black Knights bounded out to a 2-0 lead behind goals from freshman Gunnar Fellows and lefty sniper Jacob Morin. Penn State would eventually find their sea legs going on a 6-0 run to make it 6-2 and then 7-3 in their favor at halftime. This was where the game was won. Unassisted goals were plentiful as Army was slow to slide. Penn State recognized the opportunity. TJ Malone proved a tough cover. Luke Mercer showed why he was a Top 100 IL recruit, and Matt Traynor barreled to pay dirt through stick checks.

Malone made it 8-3 Penn State early in the third quarter. The Army offense was in a funk, missing Paul Johnson as a creator and not creating high-percentage shots. Turnovers were on sale.

PSU sophomore Matt Traynor made it 9-4 for Penn State with an extra-man goal. Just when you felt that Army was toast, they found a second wind scoring three straight goals to make the score 9-7. FOGO Will Coletti started to assert his ground ball acumen. Penn State was hitting a wall. They went scoreless for 11 minutes. Did Army have enough time? If only they had an extra second.

Kevin Winkoff gave PSU a 10-7 lead. Winkoff, the midfield transfer from Binghamton, has bagged game-winners against Hopkins, Princeton, and now Army, all similar right-handed blasts while moving from top center.

Both fan bases were spirited and loud. Navy-Marine Corps Stadium was bouncing. The game featured playoff-intensity ground balls, diving run-outs, and checking that’ll leave a mark.

Meanwhile, with defender Jack Posey on the pine and lactic acid building up in their legs, Penn State shifted exclusively to zone defense as Army made the final push. The Lions held on, with goalie Jack Fracyon and shorties Grant Haus and Mark Sickler providing the heroics.

Army finishes at 13-4 with the four losses by a combined five goals.

Coach Jeff Tambroni makes his fifth Championship Weekend appearance. Worth keeping tabs on is Penn State defender Jack Posey who went down with a lower-body injury while navigating himself behind the cage. His status for the semifinal game against Duke is unknown.

After a 4-7 season in 2020 and a 3-11 year in 2022, Penn State (11-4) is returning to the NCAA Lacrosse Tournament Semifinals in Philadelphia.

Notre Dame vs Johns Hopkins

Hopkins held Notre Dame to 12 goals, four goals below their season average, by pressing out at X against Pat Kavanagh. This stifled ball reversal and put the clamps on the leading Irish distributor, who now has 50 assists. 50 by #51 represents over 40% of the team’s assists. The Irish have only been held to fewer goals twice this spring, in losses to Virginia, 15-10 in March and 12-8 in late April. Stop the Kavanaghs; you stop Notre Dame.

The Blue Jays’ plan worked. Unfortunately, Notre Dame had the answers for the JHU motion offense that could only muster nine goals. At one point, Hopkins did not take a shot for over ten minutes. It was the seventh time the Irish held an opponent to single digits. It was reminiscent of Blue Jays’ losses to Loyola, North Carolina, and Maryland when the unit suffered a power outage. Notre Dame played big boy lacrosse. They didn’t support their poles. Hopkins had nobody who could beat a pole. More concerning was that JHU couldn’t change matchups or dodge past the Irish shorties. At no point in this game did it feel like JHU would spring the upset. Not for one second did it feel that way.

Even when Matt Collison scored to cut the Irish lead to 7-6 early in the third quarter, it was hard to picture JHU mounting a decisive rally. Notre Dame was just too talented and too deep.

Notre Dame had answers. Jake Taylor, Chris Kavanagh, and Jack Simmons were the most productive scorers for coach Kevin Corrigan. The transition was in short supply. This game was played in the trenches with little full-field helter-skelter action.

To their credit, Hopkins kept trying. At least they made Notre Dame work and focus for 60 minutes. Goals by Collison, Garrett Degnon, and Jonathan Peshko kept the margin respectable. Hopkins effectively took Notre Dame out of their rhythm. Scott Smith’s coverage of Pat Kavanagh was adequate, although not decisive. The 12-9 final was challenging for Notre Dame. Hopkins mucked it up. To their credit, the Irish didn’t implode, choke or get sloppy. They put their heads down and did it the hard way.

The Blue Jays’ resurgent season of 2023 comes to a close. Quarterfinals for this team feels like the ceiling. They were a good team, not a great team. They brought back winning lacrosse to Homewood Field after some of the darkest years in program history. They returned the franchise to solid ground. They played with heart, with spirit and channeled their energy into making the simple plays that win games. It wasn’t easy, and their efforts will always be respected.

They put together a much-needed strong year after going 2-4, 4-9, and 7-9 over three years. Hopkins returns the vast majority of their roster in 2024. They’ll be good, no doubt. Will they be great? We will find out.

Notre Dame advances in the NCAA Lacrosse Tournament and will face Virginia on Saturday in Philadelphia for the third time in 2023. They’ve lost to UVA twice, their only setbacks.