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It’s no secret that the ACC is the best lacrosse conference in the nation. ACC squads finished the season with a 43-3 mark against non-conference opponents and had 17 wins against nationally ranked teams.
The Tewaaraton Award is given annually to the most outstanding American college lacrosse player. Of the five male finalists for this year’s award, three hail from the ACC. Notre Dame’s Matt Kavanagh, Duke’s Myles Jones and Syracuse attackman, Kevin Rice, are all in the running for the prestigious award.
All five ACC men’s lacrosse teams made the NCAA Tournament and hold the top three seeds. The five ACC teams in the tournament have combined for 23 national championships.
The NCAA tournament gets underway May 9-10 at campus sites. The quarterfinals, played a week later on May 16-17, will be held in Denver, Colorado, and Annapolis, Maryland. Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania will host the semifinals on May 23 and the championship on May 25.
Let's take a look at every ACC men's lacrosse team and how they stack up for the NCAA Tournament.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (10-2, 4-0)
Notre Dame is the tournament’s overall No. 1 seed and will host Towson in the first round on Saturday, May 9 at Arlotta Stadium at 5 p.m. The Fighting Irish will be making their 10th straight appearance in the tournament and 20th overall in program history.
The Notre Dame lacrosse program has really become prominent in the last five years, yet the Irish have fallen twice in the title game. Senior midfielder, Connor McCollough, believes the team is one small step away from winning that elusive title.
“We talk a lot about the 1-2% that could be the difference when it comes down to the end of the season,” McCollough said. “I think as years have gone by and we've consistently gotten closer to winning the championship, we've really started to buy into the idea of embracing the 1-2% improvements that can be made on a day-to-day basis."
Big Man on Campus
Notre Dame is going to need every inch they can get out of junior attackman, Matt Kavanagh. The Tewaarten Award finalist has consistently produced all year long, finishing the regular season with 26 goals, 24 assists and 50 total points.
The Rockville Centre, N.Y. native earned All-ACC honors for a second straight year, and he ranks among the conference’s statistical leaders; Kavanagh ranks fourth with 2.2 assists per game and sixth with 4.3 points per game.
Matt Kavanagh also lifted the Irish to the ACC regular-season title with two late goals in an unforgettable home win over UNC.Games like that memorable win over UNC will only help Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament.
“Every team in the ACC is capable of beating anyone in the country,” Matt Kavanagh said. “After playing all the teams in our conference, we know we’re battle tested. We’re fortunate to play in the ACC because the competition only helps come tournament time.”
Well, tournament time is here and the Irish have the honor to play as the no. 1 overall seed. Some teams might be wary of wearing the bulls-eye, but Notre Dame players don’t believe it's a hindrance.
“The pressure is the same no matter the seeding,” Connor McCollough stated. “At this point, every team is one loss away from the end of their season.”
Matt Kavanagh also believes the top seed is somewhat irrelevant at this point in the season.
“If anything, the top seed will give our team more reason to focus and be at our best.”
Notre Dame fans surely hope their star attackman is right on cue. The Irish will have to play with the same consistent poise they’ve been playing with all season if they want to get over that national title hump.
Syracuse Orange (12-2, 2-2)
Syracuse, the 2015 ACC Lacrosse Champion, is the No. 2 seed and will make its 35th overall appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The Orange will take on Marist on May 10, in the Carrier Dome. The game will be televised on ESPNU at 7:30 p.m. Syracuse has won 11 NCAA titles and holds a 65-23 record in NCAA Tournament play.
Syracuse men’s lacrosse has had an excellent season besides two close road losses to Notre Dame and North Carolina. Coming off an impressive ACC Tournament run, the Orange enter the NCAA tournament as one of the nation’s hottest teams.
Syracuse is led by the ACC Offensive Player of the Year and Tewaarton finalist, Kevin Rice. The 5-8 junior attackman topped the ACC in points per game (4.85), assists per game (2.77) and five game-winning goals. Rice’s per-game averages for assists and points rank third and sixth in the nation, respectively.
Rice’s 29 goals, 39 assists and 68 total points are quite impressive, and he will try to become Syracuse’s third individual player to win the Tewaarton award.
In order to make a deep run in the tournament, Syracuse will also need major contributions from co-captain, Dylan Donahue. Orange fans can only hope Donahue will continue his impressive scoring streak, as the redshirt junior finished the season with 44 goals.
North Carolina Tar Heels (12-3, 3-1)
No. 3 seed North Carolina will host Colgate on Sunday, May 10 at 5:15 p.m. on ESPNU. UNC will be making its ninth consecutive appearance in the tournament and 30th in program history. The Tar Heels are 28-25 in tournament play and own four national titles.
Even though UNC has put together a consistently successful program, the Heels haven’t been to a National Championship in over 20 years. Senior midfielder, Walker Chafee, believes this year’s team is different.
“We are a very tight group, and the leadership through our captains has been excellent this year,” Chafee said. “This class has done a great job unifying the team to reach our ultimate goal.”
North Carolina’s captains, defenseman Ryan Kilpatrick, attackmen Jimmy Bitter and Joey Sankey will need to step up in a big way during the tournament. The combination of Bitter, Sankey and Luke Goldstock up front gives the Heels one of the best attack groups in the nation.
5-5 attackman, Joey Sankey, had yet another incredible year for UNC as he finished the season with 27 goals, 36 assists and 63 total points. Last April on senior day, Sankey tallied his 214th career point and passed Marcus Holman to become UNC’s all-time leading scorer.
UNC’s faceoff man, Stephen Kelly, had a very respectable year winning nearly 50 percent of his faceoffs. Kelly will need to continue to have success at the faceoff in order for Carolina to make a deep run.
The Heels will obviously also need to continue to put on an efficient scoring front in order to reach that significant national title game. UNC players aren’t worried about any other team besides themselves.
“We are more concerned with ourselves right now, really tightening up our team,” Walker Chafee commented. “We need to take it one game at a time so that we can five it a full 60 minutes of UNC lacrosse.”
Duke Blue Devils (12-5, 1-3)
Winners of the last two NCAA Championships, the No. 5 seed Duke Blue Devils begin the run to defend their title in Durham against Ohio State on Saturday, May 9th. ESPNU will carry the 7:30 p.m. faceoff. The Blue Devils will be making their 19th appearance in the tournament, where they are 32-15 all-time and have won three national titles.
Big Man on Campus
Duke has been led by Tewaartaton Award finalist, Myles Jones, all season. The 6-4 junior midfielder from Huntington, N.Y., raked in 39 goals, 36 assists and a whopping 75 total points. Jones is the nation’s second-leading scoring midfielder and ranked third in the ACC with 4.56 points per game. Jones will try to become Duke’s third Tewaarten winner, joining Matt Danowski (2007) and Ned Crotty (2010).
After losing some key seniors from last year’s championship squad, Duke boasts a bevy of talented freshmen. Freshman attackman, Justin Guterding, has been putting up ridiculous numbers this year. Guterding’s 50 goals rank 10th all-time for a single season at Duke, and he is only seven goals shy of the freshman record.
Virginia Cavaliers (10-4, 1-3)
No. 7 seed Virginia will host Johns Hopkins in the first round on May 10 at 1 p.m., at Klöckner Stadium. The game will be televised live on ESPNU. The Cavaliers have won five NCAA titles and have received a bid in 21 of the last 23 seasons. The selection marks Virginia's 37th tournament appearance in program history.
Even with all of this rich history of success, Virginia men’s lacrosse has not reached the Final Four since its championship run in 2011. A member from that championship squad, senior attackman Owen Van Arsdale, believes his team will go about the tournament like any other year.
“I think it’s very important for us to continue to approach every week with the focus and purpose that we have throughout the season,” Van Arsdale said.
Virginia’s first game of the tourney comes against a familiar foe in Johns Hopkins. Hopkins left a bitter taste in Virginia fans’ mouths as the Blue Jays knocked out UVa in the first round last year. However, Virginia got some sort of revenge back in March when the Cavs defeated Hopkins 16-15 in an overtime thriller.
“The overtime game against Hopkins was one of the most fun games of the regular season,” Van Arsdale said. “Controlling the pace and ball control is going to be key this week. They always give us their best, so we are going to have to be ready to play 4 full quarters of good lacrosse.”
Hopefully, Virginia will get the last laugh against their non-conference rival. Either way, the grit that is the ACC lacrosse schedule will surely benefit the Hoos in the long run.
“There are definitely some top teams out there in other leagues, but I don't think that there is a comparison when you look at each team from top to bottom of the league,” Van Arsdale commented about the strength of ACC lacrosse.
“The experience that we get from playing the highest levels of competition during our league play prepares us well for the challenges we face entering the playoffs.”
We’ll see if that experience pays off as the Cavaliers look to win their sixth national championship.