Julia Nagel/Sun Senior Photographer

Teammates celebrate with CJ Kirst '24 after he scores a goal at the men's lacrosse game vs. Princeton at Schoellkopf Field on April 29, 2023.

April 14, 2024

No. 10 Men’s Lacrosse Tasked With Defending National Champion No. 1 Notre Dame

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Men’s lacrosse has had a recent flair for the dramatic.

No. 10 Cornell played three games in the span of seven days last week, two of which were decided in double overtime. The first, an 11-10 nail biting loss to then-No. 14 Penn, was the Red’s only loss of the three. 

The second, arguably the most dramatic of them all, was an 18-17 double-overtime win over then-No. 4 Syracuse. Cornell overcame the initial 7-0 lead taken by Syracuse before senior attackman CJ Kirst netted the game-winner in the second overtime frame.

The last, a 14-8 Cornell win over Brown, was a true test of the Red’s endurance and resiliency. Brown took an early lead before Cornell cleaned up its game and poured on the offense in the second half to clinch the Ivy League victory.

“It was a taxing week — physically and emotionally,” said head coach Connor Buczek ’15. “Playing some extra frames there in two of the three certainly made Saturday a challenge to turn around and find the legs.”

Yet perhaps Cornell’s most pivotal test still awaits Buczek’s squad. The Red are set to take on No. 1 Notre Dame — the defending national champions — in a neutral-site clash to close out its out-of-conference schedule.

The Irish (7-1, 2-0 ACC) are far and away Cornell’s strongest opponent — Notre Dame poses threats at all positions, from between the pipes to the attack line. The Irish comprise 14 graduate students and 11 seniors, most of whom played on last year’s national championship team. 

“They’re just a very well-rounded team. They do a lot of things well, and that’s [on] both sides of the ball,” Buczek said. “Their faceoff is strong, [and] their goalie plays as good as anybody in the country.”

Perhaps Notre Dame’s biggest threat is its offense. The Irish play an aggressive offensive style and boast multiple weapons on its attack, including Pat Kavanagh, a graduate student and attackman that has garnered 13 goals and 26 assists for 39 points in eight games.

As if one Kavanagh wasn’t enough, Notre Dame’s second-leading scorer is Pat’s younger brother, junior Chris Kavanagh, who has notched 21 goals himself and has scored 38 points. A third Kavanagh brother, Matt, was on Notre Dame’s championship team in 2023.

“There’s just not an obvious weakness [on Notre Dame]. For us, it’s going to be about putting together a great 60 minutes, playing well in all facets and earning some tough ground balls,” Buczek said. “Playing the Cornell way that doesn’t have to be super pretty. It just has to be effective.”

Kirst ranks fifth in the country in goals per game with 3.4, but trailing right behind him is Notre Dame attackman Jake Taylor, another graduate student who averages 3.25 goals per game.

On top of its formidable offense, Cornell will be tasked with beating one of the nation’s top defensive groups. The Irish have hunkered down in the backend this year, allowing the fourth-fewest goals in the nation (9.25 on average). 

Cornell (7-3, 3-1 Ivy), on the other hand, has struggled to adapt to a defensive unit without lock-down d-man Gavin Adler ’23 and goalkeeper Chayse Ierlan ’23, allowing over 13 goals per game on average this year.

“I think that that group has been growing and getting better as a unit and figuring out exactly what our identity is,” Buczek said. “The second half of [the] Syracuse [game] was huge, and throughout the Brown game, to hold that group to eight, was a good showing.”

If it does make it through the Irish defensive line, Cornell will have to beat Notre Dame’s experienced graduate-student goalkeeper, Liam Entenmann. The netminder has seen action in all of Notre Dame’s games — unlike Cornell’s keepers, junior goalkeeper Wyatt Knust and freshman goalkeeper Matthew Tully, who have split time. Knust and Tully boast the 24th-best save percentage in the nation at 53.5 percent. 

Expect Cornell to start Knust, though, after two consecutive wins and a stellar performance against Syracuse on April 2 that rejuvenated the Red to victory.

“He came in and really gave us a spark against Syracuse,” Buczek said. “[I’m] really proud of him for just staying ready and staying patient. … When he got his time, he stepped in and did exactly what we needed from him.”

Cornell will also have to be on its A-game in the faceoff X, as senior faceoff/midfielder Marc Psyllos will duel with Notre Dame’s Will Lynch, who has taken the NCAA by storm with the seventh-best faceoff percentage in the country (62%).

Despite Notre Dame’s strengths as a perennial powerhouse in collegiate lacrosse, Cornell holds a substantial edge in the series record. The Red have dropped just one game against Notre Dame and hold a 7-1 advantage, including a 2-0 record in neutral sites.

The neutral site that stands just a few miles outside of New York City will house a Cornell contingent. Though Notre Dame fans travel well and are not to be underestimated, the Red will surely benefit from the New York location.

“We’ve got such a great contingent in that tri-state area, and obviously a significant chunk of our roster com[es] from that Long Island area,” Buczek said. “It’ll be a great opportunity [to] play at a neutral site against a great team and [in] a great environment. You can’t ask for much more.”

Cornell is looking for its first win over a No. 1 opponent since its 2019 win over Towson.

“It’s about preparing for the next opportunity in front of you, and it happens to be a team that’s sitting at the top of the polls [that] is very well rounded and very capable,” Buczek said.

The opening faceoff for the top-10 matchup between Cornell and Notre Dame will take place at 12:30 p.m. at Bethpage Federal Credit Union Stadium. The game will be streamed live on ESPN+.