BALTIMORE — Sophomore Matt Kavanagh has an unusual stat line befitting his varied role on the Notre Dame men’s lacrosse team. He leads the Fighting Irish in goals, assists and penalties and is second in groundballs.
Entering the NCAA championship game against No. 1 Duke on Monday at 1 p.m. at M&T Bank Stadium, Kavanagh, a 5-foot-8, 170-pound starting attackman for the No. 6 Fighting Irish, has done a little bit of everything.
Kavanagh has 40 goals, 32 assists, 40 groundballs and nine penalties, and he has played like a star so far in the NCAA tournament.
In overtime against Albany in the quarterfinals, Kavanagh dove to save an errant pass that was headed out of bounds. He controlled the ball and enabled Notre Dame to save possession and call a timeout. Seconds later, Kavanagh scored the winning goal.
He did even more in the semifinals against Maryland on Saturday.
The Terrapins entered with the nation’s top scoring defense and with a goalie, defenseman and defensive midfielder named first-team all-American.
Yet in an 11-6 victory, Kavanagh finished with five goals and two assists.
“We try to defend a whole team,” Duke Coach John Danowski said Sunday. “We want to not limit but reduce his touches where we can. . . . We always have to be mindful of where he is.”
Kavanagh will be a big reason if Notre Dame (12-5) can end a fairly vexing statistic: In six of the past eight NCAA tournaments, it has lost to the team that won the national title.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame has not won an NCAA lacrosse title of its own. Yet it has made subtle changes toward that end, Coach Kevin Corrigan said Sunday.
The Fighting Irish have stressed shorter practices and using more players in games, especially on offense.
“At the end of the year, your guys need fresh legs and fresh minds,” Corrigan said. “And they need to be ready to play and excited to play, so we can’t do too much right now. We’ll do enough that we’re prepared, but we’re not going to do too much that we leave something on the practice field.”
Yet even the rotation of offensive players rarely applies to Kavanagh.
The rotation among the four main attackmen — Kavanagh, seniors John Scioscia (29 goals) and Westy Hopkins (eight goals) and junior Conor Doyle (31 goals, 18 assists) — plays out usually with Scioscia and Hopkins as somewhat interchangeable. When Notre Dame went for a bigger lineup on faceoffs against Maryland on Saturday, Doyle was the one to make way.
Kavanagh, meanwhile, hardly leaves the field. He did so briefly in the fourth quarter Saturday. Seconds after he returned, the Fighting Irish scored.
Monday marks the fourth time in five years the teams have met in the NCAA tournament.
Duke (16-3) won the first three — in the title game in 2010 and in the quarterfinals in 2011 and ’12. The Blue Devils also won the regular season meeting this year, 15-7, on April 5.
Yet one stat should comfort Notre Dame in facing its ACC rival for the second time. In the ACC tournament, all four outcomes were the opposite of the regular season meetings.
For Duke, the defending national champion, stopping or slowing down Kavanagh comes down to senior Henry Lobb (6-4, 205 pounds).
In a 13-5 win against Duke last year, Kavanagh had four goals and an assist while being guarded by Lobb. Yet the regular season meeting this year was different: Kavanagh was held scoreless and took only two shots.
“His style is kind of different,” Kavanagh said of Lobb. “He’s much taller than me, weighs more than me, so he can try to play physical. . . . I didn’t really do too much against him earlier this year, so we’ll see.”