A week removed from the 14-13 overtime heartbreaker against then-ranked No. 3 Maryland, Virginia men’s lacrosse traveled to South Bend, Ind. Saturday for the chance to reclaim the top spot in the polls. In their first ACC matchup of the season, the No. 3 Cavaliers (7-1, 1-0 ACC) upset the top-ranked Fighting Irish (6-1, 0-1 ACC) and made a statement on the road, winning 15-10.
Sophomore attacker Chris Kavanagh got the Irish on the board first, thanks to a helper from his brother and Notre Dame’s leading scorer, senior attacker Pat Kavanagh. Virginia witnessed some early opportunities stymied by the Irish’s senior netminder Liam Entenmann, yet the Cavalierjunior attacker Connor Shellenberger used a quick dodge to even the score at one. This began a “Cavalanche”, as it is known around the country.
Graduate student midfielder Jeff Conner — helped by a broken stick from an Irish defender — found the back of the net only 33 seconds later. A pretty cross-crease feed from Shellenberger to senior attacker Payton Cormier then stretched the Virginia lead to three. A second consecutive catch-and-finish from Cormier and a Shellenberger to senior attacker Xander Dickson connection gave the Cavaliers five straight and a 5-1 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The Cavaliers benefited from the goalie play of sophomore Matthew Nunes, who began the second quarter with a point-blank save on the doorstep. However, the Irish responded with a long-pole goal off of a Virginia turnover, ending the Cavalier run. Less than three minutes later, Shellenberger delivered his second of the day after Notre Dame coughed the ball up near midfield.
In a wild sequence, Nunes found himself far from his own goal, leaving senior defender Cade Saustad helpless to prevent an Irish tally. Nonetheless, graduate midfielder and former Stanford linebacker Ricky Miezan found the back of the net after a high bouncer beat Entenmann.
Notre Dame established some momentum late into the second quarter. Pat Kavanagh narrowly beat Nunes on a lefty shot, while senior attacker Jake Taylor converted a behind-the-back goal to bring the Virginia advantage to 7-5 before the half.
Kavanagh continued where he had left off in the second quarter, scoring two consecutive goals to tie the game at 7-7. The Irish had witnessed a scoring spree of their own, yet Dickson stopped the bleeding with 10:00 to play in the third. Another Shellenberger to Dickson connection pushed the lead out to two — the start of a second “Cavalanche.”
Two more from Virginia — one from junior attacker Patrick McIntosh and another from Dickson — gave the Cavaliers some breathing room and a four-goal lead. The Cavaliers and the Irish then traded goals, with graduate student midfielder Thomas McConvey showing off his Canadian rapport with Cormier. Recapturing the momentum, Virginia took a 13-9 lead after Dickson’s fourth of the quarter — all assisted by Shellenberger.
A low-scoring fourth quarter saw the Cavaliers hold strong on the defensive end, limiting the Irish to one goal and cementing a win on the road. Nunes tallied an impressive six saves in the final 15 minutes. Senior midfielder Peter Garno got in on the scoring action and Dickson finished yet another with an assist from Cormier. The sophomore’s best effort in the goal so far this season — combined with Shellenberger’s mastery on offense — gave Virginia a crucial 15-10 win against the top-ranked team in the nation.
“What Saustad and Kastner did, to be able to neutralize the Kavanagh brothers and not allow them to break down our defense that often. was incredible for our team defense,” Coach Lars Tiffany said. “It’s obviously a team effort, but I really wanted to highlight some massive performances by the individuals here with Virginia lacrosse.”
The Cavaliers held the Fighting Irish to their lowest scoring output of the season, with Nunes and the defensive duo of Saustad and Kastner slowing down the electric Notre Dame attack. Pat and Chris Kavanagh — who came in averaging 5.4 and 4.4 points per game, respectively — were held to six total points in a stout defensive effort. On the offensive side, Shellenberger rebounded from a quiet game against Maryland with two goals and five assists.
This was Virginia's fifth-straight win over Notre Dame, giving the Cavaliers a good shot to reclaim the No. 1 spot come Monday. A date with No. 4 Duke — Virginia’s third consecutive top-four matchup — is now on the horizon.
The Cavaliers are set to take on the Blue Devils (9-1, 2-0 ACC) Friday at home. This will be a massive test for Virginia having lost their last 15 regular-season meetings to Duke. Similarly to Notre Dame, the Blue Devils have an elite scoring offense, but the fact that the Cavaliers already proved their defense can hold up is a strong sign to come.
Face-off is scheduled for 5 p.m. at Klöckner Stadium, and the game will be televised on ESPNU.