Following a road victory over Lafayette Tuesday, No. 3 Virginia men’s lacrosse returned to Charlottesville to take on No. 1 ranked Notre Dame in its regular season finale Sunday. The Cavaliers (11-3, 4-2 ACC) — celebrating their Senior Day — went out in style with a 12-8 victory, donning their throwback uniforms as Virginia honored the 2003 National Championship team at Klöckner Stadium. Thanks in large part to the play of sophomore goalie Matthew Nunes, the Cavaliers secured their second straight victory over the nation’s No. 1 team, with both coming against the Fighting Irish (9-2, 3-2 ACC).
Virginia junior attacker Connor Shellenberger scored his 19th goal of the season to put the Cavaliers on the board. Two of the nation’s most efficient offenses — with Virginia sitting at first with 18.08 goals per game and Notre Dame third with 16.40 — struggled to find the back of the net in a sloppy first quarter. Nunes came up big with four key stops, yet the Cavaliers struggled with five turnovers, leading to a tally from the Fighting Irish to tie the game at 1-1.
Graduate student attacker Xander Dickson caught an open feed from senior attacker Payton Cormier to get Virginia on the board in the second quarter. Nunes then stymied three more attempts from the Fighting Irish, as the Cavalier defense paid close attention to Notre Dame’s celebrated Kavanagh brothers — senior attacker Pat and sophomore attacker Chris. Nonetheless, a wild pass and finish from Pat Kavanagh to senior attacker Jake Taylor equalized the score with 7:20 to play in the quarter.
Dickson tallied his second of the day and his 53rd of the season off of a pretty low-to-low shot past Notre Dame senior goalie Liam Entenmann. Former Cavalier Jack Simmons — now a graduate student midfielder for the Fighting Irish — then scored from outside to tie the game at 3-3 late in the second. Only seconds after Simmons’ tally, graduate student midfielder Thomas McConvey snuck one past Entenmann and continued his point streak to 66 games — the longest active stretch among Division-1 players.
After a Cavalier penalty on junior defender Cole Kastner, Taylor converted a feed on the crease to even the score at 4-4 heading into halftime. This would be Notre Dame’s lowest scoring output in a half this season and Virginia’s lowest since Duke two weeks ago. Goalies Entenmann and Nunes starred with seven and nine saves apiece, while Virginia suffered from 10 turnovers in the first half.
With the third quarter underway, the Fighting Irish took their first lead of the game after the Cavaliers turned the ball over in the open field. Virginia responded, however, with graduate student midfielder Jeff Conner hitting sophomore linemate Griffin Schutz for a step-down finish. Notre Dame then stripped the ball from the Virginia defense during a clear, as Chris Kavanagh trickled one by Nunes to put the Fighting Irish up again. After a wild ground-ball sequence in the open field, sophomore defender Griffin Kology found Dickson on the crease to level the game at 6-6.
A juice goal from graduate student midfielder Grayson Sallade gave the Cavaliers the momentum and lead back with 8:32 to play in the third as chants of “U-V-A, U-V-A” reigned down at Klöckner Stadium. Dickson cruised by his man behind X to tally his fourth goal of the game, giving Virginia a three-goal run and an extended lead. McConvey — assisted by Shellenberger — capped things off with a man-up goal late in the third.
Just 15 seconds into the fourth quarter, Notre Dame junior face-off specialist Colin Hagstrom beat Virginia senior defender Scott Bower in a one-on-one battle to cut the Cavalier lead to two. Nunes saved another close attempt by a Fighting Irish long pole moments later, bringing his save total to 13. Following a massive save from Nunes on Pat Kavanagh, graduate student midfielder Evan Zinn took it coast-to-coast to give Virginia a 10-7 lead with 8:01 to play.
A shovel goal from McConvey pushed the Cavaliers’ advantage out to four with under six minutes left. Seconds later, sophomore defensive midfielder Noah Chizmar, who seemed rattled after an early hit, found the back of an empty net for his sixth goal of the year. Notre Dame ended their dry spell with a behind-the-back goal from graduate student attacker Griffin Westlin, but it would not be nearly enough. Virginia was eventually able to run out the clock to secure a four-goal victory at home.
Virginia’s stars performed at all three levels in the victory. Nunes stopped a career-high 19 shots, Kastner and senior defender Cade Saustad held the Kavanagh brothers to five points and Dickson kept the foot on the gas with a four-goal performance. Virginia overcame some turnover woes by applying the pressure on Notre Dame’s potent offense throughout, while the Cavaliers’ own unit played like their normal selves in the second half.
Virginia sealed their second win of the season over a No. 1 ranked Notre Dame, thus establishing some momentum heading into the NCAA Tournament. The Cavaliers have found themselves at No. 2 in the polls — with Duke at No. 1 and the Fighting Irish at No. 3 — as Coach Lars Tiffany’s team will now hear their names called on Selection Sunday two weeks from now.