(Photo Courtesy of Notre Dame Athletics)
The ACC is always one of the best conferences in the nation and always has been. But in 2021, it will be different. It could be the most competitive season we’ve seen in the conference in quite some time. And while many point to the loaded rosters that teams like Duke and Syracuse boast, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish aren’t getting as much buzz as they deserve.
Yes, Kevin Corrigan traditionally leads top-20 teams every single year up in South Bend, Ind. But just like other teams in the ACC, 2021 has the potential to be a pretty special season for the Irish. Notre Dame has made five trips to Championship Weekend and has twice been the NCAA Runner-up (2010,2014). And with the amount of talent they have on this roster in 2021, they could very well make it back to Championship Weekend for the first time since 2015.
The biggest aspect of this Notre Dame teams that gives many the confidence that they could very well make a Championship Weekend run is the amount of talent they bring in via the transfer portal and the fifth-year guys that they bring back.
One could argue that Notre Dame won the transfer portal this season, as they bring in five grad transfers that can be immediate game changers and elevate this squad the day they step foot in South Bend. Attackman Will Yorke comes in from Bucknell, where he was third in the nation in goals per game (4.17) last season. They also add two midfielders in Sean Leahey from Providence and David Lipka from Syracuse. Leahey was the Friars’ second-leading scorer last season (9G/13A) and Lipka was part of one of the nation’s top midfield units with the Orange.
Bringing in each of these three instantly improves the Irish offense, and in different ways. Yorke has proven to be an elite goal scorer and will certainly bring that in his arsenal with him to South Bend. Leahey could potentially be the Irish’s best feeder from the midfield and Lipka brings that all-around style of play that any offense can benefit from.
In addition to those three offensive weapons, the Irish add a pair of Penn grad transfers in defenseman Kyle Thorton and faceoff man Kyle Gallagher. Thorton was a full-time starter on the Quakers defense for the past two seasons. He had three caused turnovers and five ground balls during the shortened 2020 season. Gallagher, who transferred to Penn from Hofstra following his sophomore season, went 102-for-156 (.654) at the faceoff dot and scored one goal and dished out one assist during the 2020 season and was a key piece of the Quakers’ Ivy League title and NCAA Quarterfinal run in 2019.
And while these transfers instantly upgrade this Irish squad in a multitude of ways, they also bring back three big pieces for a fifth season. Defenseman Jack Kielty (12GB/5CT), midfielder Tommy McNamara (4G/1A), and faceoff man Charles Leonard (54-for-116/46%) will all be back. That one-two punch of Gallagher and Leonard at the faceoff dot could prove to be deadly.
While bringing back guys for an extra season and bringing in multiple game-changers via the transfer has many thinking very highly of this Notre Dame squad coming into this spring, they also have a ton of underclassmen returners on both ends that will surely make their mark and contribute heavily again in 2021.
Offensively, the Irish will return their entire starting attack from last season in junior Griffin Westlin (6G/10A), sophomore Pat Kavanagh (10G/6A), and senior Wheaton Jackoboice (8G/3A). And while they do lose both Bryan Costabile and Brian Willetts at midfield, junior Quinn McCahon (6G/2A) will return in addition to McNamara coming back.
This Notre Dame offense has a ton of experience and has some youthfulness mixed in with guys like Kavanagh and McCahon. Because of that, as well as the weapons they have all over the place, it will be interesting to see just how offensive coordinator Chris Wojcik plays these guys and moves them around. And if they play things the right way this offense has the chance to be one of the best and deepest in Notre Dame history.
And while the Notre Dame offense will surely be exciting to watch, defense has always been the identity of Notre Dame lacrosse and that doesn’t look to be changing at all in 2021. The Irish had the 25th-best scoring defense in the nation last season and looks to be as talented as ever with the pieces they will have this spring.
In addition to Thorton coming in and Kilety returning, the Irish return their top pole in senior Arden Cohen (13GB/6CT). The New York, N.Y., native has been a starter since day one and the face of this Notre Dame defense. He will be looking to continue his success this coming spring. Senior Carson Cochran (3GB/1CT), who started two games last season, could see some more time and step up a bit more this coming season.
Additionally, Jose Boyer (3GB/2CT) should be an impact player once again at the LSM spot. He saw action in all 16 games and made a sizable impact on the back end in 2019 as a freshman and was on track to match or surpass his freshman numbers last season.
In cage, sophomore Liam Entenmann should get the nod as the Irish’s starter and anchoring that defense once again. He took on the task of being the starter as a freshman and shined, making 48 saves with a 51% save percentage. Senior Matt Schmidt, who was their starter in 2018 and 2019 before being the number two guy last season, will also return and should be a solid second option and can come in and play at a high level when needed.
The Irish also bring in the No. 8 recruiting class, according to Inside Lacrosse. This class, which is headlined by Auburn, N.Y., defenseman Ross Burgmaster and Ponte Vedra, Fla., midfielder Carter Parlette, has several guys on both ends who could see the field and contribute on as freshmen. That only makes this Notre Dame squad even scarier.