Quint Kessenich’s 2023 NCAA D1 Lacrosse Tournament First-Round Reaction
The first-round of the 2023 NCAA D1 Men’s Lacrosse Tournament is officially in the books. The bracket is set for the Quarterfinals, but how exactly did this past weekend pan out?
Richmond (8) at Virginia (17)
A lightning delay in the first quarter combined with a monsoon made for soggy, water-logged, and slippery conditions. It felt as if the wet Klockner surface became the equalizer for a moment, robbing the Wahoos of their superior speed and athleticism. So given Mother Natures’ impact, the UVA destruction of the Spiders was impressive. A four-goal UVA spurt before halftime provided the cushion. At 11-5, the sun re-emerged. Senior Will Cory was an unexpected catalyst. We’ve seen this storyline before. Payton Cormier bagged six goals on seven shots. The 17-8 final sends Virginia to Albany to face Georgetown/Yale on Saturday, May 20, and the equipment manager into the laundry room to dry and clean uniforms.
Utah (7) at Notre Dame (20)
The Irish scored three goals in the first five minutes to silence any thought of a Utah upset. Motivated by an epic playoff snub in 2022, Notre Dame steamrolled the ASUN Champions leading 8-0 at the end of the first quarter. Will Lynch won eight of the first nine faceoffs and the offense converted on eight of their 12 possessions. Start the plane. The 20-7 final featured six points from Pat Kavanagh, five goals from Jake Taylor, and an assortment of player haircuts that crossed the border of ridiculousness. Who said you can’t have fun and play well?
𝙂𝙤𝙖𝙡 𝙤𝙛 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙂𝙖𝙢𝙚
We broke out the LSA unit for the first time ever, as Chris Conlin-Will Donovan-Ross Burgmaster combined for the all-pole goal.#GoIrish️ pic.twitter.com/w878m1U7iM
— Notre Dame Lacrosse (@NDlacrosse) May 15, 2023
Yale (17) at Georgetown (19)
The Swamp Dogs stood toe-to-toe with Yale, with both teams throwing offensive haymakers. Georgetown fell behind 8-3 early and prevailed in a shootout, 19-17. The game was tied ten different times. Defense was sold separately. With memories of a 2022 NCAA Lacrosse Tournament first-round upset at the hands of Delaware on their minds, the Hoyas (13-3) kept their foot on the gas pedal in a fan-friendly game played at Cooper Field in front of 1,700 fans.
Tucker Dordevic scored six times as Georgetown won its 13th consecutive game, a streak that began on March 4. Nicky Solomon found the net five times and Brian Minicus finished with four goals; that’s 15 goals scored by graduate transfers. The contest was tied with 6:50 to play before Minicus buried the eventual game-winner.
Yale never relented, the offense stepping up time after time in the face of their porous defense, a unit that was defined by poor execution, confusion, and missed assignments in 2023. Give credit to the Bulldog’s attack of Chris Lyons, Leo Johnson, and Matt Brandau. Georgetown will have to tighten its defensive screws if it hopes to corral Virginia next Saturday in Albany.
Army (16) at Maryland (15)
The Saturday nightcap featured Army, the Patriot League Champions in College Park, looking to dethrone the mighty defending champions. Army rolled off the bus ready to go, exploding to a 7-2 advantage early with aggressive shooting and no-fear offensive tactics. Playing without starting attackman Paul Johnson, who was out with an injury sustained a week ago in Boston, Army substitutes and role players stepped up in a big way.
Ryan Sposito, the grandson of Cornell Coach and legend of the game, Richie Moran, was clutch with two goals as he was bumped up to the first midfield. Finn McCullough, starting in place of Johnson, dodged aggressively for two goals. Roll players Avi Mehl, Mike Tangredi, John Manero, and Dawson Clark chipped in. Everybody pulled on the rope. I can’t remember seeing so many complimentary players deliver at crunch time, a credit to the players and the Army coaching staff for their positive leadership. Joe Alberici’s work with this inexperienced roster can not be understated. If he isn’t National Coach of the Year, there should be a congressional investigation.
Goalie Knox Dent made 16 saves. He was bouncy, focused, and refused to relent while under siege in the fourth quarter. Maryland stopped just five shots. Army peppered the Maryland goal with hard heat, and well-placed daggers that ultimately sent “Be the Best” into summer vacation. Defenders AJ Pilate, Deacon Donaldson, John Sullivan, Christian Fournier, and shorty Christian Mazur completed their mission. Maryland’s first-line midfield finished with one goal. Mazur is an elite talent, combining pro-level footwork with power and angle play. FOGO Will Coletti started strong in the first quarter, lost his edge in the second, and then found a second wind in the final 30 minutes, Making adjustments against Luke Weirman to keep the faceoff possessions even at the end of the evening.
The ailing Terps, who reached their summit in Charlottesville in mid-April, end the year with a whimper. Somewhere between injuries and the lack of development from young players, this team hit a wall. John Tillman is a master of roster management and it’ll be interesting to see this program evolve in the off-season.
Army played to win. They didn’t get conservative. They took punches from the Terps and got off the canvas. Jacob Morin, a lefty sharpshooter with uncommon velocity and range, nailed a final dagger. The Black Knights advanced to the NCAA Lacrosse Tournament Quarterfinals for the first time since 2010. Their improbable journey rolls into Navy-Marine Corps Stadium on Sunday. Keep the change.
Bryant (8) at Johns Hopkins (22)
Johns Hopkins’ Brooks English canned a first-quarter hat-trick as Bryant and the Jays traded punches in the early going in what felt like an evenly matched game. The Bulldogs led 3-2 when suddenly the game became one-sided. Hopkins shut down Bryant for nearly 30 minutes as they obliterated their opponent, going on a 15-goal run. The 22-8 home win challenged the pep band’s stamina, who played polka tunes when the Jays hit 20 goals as tradition dictates. Russell Melendez finished with nine points, a new school record for playoff production. Jacob Angelus dished out five assists. Goalie Tim Marcille was sharp early, and Hopkins got to play its entire 32-man active playoff roster. After the game, the pep band hammered out the alma mater as the seniors hugged and soaked up their last gameday experience on Homewood Field. Smiles were not in short supply as the Hopkins resurrection extended another week into May.
Michigan (15) at Cornell (14)
The Wolverine’s roll continues in the NCAA Lacrosse Tournament. Their fifth straight win in extra time keeps the heart beating and the dream alive. The win in Ithaca is an NCAA first for the maize and blue. This is a big win for the sport of lacrosse. Michigan has one of the most recognizable brand names in college sports and continues to push the game in the heartland.
Defender Andrew Darby did All-American work against CJ Kirst. Teams combined for 12 fourth-quarter goals. Michigan midfielders Peter Thompson, Isaac Aronson, and Jake Bonomi were the difference makers. Goalie Hunter Taylor made 16 saves and refused to budge under pressure. Any save in overtime should count double.
Delaware (11) at Duke (12)
The Hens advanced in the NCAA Lacrosse Tournament on Wednesday night in front of 1,857 fans in the play-in game, a 25-10 win over Marist. It feels like they weren’t happy with the committee’s decision to place them in that mid-week position, as evidenced by their selection show lack of celebration when the bracket was released. Did anyone else find the irony in the Blue Hens eating wings at Buffalo Wild Wings? 25 goals were the most ever for Delaware and matched the second-most goals by any team in an NCAA Lacrosse Tournament game. Penn State put up 25 on UMBC in 2019.
Delaware jumped out to a 4-1 first-quarter lead on Sunday afternoon. Duke looked flat and unemotional. Delaware was the better team in the first 20 minutes. Down 7-3 in the second quarter, Duke Coach John Danowski called timeout. A transition goal by Devil Dyson Williams seemed to wake up the No.1 seed and cut the Hen’s lead to 8-5 at halftime. What buttons do you push if you’re in the Duke locker room at the intermission?
Andrew McAdorey deposited a rebound back into the Hen’s net to make it 8-6 and then dodged to the dirt to cut the margin to 8-7. The third quarter just felt different. Dyson Williams tied it at 8-8, and McAdorey’s third goal gave Duke the lead. Hens tied it at 9-9 to end a scoreless stretch. With a 10-9 Delaware lead with 12 minutes to go. Brennan O’Neill gave Duke an 11-10 lead with a one-handed leaping groundball scoop and finished with seven minutes to go. The Duke defense dug in, or was it that Delaware ran out of gas on a hot spring day in Durham? Charlie O’Connor scored in transition off a turnover created by Aidan Maguire. 12–10 now before a sloppy Duke over-and-back violation led to a Mike Robinson toe-drag goal. 12-11 with 2:35 to play. Jake Naso of Duke wins the next draw. Delaware earns the shot clock violation and calls timeout with 53 seconds. Duke survives. I’ve got nothing but massive respect for Delaware.
Princeton (12) at Penn State (13)
Princeton experienced a strong start in Happy Valley behind the shot-making of Coulter Mackesy as the Tigers built an early 4-1 advantage. The Tigers were too quick and too skilled for the Lions, even after dealing with a rash of late-season injuries. Penn State had five turnovers before the sunset. So when Penn State Coach Jeff Tambroni called timeout with 24 seconds to go in the first quarter, you got the feeling that he didn’t like what he was seeing.
That was confirmed when speedy freshman John Dunphey dodged to the middle of the field a Princeton offensive staple. 5-1 became 6-1 with one more Mackesy. Alex Slusher snuck from behind to make it 7-1. Unassisted goals, all of them. This game spiraled out of control quickly.
Penn State needed to slow the game down, so they switched to a zone defense. It worked, and they stayed with it.
PSU cut it to 7-2 on a goal set up by TJ Malone. Mark Sickler’s long strike in transition brought the crowd to its feet, 7-3. Then 7-4 when Malone stuck a lefty cut on a slow break. Princeton’s Alex Vardaro stopped the spurt, and the game picked up the pace with Ethan Long scoring before the Tiger defense could set up, 8-5. It quickly became 8-6 as Jack Traynor swept across the top of the formation. “We Are” cheers pulling the Lions back into contention. Mackesy hammers home his fifth goal of the first half to make it 9-6, Princeton, at the midway point.
Penn State remained with the zone defense to begin the third quarter, while at the other end, Michael Gianforcaro fended off the Lion onslaught until Kevin Winkoff brought the heat from downtown to make it 9-7. Ethan Long continued his hot night, making it 9-8 off an iso from X. The momentum shift was in full swing at 9-9, and PSU took a 10-9 lead as Long scored his fifth on a backhanded shot. Now operating up top, TJ Malone swept the middle and pinged a corner for an 11-9 lead. The switch to zone defense empowered goalie Jack Fracyon, who suddenly became an impermeable membrane. It became an 11-2 run as Jeb Brenfleck curled topside late in the shot clock. Hard to see it coming as Penn State was down 7-1 at one point. Mackesy ripped a lefty from the wing in transition to cut it to 12-10. Jake Stevens made a massive strike in transition to bring the game to 12-11 with under 7 minutes to play. Vardaro settled in a soft spot inside the zone to tie the score at 12 apiece. Winkoff ripped a corner on the run, putting the Lions up 13-12. That would be enough. Goalie Jack Fracyon, fortified by the zone defense, locked the door and threw away the key.
The Nittany Lion’s bounce-back year from a three-win season in 2022 was one of the best feel-good stories of the spring. Princeton’s improbable rise after a 2-4 beginning is a lesson for the real world. After a historical 2022 season, the Ivy League goes 0-3 in the opening round. Penn State earns another week in the NCAA Lacrosse Tournament.