Notre Dame Defense Smothers Johns Hopkins in 12-9 Quarterfinal Win


Notre Dame is back to the NCAA semifinals for the sixth time in program history.

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Famously left at home last May, Notre Dame immediately resolved to make the 2023 season different.

A strong regular season meant the year wouldn’t end early. Sunday’s stout showing in the NCAA quarterfinals ensured the Fighting Irish would play on the final weekend of the season.

Chris Kavanagh and Jack Simmons both scored three goals and added an assist, and Jake Taylor delivered a hat trick, as third-seeded Notre Dame ousted sixth-seeded Johns Hopkins 12-9 before 13,354 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

“It was really hard for us last year not making the tournament, and I think the guys that were returning to the team set out right then and there and said our goal is to win the national championship the next year,” Irish goalie Liam Entenmann said. “At the same time, that took daily preparation, daily effort from every guy on the team. That’s top to bottom. … I think that’s what separates this team from other teams I’ve been on, the absolute buy-in from every single guy.”

Notre Dame reached the semifinals for the sixth time in program history and will play on Memorial Day Weekend for the first time since 2015.

The Fighting Irish (12-2) will meet second-seeded Virginia (13-3) — which dealt Notre Dame its only two losses this season — in Saturday’s second semifinal in Philadelphia.

Matt Collison, Garrett Degnon, Russell Melendez and Johnathan Peshko each scored twice for the Blue Jays (12-6), who fell in their first quarterfinal appearance since 2018.

As bittersweet as the end was, Hopkins still made a considerable leap after a string of three consecutive losing seasons that featured a coaching change, massive pandemic disruptions and more losing than anyone associated with the storied program is accustomed to.

The Blue Jays turned the corner — and then some — this spring.

“I love working with this team, and I couldn’t be prouder of the progress we’ve made, the distance we’ve covered, the challenges we’ve overcome,” coach Peter Milliman said. “Some things did not go our way. Had some ups and downs throughout the year. Had some today. The guys never stopped fighting and never stopped working for each other, and as a coach, you can’t really ask for much more than that.”

There just weren’t many solutions to be found against the Irish, who had control for much of the day and trailed for only a little more than two minutes after Hopkins opened the scoring.

Hopkins defenseman Scott Smith played a big part in bottling up Tewaaraton finalist Pat Kavanagh, who managed just an assist. It was the first time all season he was held to less than three points and the first time he didn’t score a goal since dropping six assists on Marquette in Notre Dame’s opener.

But there were answers to be found elsewhere. Simmons, a graduate transfer from Virginia, recorded season highs in goals and points. Sophomore midfielder Jalen Seymour, who entered the day with three goals, scored twice.

And, of course, while it’s possible to contain one Kavanagh, it’s harder to silence two. Chris Kavanagh, a sophomore attackman, bumped his team-leading goals total to 43.

“We don’t let the defense dictate who’s going to do the scoring and who’s going to do the assisting,” Simmons said.

As for the Irish’s defense? It dictated plenty in the middle of the game. Hopkins hung around gamely, tying it at 4 on a Melendez goal a minute into the second quarter. It managed consecutive goals early in the second half to close within 7-6, but that was all the Blue Jays mustered in a span of 35 minutes.

That gave Notre Dame time to push its advantage out to 11-6, and the Blue Jays couldn’t get the margin any closer than three the rest of the way.

“We did a good job playing 1-on-1 defense,” Entenmann said. “I think that’s something that’s been a consistent thing for us all year. Honestly, I had 10 saves and they scored nine goals. That’s 19 shots on goal, so that’s not me. That’s a testament to our defense.”

Much of Hopkins’ offensive success this season was predicated on crisp ball movement and utilizing an impressive degree of depth. Had the Blue Jays managed a significant possession advantage — and by doubling up the Irish 16-8 on faceoffs, it was possible — they might have created a tight situation deep into the game.

Instead, Notre Dame took full advantage of Hopkins’ 14 turnovers to exploit fast-developing scoring opportunities.

“They have some big, strong athletes and obviously solid defenders,” Degnon said. “We didn’t do a good job of taking care of the ball, and a lot of the time, we tried to do too much and kind of strayed away from our game plan, and that’s where we struggled.”

Meanwhile, Notre Dame offered a reminder of how smothering its defense can be to teams unaccustomed to dealing with it. The Irish have played eight games against non-conference competition this season, and only Marquette (10 goals on February 15) and Maryland (12 goals on March 4) cracked double digits.

“One thing we’ve done really well all year, especially on the defensive end, is having very little complacency,” Entenmann said. “When things are going really well or really bad or any [where] in between, we stay very poised and very even-keeled. We really showcased that today. They’re a very talented team, and we knew their offense especially was very talented, a lot of really crafty players. I think we stayed composed the whole way.”

All the way to the season’s last weekend, one step closer to the validating title the Irish have craved for a little more than a year.


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