Snubbed in 2022: Duke, Notre Dame Meet for a Chance to Flip the Script


PHILADELPHIA — Like it or not, the courses both Duke and Notre Dame took this season were intertwined more than a year ago.

On May 8, 2022, both teams were stunned to learn they were not selected for last year’s postseason — perhaps Notre Dame even more than the Blue Devils, given the Fighting Irish’s pair of head-to-head victories. A mere 386 days later, the ACC powers will meet Monday at Lincoln Financial Field with a national championship at stake.

The programs haven’t handled it identically, of course. But after rare postseason absences — Notre Dame’s first tournament miss since 2005, Duke’s first since 2006 — both are where they usually expect to be on Memorial Day.

“You can say last year gave us a little more edge, but realistically you come to a place like Duke because you want to play in these games on the last day,” Duke defenseman Kenny Brower said. “No matter what the circumstances of last year, this was still our goal to get to this point.”

While the top-seeded Blue Devils (16-2) never wanted last year’s exclusion to be the animating force of this season, the third-seeded Irish (13-2) have made little secret of how much incentive they derive from a hollow, empty experience last May.

That lingers even into the final day of this season — after Notre Dame plowed through everyone not named Virginia that it met in its first 14 games before it rallied past the Cavaliers 13-12 in overtime on Saturday.

“Since the fall, it’s kind of been the message we’ve been pushing,” said graduate student Griffin Westlin, who plays on Notre Dame’s man-up unit. “That’s what we’ve ridden on all year. It’s just two teams standing now, but in the back of our heads, we still have something to prove. It’s been a driving force all year and I don’t think that’s ever going to stop until we get exactly what we’re looking for here.”

That would be the program’s first national title, a feat that’s been within reach a few times over the years, only for the Irish’s postseason nemesis — Duke — to continue to get in the way.

It is apt, then, that Notre Dame would have to go through the same opponent that denied it in the 2010 and 2014 national title games to finally take its victory lap on a Monday in late May.

Both of those setbacks were close-but-not-quite setbacks for the Irish. In 2010, Duke long pole CJ Costabile won the opening faceoff of overtime, raced down and scored to secure a 6-5 victory. Four years later, got Jordan Wolfed on the last day of the season as the Duke senior dropped two goals and four assists in his final college game as the Blue Devils earned an 11-9 victory.

Duke also bounced Notre Dame in the quarterfinals in 2011, 2013 and 2019 by a combined four goals, but there are areas of overlap between the teams in the present day. Both teams boast a Tewaaraton finalist on their attack: Blue Devils junior Brennan O’Neill (54 goals, 41 assists) and Irish senior Pat Kavanagh (25 goals, 51 assists).

Chances are, that bit of individual hardware will go to the guy playing on the winning side Monday. And based on the regular-season matchup — a 17-12 victory for Notre Dame on April 8 — the Irish at least have the assurance of knowing they can beat Duke.

And anyone else, for that matter. Notre Dame has won 19 of its last 21 games dating back to last season, and avenged the two losses to Virginia with one that mattered most on Saturday.

“If we play our game, there’s really nobody who can stop us for the last couple years,” Westlin said. “I feel like Duke has always had this hype around them and they’ve brought in a bunch of talent, but we know we have in our locker room and something that’s so special about our locker room and you can see it on the field is nobody who cares who’s getting the credit and nobody cares who’s scoring the goal.”

Yet for all the history, the stakes and the common experience providing some connective tissue for the two programs, Monday is an independent event all its own. One team will have an afternoon to cherish for the rest of their lives, the other will face substantial disappointment after investing so much over the last year.

And both will handle things in their own way.

“At this point, you have to be true to who you are,” Duke's John Danowski said. “That’s really the goal. The reason that you’re here is because you’ve been successful.”

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