Memorial Day Weekend Is For One Thing And One Thing Only--Crowning A New College Lacrosse National Champion
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. Welcome back to the greatest weekend on the calendar. Memorial Day Weekend is here. Summer is officially kicking off, the weather is pure, the vibes are immaculate, and there are just 4 teams remaining in men's division 1 lacrosse.
Those 4 teams are all spending their MDW at Lincoln Financial Field to determine who will be crowned the 2023 National Champion. Duke, Virginia, Notre Dame and Penn State. 4 teams. 3 games. 1 weekend. That's all we have left in the college lacrosse season.
Every season of college lacrosse tells a new story. This year's was of simultaneous parity and dominance. I'd argue that 2023 was the closest that teams ranked #4 through #15 have ever been. You could rank any of those teams in any order every week and nobody would be able to argue with the rankings. As far as parity in the game goes, this year was one of the most wide open we've seen in a while. But the top 3 remained the same the entire year, and for good reason. Virginia, Duke and Notre Dame have all been buzzsaws this year. They were dick kicking teams from February to May. The exact type of thing you'd expect out of the ACC's elite. So this weekend we get to see the best 3 teams in the country in action, and then Penn State represents that parity aspect of the year. It could have been Penn State, it could have been Army, it could have been Maryland, it could have been Cornell, it could have been Princeton, it could have been at least 7 different teams. That's how wide open the 4th spot in the country was this year.
So now we wait and see if there's one last bit of chaos we can squeeze out of the 2023 college lacrosse season, or if the cream at the top is rock solid.
Saturday, 12pm // #1 Duke vs Penn State // ESPN2
Listen. I give all the credit in the world to Penn State for getting themselves back to Championship Weekend for the first time since 2019. Especially after how horrific their 2022 season went. But this Duke offense is a nightmare matchup for any team in the country. And considering Penn State lost their best defensive player to injury last week, that makes the job of stopping these mutants even more difficult on Saturday.
Also, if Duke has a chance to run up the score then they are going to let it fly. Because playing in the first game of the weekend gives you a massive advantage when it comes to playing on Monday. By the time everybody showers and your team gets back to the hotel, that gives you probably a full 4 more hours of rest than the teams playing at 2:30. So if Duke can wrap things up early and give their starters some rest late in the game, that makes it even better. So I expect Duke to win this game, the biggest question will just be by how much.
Saturday, 2:30pm // #2 Virginia vs #3 Notre Dame
Virginia is looking to become the greatest dynasty college lacrosse has seen since Syracuse in the early 2000s. National Championship wins in 2019, 2021 (after a cancelled 2020), and 2023 will put them up there with the all-time great programs. 3 national titles in 4 seasons hasn't been done since Princeton won 3 straight from 1996-99. And holy shit does this Virginia team have the roster to do it. They have arguably the best lacrosse player on the planet right now with Connor Shellenberger. They have elite finishers to compliment him on attack with Peyton Cormier and Xander Dickson. They have unreal talent at the midfield position. They have defensemen who are like 7 feet tall and can move like the wind. They have one of the best faceoff specialist in college lacrosse history with Petey Lasalla. They have a former Stanford linebacker in Ricky Miezan. And while the goaltending position has been a little shaky for them so far this year, Matthew Nunes has looked like a brick wall this year when Virginia plays Notre Dame.
These two teams have played each other twice so far this season. Virginia won at Notre Dame in March 15-10. Nunes had 14 saves on 24 shots that game. And then Virginia won again at home in April 12-8. Nunes had 19 saves that game.
They say it's hard to beat a team 3 times in one season, but I honestly don't think anybody actually has the data to back that up. It just seems like something that should be true.
But the biggest X-factor here will be the fact that Notre Dame is looking to win their first National Championship in program history. And they're led by a pair of brothers who want nothing more in life than to get the job done. Not just for themselves, but for their older brother who came so close in 2015 and for everybody else who ever played Notre Dame lacrosse. The Kavanagh brothers are going to put on a performance of a lifetime on Saturday. So while everything on paper says that Virginia will probably win by 4 or 5 goals, we'll see if that extra hunger makes a difference for Notre Dame. One team is looking for their first ever, the other is looking for their 3rd in 4 seasons. Do hungry dogs run faster? In Philly they sure as hell do.
My brain still says Virginia, but the heart wants to see Notre Dame get it done.