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Column: Duke men’s lacrosse’s title-game loss to Notre Dame proves why history doesn’t and shouldn’t matter

Junior attackman Brennan O'Neill prepares to shoot during Duke's game against Notre Dame.
Junior attackman Brennan O'Neill prepares to shoot during Duke's game against Notre Dame.

Duke and Notre Dame have history.

Before this year, the Fighting Irish had appeared in the NCAA championship game twice, in 2010 and 2014. The Blue Devils beat them both times. In fact, in the teams’ five postseason meetings since 2010, Duke had won all five.  

But then, Monday afternoon, Notre Dame made history of its own.

Despite 41 years as a varsity program and a reputation as one of the nation’s premier programs, the Fighting Irish had never won it all. Until it did. In the program’s 42nd year and 26th go at the tournament, Notre Dame got it done. In a remarkable game that, if odd, never ceased to entertain, the Fighting Irish shook the Devil off their back by defeating No. 1-overall seed Duke 13-9 in spite of all that history stacked in the Blue Devils’ favor. 

A writer would call that a poetic narrative. A coach doesn’t call that anything, because he’s not thinking about it that way.

“[Past losses to Duke are] obviously not something I've thought much about, but clearly, I wasn't disappointed that Duke was the last one standing with us,” Notre Dame head coach Kevin Corrigan said. “You’re preparing [for the title game matchup] in less than 48 hours … We’ve played each other six times now in the last three years, so it's kind of nice to have that familiarity. As for the poetry of the whole thing, I'll leave that to you.” 

For a world as invested in and obsessed with narrative as the sports world is, Corrigan’s words pose a challenge to conventional wisdom. Conventional sports wisdom states that certain teams always choke in the postseason, certain teams always beat certain other teams, and whatever else has been levied against a team with a vague gesture to history as evidence. These charges come less as an indictment on any one season’s roster and are more like a generational curse that decides outcomes by virtue of the logo on a jersey alone. 

Monday afternoon proved exactly why conventional wisdom fails so often in sports. In the postgame press conference, senior Notre Dame star and Tewaaraton Award finalist Pat Kavanagh held his hand to his hip and said he was “this big” when his older brother Matt was a freshman at Notre Dame in 2013. It was a cute anecdote about a family that has given much to Notre Dame lacrosse, but it also serves to illustrate why history doesn’t matter all that much. Why would a group of players dwell on what their program did when they were children?

Better yet, why should what happened when they were children dictate what a team led by a Tewaaraton finalist and the nation’s best goalie, among others, can accomplish? 

The sentiment holds true for the victors and the losers. Just as history couldn’t limit what the Fighting Irish could accomplish, history is also no consolation for the Blue Devils as they leave Philadelphia empty-handed. 

“Every year is a new journey, new guys, new team, but the standard doesn't change,” Duke senior defender Kenny Brower said. “This is always going to be our goal to get back here and eventually one day, win.”

It was a long journey for Duke to make it to the title game. After getting bullied by Maryland in the 2021 Final Four then missing the tournament entirely in 2022 (which Notre Dame did as well, for that matter), the Blue Devils should have entered 2023 with a chip on their shoulder, and to an extent they did. But then the wins kept racking up, and Duke won the ACC regular season championship with a 5-1 conference record. When it earned the No. 1 seed in the tournament as a result, no one was thinking about the disappointments of past seasons. 

“At Duke we try not to dwell too much on the past. You just kind of start with a fresh mindset, and I thought this year we did a great job of that,” senior attacker Dyson Williams said. “We didn't think too much about — didn't think at all about last year not making it, but kind of made this season its own.”

The tactic worked, and even though they have no national championship to show for them, the Blue Devils have plenty of positives to look back on from this season. In lieu of reminiscence, though, the biggest positive for Duke is that it returns almost its entire core to take another swing at its title aspirations next year.  

So what is history good for, if not to inform the future? In college sports, which by design can see drastic change every year, not all that much, and we should embrace that. History can only paint part of the picture, but the majority is colored in by the group of players that take the field each year. Isn’t that more fun? 

No amount of history stacked against Notre Dame could have stopped first-team All-American goalie Liam Entenmann from standing on his head and making 18 saves, nor could it have held back the Fighting Irish’s first-half six-goal onslaught. No amount of history in its favor could have saved Duke from a 30-plus-minute scoring drought, but likewise a scarcity of historical precedent for such a thing couldn’t have stopped the Blue Devils from launching a third-quarter comeback down 6-1 to tie the game at 7-7. 

It’s simple. When two exceptional teams meet in the championship, unbelievable things happen, irrespective of what has happened in the past. And when these teams inevitably meet again next year, for as intense as this new chapter in Duke-Notre Dame history was, it will have no bearing on the outcome of that game. That is part of the chaotic beauty of sports.

“I mean, what a great experience,” Duke head coach John Danowski said. “Didn’t win the game; the other team was better today and that happens. But let's not hang our heads. Let's be really proud of who you are and what you've accomplished and what you're going to accomplish going forward.”

Sasha Richie profile
Sasha Richie | Sports Managing Editor

Sasha Richie is a Trinity senior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.


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