With the NCAA Final Four set, the Blue Zone looks at four star players that are key to leading their respective teams to victory:
Duke: Brennan O’Neill
Recently named the Lt. Raymond J. Enners Outstanding Player of the Year, junior attackman Brennan O’Neill has been the centerpiece of top-seeded Duke’s highly successful season. Known for his elite shooting coupled with excellent field vision and selfless play, the Bay Shore, N.Y., native’s scoring and assisting abilities have been the driving force behind the Blue Devils’ return to championship weekend. The first-team All-American has started all 17 games for Duke, garnering 51 goals and 40 assists for a monstrous total of 91 points. Above all, O’Neill historically shows up in the biggest of moments on the biggest of stages. The ACC Offensive Player of the Year put on a spectacular six-goal performance against then-No. 3 Virginia to help the Blue Devils sweep the regular-season series against the Cavaliers before repeating the feat in Duke’s NCAA quarterfinal matchup against Michigan. What’s more, the Blue Devils’ only losses this season have come when the junior attacker has been held to zero assists. When O’Neill is on fire, so is Duke. Now, if he can produce his typical offensive excellence with a title on the line, the Blue Devils could very well return to Durham with a trophy.
Penn State: TJ Malone
Graduate student TJ Malone has been on a tear this season as No. 7 Penn State fought its way to an 11-4 record. Leading the team with his career best in goals, assists and points, the West Chester, Pa., native has made the most of his attacking background to step into his own. After missing the 2022 campaign due to injury, Malone’s return to the field as a starter has brought extreme success to the Nittany Lions in big victories against then-No. 7 Yale, then-No. 10 Penn and then-No. 3 Cornell, where the attackman has scored at least one goal. Similar to O’Neill, the graduate student steps up when the lights are shining brightest. Scoring a season-high four goals in Penn State's NCAA quarterfinal matchup against Army, Malone’s performances in big games has earned him a third-team All-American nod. However, the attackman and his teammates have not seen an opponent quite like Duke all season long. In order for the Nittany Lions to put the top-seeded team away, Malone will need to put on the performance of a lifetime.
Notre Dame: Pat Kavanagh
It takes some truly special talent to be a Tewaaraton finalist, but senior attackman Pat Kavanagh has talent in spades. Racking up 73 points over the course of the season, the Rockville Centre, N.Y., native has led the Fighting Irish to a 12-2 record and a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament. With both prolific scoring and assisting abilities, Kavanagh has made a statement as Notre Dame royalty for years. In his sophomore season, he was also a Tewaaraton finalist while earning first team All-American honors. In what can only be described as an incredible second act, Kavanagh has notched 23 goals and 50 assists, demonstrating his capabilities as a shot creator for his teammates. The senior is but another star player known for showing up and showing out in big games. In the Fighting Irish’s home contest against the Blue Devils, Kavanagh garnered three goals and five assists in an eight-point performance that sent Duke packing with a 17-12 Notre Dame victory. The Fighting Irish’s NCAA semifinal matchup against No. 2-seed Virginia promises to be a contest for the ages, and the senior attackmen is sure to make any defense tremble with fear. If he can remain productive from both a scoring and distribution standpoint, Notre Dame will be tough to beat.
Virginia: Connor Shellenberger
Another Tewaaraton award finalist, redshirt junior Connor Shellenberger is the last person an opposing defense wants to see on the field. A determined attacker with a nose for the cage, the Charlottesville, Va., native has been the focal point of the Cavaliers’ potent offense. Scoring 27 goals with 51 assists, Shellenberger is an example of a selfless phenom who is just as keen to set up his teammates as he is to put the ball in the back of the net. With the redshirt junior captaining the offensive unit, No. 2-seed Virginia has achieved a 13-3 record thus far, most impressively taking down then-No. 1 Notre Dame in the regular-season finale. His efforts on the field have earned him a first team All-American nod, only adding to his career trophy case. As yet another player to thrive under pressure, Shellenberger scored a season-high six goals against Georgetown in the NCAA quarterfinals. While the Cavaliers have faltered against the likes of the Blue Devils, the attackman’s performance could make or break Virginia’s bid for the title. In the big semifinal matchup against No. 3-seed Notre Dame, Shellenberger must be sharp for his team to return to the championship.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
Mackenzie Sheehy is a Trinity first-year and Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.