Prior to a date with Maryland in a semifinal of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament on April 25, Notre Dame was on the cusp of being eliminated from postseason consideration.
A loss would have given the Fighting Irish a 6-6 record with only a regular-season finale against Army remaining on the schedule, and qualifying for the NCAA tournament requires at least a .500 record.
But Notre Dame removed all uncertainty by edging Maryland and Syracuse for the ACC championship and earning the league’s automatic qualifier for the NCAA postseason.
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On Saturday, the sixth-seeded Fighting Irish (11-5) will meet the seventh-seeded Terps (13-3) in a national semifinal at M&T Bank Stadium. It’s been a wild ride for a team that was once on the brink of spending May at home.
“Our backs were definitely against the wall, but in our locker room, we had all the parts,” junior attackman Conor Doyle (Gilman) said after Notre Dame edged Albany, 14-13, in overtime in a quarterfinal Saturday. “We had a good defense like we always did. We had a good offense, we had good transition, faceoffs, goalies. We just didn’t have games where we put it all together. I think our winning streak, that’s been a big part of it.”
Doyle conceded that the players considered the possibility of being left out of the NCAA tournament.
“I think it definitely crossed our mind, and it was go time from there,” he said. “You have family and friends going, ‘Hey, what’s the deal? If you don’t win this game, you’re not going to make the tournament.’ I think that’s when we’re at our best though. As you could see today, when our backs are against the wall, we can make some plays.”
During the Irish's five-game winning streak, four of those victories have been by one goal.
“It’s been a really funny year,” coach Kevin Corrigan said. “We’ve had some terrific wins. We beat the pants off of a very good Virginia team and feel good about ourselves. Then we drop one to Denver. It’s just kind of been an up-and-down thing. Somebody said to me, ‘Gosh, you guys have been playing so loose and fast since the ACC tournament.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I think it’s about the time we went up 6-5 on Maryland is when we started playing loose and fast,’ because until then, that was just a nailbiter of a game. Just every possession and every pass seemed to get heavier and heavier when you’re playing in a 6-5 game like that. Then you come out in the next one, and it’s just, ‘OK, let’s just go and play.’ And I think that’s when we’re at our best. That plays to the strengths of our team. We’re an athletic team, and we’ve got a lot of guys who can make plays, and that plays to our strengths.”