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Healthy Matt Kavanagh’s goal: NCAA lacrosse title

Matt Kavanagh, a candidate for the Tewaaraton Trophy,

Matt Kavanagh, a candidate for the Tewaaraton Trophy, had 75 points two years ago for Notre Dame, which tops several preseason polls after reaching the Final Four the past two seasons. Credit: Notre Dame Athletics

When Matt Kavanagh reflects on last season, the Notre Dame star attack can’t help but wince. He fought through the physical pain of dual injuries for the last two months of the season and has lived with the emotional pain of an overtime turnover that led to the goal that allowed Denver to oust the Fighting Irish in the NCAA semifinals.

“That kid was toughing it out. He didn’t practice after March 20. It was shorts and tees and play on Saturdays. That’s how tough that kid is,” Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan said of Kavanagh, a feisty 5-8, 170-pound senior from Rockville Centre who starred in high school at Chaminade.

Kavanagh said doctors told him he suffered a stress reaction in his pelvis region and a torn glute muscle against Denver on March 7. For a former hockey player who relies on powerful legs to offset his small stature, that was a serious injury. “The doctors said he couldn’t do much more damage. So he just kept going. You never heard him complain,” Corrigan said.

But Kavanagh’s production fell (from 75 points as a sophomore to 52 last year) and he said, “I was a little banged up.” That’s a major admission for a player who has not missed a game for Notre Dame.

“It was definitely frustrating. Practice is tough, but it helps you prepare, and I missed it,” he said. “We figured out that the more I ran and put stress on those areas, the longer it took to recover for games. And I wasn’t even 100 percent for the games. So there was a lot of rest and recovery between games, and in practice I was just taking notes.”

Kavanagh had surgery in early June and, as a precaution, did not participate in fall lacrosse for the Irish. “We kept him out because if we didn’t, his competitive instincts would’ve taken over in the scrimmage,” Corrigan said.

But he’s fully healed and expects to regain his sophomore-season scoring touch for a team ranked No. 1 in the country by several preseason publications. They also list Kavanagh as a candidate for the Tewaaraton Award, given to the nation’s top player.

“It’s a lot of motivation for me coming to this season,” Kavanagh said. “Especially the way it ended last year with the injury and that turnover in the last game.”

Notre Dame has been excruciatingly close to winning that elusive first men’s lacrosse national title, reaching the Final Four the past two seasons. It is the only Division I men’s team in the country that has advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals each of the last six seasons.

Kavanagh has played a major role in the program’s success with several overtime goals, including a dramatic one against Albany and the Thompson brothers in an NCAA quarterfinal at Hofstra in 2014. He had a contingent of friends and family behind the Notre Dame bench but recalled, “Pretty much everyone else in the stadium was pulling for Albany because they wanted the Thompsons to go to the Final Four. That’s definitely a career highlight for me.”

Corrigan expects more memories for Kavanagh’s college scrapbook. “He’s always showed up in big moments and is as clutch as anyone in college lacrosse the last couple of years,” he said. “He’s been a pivotal player for us since Day 1. He’s such a competitor. He doesn’t like to lose at anything. Even in practice, he pushes everyone forward all the time. We value him for his work ethic, his skill and his poise.”

And Kavanagh values his Notre Dame career. “I was out of my comfort zone when I came out to the Midwest,” he said. “No family, no friends from Long Island. But the whole experience has been crazy. We’ve traveled to unbelievable places and played in unbelievable venues.”

He was selected in the first round by the Denver Outlaws in last month’s MLL draft and said he’ll “definitely” play pro lacrosse this summer. But Kavanagh, a film and television major who said he wants to work “behind the scenes,” aspires to one day work on the acclaimed ESPN 30 for 30 series.

Closing out his college career with the first men’s lacrosse championship for hallowed football university Notre Dame might give him a pretty good idea for a flipped script. “I’ve been there twice when we lost championship weekend, and it’s a horrible feeling to hear the seniors talk to the team for the last time,” Kavanagh said. “I want to end my final year on a positive note.”

One that will allow him to reflect with a smile instead of a wince.

New York Sports