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Ryder Garnsey has filled Matt Kavanagh’s shoes as an offensive leader

| Wednesday, April 19, 2017

No. 6 Notre Dame is back to where it usually is during this time of year. It’s amongst the top 10 programs in the nation, owns wins over two of the top 10 teams and it is on the brink of making a deep run in arguably the most competitive conference in lacrosse.

But there is one key difference in this year’s team from the last few. Sophomore attack Ryder Garnsey is at the center of the Irish (6-3, ACC 1-2) offense, instead of former attack Matt Kavanagh.

Following the loss of Kavanagh, who was drafted fifth overall in last year’s MLL draft by the Denver Outlaws, Garnsey wasted no time in becoming the team’s offensive focal point. leading the team with 33 points — 17 goals and 16 assists — through nine games this season. However, Garnsey’s emergence did not come out of thin air. He’s been the offensive focal point of every team he’s been on since he began his lacrosse career at the age of five.

Irish sophomore attack Ryder Garnsey hustles for a ground ball  during Notre Dame’s 11-10 loss to Syracuse on April 1.Kathleen Donahue | The Observer
Irish sophomore attack Ryder Garnsey hustles for a ground ball during Notre Dame’s 11-10 loss to Syracuse on April 1.

“I started lacrosse when I was five, and I played on the [U.S. Lacrosse] U-11 league then,” Garnsey said. “When I was in eighth grade — growing up I really wanted to play for ‘Cuse because my brother played for Syracuse — and around eighth grade I thought ‘you know, maybe I can actually do this thing.’ So, that’s when I started to take it seriously, I would say.”

He wasn’t wrong in thinking that he could “do this thing.” He went on to take his talents to Brewster Academy and then later on to Phillips Academy Andover for a post-graduation year, where he became the all-time leading scorer at Brewster Academy and recorded 47 goals and 46 assists at Phillips Academy. Throughout his high school career, Garnsey earned Under-Armour All-American honors, was named New England Player of the Year as a senior and was ranked the No. 1 attack and the No. 2 incoming freshman by Inside Lacrosse in 2015.

“I’ve always had a lot of confidence in myself,” Garnsey said. “Throughout the recruiting process, I visited a lot of schools, and I loved Notre Dame, but what ended up happening after my senior year was that I needed to [take a post-graduation year], which really turned me off a little bit. I was like ‘why do I need to PG? I think I’m pretty good.’ But eventually I decided that even with the PG year, which wasn’t necessarily what I wanted to do at the beginning, I think it was really beneficial for me.”

“It helped me learn a lot, and it helped me get a little bit faster, stronger and it helped me in school as well,” Garnsey said. “It was sort of a perfect storm when I got on campus. There was a place where I could play and contribute right away, and I could play with Kav, who was probably one of, if not the best, attackmen in the country last year, who was also a left attackman that I could learn so much from.”

Under the guidance of Kavanagh, Garnsey went on to win ACC Freshman of the Year after posting 27 goals and 12 assists in the 15 games he appeared in, which placed him third on the team with 39 points. Some of his most impressive performances as a freshman included a five-goal outing against then-No. 7 Syracuse and a three-goal performance against Air Force in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

“I think that [Irish head] coach [Kevin] Corrigan just tried to blend what I did well with the system that we had in place,” Garnsey said. “Every player is a little bit different, so he tried to maximize what I did well, and he put me in positions to succeed. Playing with all those guys my freshman year, I wasn’t necessarily the vocal point of the other teams’ scouting reports, so that obviously helped a lot … I was almost an afterthought, so I think that when Coach puts you in a position to succeed and the defense isn’t always honed in on that, that’s when some of the success happens.”

Going into his second year, Garnsey understood that his role within the team would increase, but he said he never felt an increase in pressure given that he was much more comfortable with the system and amongst his teammates as a sophomore.

“Throughout the transition from freshman to sophomore year, I’ve definitely been a little more vocal, and not because I think that I absolutely need to be a leader, but I’ve been a little bit more comfortable and a little bit more confident in the things I’m doing,” Garnsey said. “I know where I have to be now. I’m not freaking out about where to be on the field. I already know these things, so it gives me a chance to step back a little bit and help some of the younger guys who were in my shoes last year … and I think that’s been the biggest thing for me in transitioning into more of a leadership role.”

Nine games into this season, Garnsey has had his fair share of big games, which has filled in perfectly to what the Irish lost after Kavanagh’s departure. In the season opener against Georgetown, Garnsey scored a career-high six goals and against Virginia in the conference opener on the road, he scored the game-winning score in overtime, which all helped earn him first-team midseason All-American by Inside Lacrosse. He was also placed on the Tewaaraton watch-list, for the nation’s best player.

Even with all the accolades, Garnsey recognizes that none of them matter more than what the ultimate goal is, which is hoisting the NCAA national championship trophy at the end of the season. After suffering what he called “the worst day of my life,” losing to North Carolina in the NCAA quarterfinals last season, Garnsey and the Irish are determined to not fall short of their goal this season.

“I remember being in the locker room after that game, and everyone was crying while the seniors were giving their final farewell speeches,” Garnsey said. “[Senior attack Anthony] Marini said it best in the huddle the other day in practice. ‘We don’t want to be in that position in a month and a half.’ We’re set on doing everything we can in the next month to make sure that the same thing doesn’t happen.”

Coming off losses in two of the last three games, Garnsey will look to help lead the Irish to a strong finish against ACC rival No. 16 North Carolina at home Saturday before competing in the ACC tournament on April 28. The game begins at noon.

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About Manuel De Jesus

Manuel De Jesus is a junior from Chicago, Illinois. He is an American Studies major with a minor in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. He is currently covering ND Volleyball, Men's Soccer and Men's Basketball.

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