This time last year, the teams playing for the 2014 Atlantic Coast Conference men's lacrosse tournament championship weren't even in the ACC.
Conference newcomers Notre Dame (7-5) and Syracuse (10-3) survived semifinal matchups decided in the final seconds Friday night at PPL Park in Chester and will play for the ACC title at 1 p.m. Sunday.
"I think every team in this conference is so good, so talented, so well-coached and battle-tested," said Kevin Corrigan, coach of fourth-seeded Notre Dame. "The games you saw tonight shouldn't surprise anybody."
No. 3-seeded Syracuse beat No. 2 Duke (12-3) in the first semifinal, with the wounds from a 14-goal trouncing by the Blue Devils earlier this season still healing.
"This was really our first true chance to show that we are a different team," Syracuse attackman Kevin Rice said.
Dylan Donahue's buzzer-beating goal proved the difference in a 16-15 win for the Orange.
Syracuse trailed by one with 14 seconds remaining before Randy Staats found Billy Ward with a behind-the-back pass for the equalizer out of a timeout. Staats set up the game-winner moments later, starting the sequence that ended with Donahue's game-winner.
"We showed that we're not that same team that got beat down earlier this season," Rice said. "We were able to fight back."
The Fighting Irish waited until just six seconds remained in the second semifinal to take their first lead of the night. Matt Kavanagh beat Maryland goalie Niko Amato in transition to give Notre Dame a 6-5 win.
Notre Dame received 12 saves from junior goalie Conor Kelly, a Haverford School graduate. Kelly and the Irish defense stifled Maryland's offense in the final minute, causing the turnover that led to Kavanagh's game-winner.
Notre Dame benefited from having lost to top-seeded Maryland (10-3) less than a week ago.
"I think they gave us a chance to maybe get a little better with our communication and decision-making against the things they were doing," Corrigan said.
Syracuse hosted and beat the Irish, 11-10, in the teams' previous meeting this year.
In a six-team conference, each one gets to know its opponents well. That experience will help the Irish as they prepare for Syracuse's high-powered attack.
"It's nice to play people for the second time, because you're not extrapolating off the little things," Corrigan said.