Duke lacrosse faces Denver in NCAA semifinals
Two. That's the magic number for Duke. Two First Team All-Americans, two goalies, two more victories and two championships in a row.
After running through Johns Hopkins last week in a convincing 19-11 victory, the top-seeded Blue Devils will take on Denver in the semifinals at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Md., Saturday at 1 p.m. The Pioneers have won their last 13 games and will look to play spoiler to Duke's hopes to repeat as national champions.
But to do so, Denver (15-2) will have to slow down the prolific Blue Devil offense that has lit up its two NCAA tournament opponents for a combined 39 goals. Of those scores, 30 have come from the sticks of the starting midfielders and attackers, as Duke's (15-3) sophomore tandem of Myles Jones and Deemer Class—one of the two First Team All-Americans—have paired with senior Jordan Wolf—the other First Team selection—to form one of the most balanced frontlines in the nation.
"It's something we strive for every year—that all six guys that run the field offensively are capable of making a play," Danowski said. "Whether that's getting a second assist, an assist, scoring a goal [or] picking up a ground ball—being able to make a play. I think this year we probably have more balance than we've had in the past."
The game is not all offense, though. Duke's defense has been solid throughout the tournament, holding opponents to 10 goals per game on 29 percent shooting. Denver has been even more efficient on defense, holding Drexel and North Carolina to five and six goals, respectively.
And although much of the attention has gone to the attackmen and midfielders this postseason, the biggest news from last week's game came in the form of a defensive substitution. Danowski replaced sio goalkeeper Luke Aaron with junior Kyle Turri—the goalkeeper for last year's championship squad—for the final 24 minutes of the contest. Aaron has been the man in the net all season, but Danowski maintains having two solid players at the position can only help the Blue Devils.
"Just as you would change a faceoff man or play a couple long-stick middies or substitute an attackman every now and then, same thing [with a goalie]," Danowski said. "We've got two competent goalies and two we feel very comfortable with."
But at this point in the playoffs, it takes more than just having a wide array of scorers or two goalies running the net to win. It can be the smaller facets of the game that determine the outcome—time of possession, turnovers and faceoffs. Duke has dominated the latter, with senior Brendan Fowler winning the battle at the X in every playoff game they have played in the past weeks. Although last week's faceoff battle was a close call—he had 17 compared to Johns Hopkins' 16—Fowler has been nothing but consistent for Duke.
Denver may not present the same challenge as the Blue Devils do at midfield—they employ sophomore Chris Hampton who lost the faceoff battle against North Carolina in the opening round—but Fowler is making sure not to underestimate any team that has made it this far in the tournament.
"Last week [the Pioneers] played really well," Fowler said. "They started pretty slow, they had a new kid, but he's been playing pretty well. I think he's actually a really good faceoff guy....But I'm pretty confident in what we're doing."
Not everything that happens Saturday will be dictated by those on the field. Duke will be without one of its emotional leaders Saturday when it takes on the Pioneers, as senior Josh Dionne will be out with a leg injury following a jarring hit delivered in last weeks contest against the Blue Jays. Junior Kyle Keenan will replace Dionne for the Blue Devils. Although the team echoes the call for a 'next man up' mentality, Keenan admits it is still difficult to see Dionne miss out on his final chance to be on the field with the team.
"It's definitely tough. I even got emotional after the game because me and Josh are best friends and it was really tough to see him go down," Keenan said. "But it's gotta be next guy step and we've got to keep playing. We've got a game to win."
The winner of Saturday's contest will face the winner of the second game between Maryland and Notre Dame in the title game Monday.