On the eve of graduation with their academic careers behind them, the Blue Devil seniors embarked on the beginning of their only goal for the 2018 season: get Duke back to championship weekend for the first time since 2014. 

They succeeded in the first step of that mission, winning in the first round to keep dancing. 

The fourth-seeded Blue Devils took on Villanova within the friendly confines of Koskinen Stadium and emerged with a 17-11 victory. As the story went before the season even began, Duke was powered by its depth as eight different players found the back of the net. 

"One of the key elements of today's game was that we scored 17 goals and Justin Guterding had three points," Duke head coach John Danowski told GoDuke.com. "We were able to get to 17 because a lot of guys made contributions. Having two freshmen contribute is terrific. We always say at this time of year, you're no longer freshmen.... You've played a lot of Division I lacrosse games. You're now a sophomore."

Though the Blue Devils went up 2-0 to start the game thanks to a Joe Robertson score and Justin Guterding’s 203th career goal—second all-time in NCAA history behind only Zack Greer—Villanova  stormed back. Five-foot-4 John Kluh raced past a settled defense to sting one past goalkeeper Danny Fowler before Robertson could answer again. Kieran Byrnes and Danny Seibel added a goal each for the Wildcats in the first frame as the two teams knotted the contest at three goals apiece. 

The next 15 minutes, however, gave Duke a chance to blow things open. Starting with freshman Naekie Montgomery’s alley bounce shot, the Blue Devils went on a 8-1 run in the second quarter. Montgomery, who had a hat trick in the game, had his goal answered by Keegan Khan, before he elected to do it again, notching his second goal. 

From there, the first and second midfield lines took over as Sean Lowrie, Brad Smith, Reilly Walsh, Robertson and Guterding all got their shots. 

What keyed the second-quarter run was dominance at the faceoff X by sophomore Brian Smyth. Smyth went 13-of-15 on the draw in the second quarter and only made things harder on the Wildcats in the second half, winning ground balls at will. 

“Their other faceoff guy was injured, so I just tried to take advantage of that,” Smyth said. “I knew there would be a lot of opportunities off of the faceoff X, and we had a lot of guys who took advantage of that, so I was pretty pumped that I could get one myself.”

Taking an 11-4 lead into halftime certainly helped the Blue Devils as they came out of the half to face a Villanova run. The Wildcats used Seibel, Kluh and Khan to put some pressure on Duke, scoring three straight to bring them within four. The Blue Devils shot 1-of-13 in the third quarter and more turnovers than shots on goal, often struggling to complete basic passes and hold onto the ball against a defense that pressed out more aggressively. Just as the pressure was beginning to mount further, Lowrie bailed the Blue Devils out with less than 30 seconds remaining in the quarter to make the score 12-7. 

The two teams would trade scores to start the final quarter, but Smyth’s continued dominance at the faceoff gave Duke several fast-break opportunities that it cashed in on. David Gill had a pair of goals from unsettled situations, and Smyth himself got both a goal and an assist to go with his masterful 23-of-28 performance for the entire afternoon. 

All told, at the end of the offensive resurgence, the Blue Devils were up 17-9 with nine minutes to play. 

Though Seibel would add a pair of late goals to pad the scoreline, Danowski was able to pull Fowler and let backup Turner Uppgren man the cage for the last few minutes, knowing that they had secured the victory. 

“[The NCAA tournament] is exciting, everyone is just having fun,” Robertson said. “Everyone is happy that everyone is scoring and assisting. It’s just a lot of fun.”

Duke advanced to play the winner of No. 5 Johns Hopkins and Georgetown next Sunday in Annapolis, Md.