When Duke and Denver met in the regular season finale last year, the Pioneers handed the Blue Devils an ugly 15-9 defeat. The loss has not left the minds of the No. 6 Blue Devils, who will open their 2012-13 campaign against No. 9 Denver Saturday and Jacksonville Sunday.
“Obviously last year is in the back of our minds a little bit, but the focus is on doing the things we’ve been doing in practice in our first game,” senior captain Bill Conners said.
The Blue Devils return their starting attack line of juniors Josh Dionne, Jordan Wolf and Christian Walsh, who collectively recorded 102 goals last season. Top recruit Case Matheis will add to the rotation, rendering it possible that he, Dionne, Wolf and Walsh will see time at the midfield, Duke head coach John Danowski said. In the midfield, senior Jake Tripucka is the only returning starter, and senior captains Josh Offit and David Lawson will join him in the lineup.
On defense, Duke returns senior goaltender Dan Wigrizer, Conners and juniors Chris Hipps and Henry Lobb. An important addition to the defensive rotation is redshirt senior Dan DiMaria, who transferred to Duke after playing three full seasons at Harvard. The faceoff responsibility will fall on junior Brendan Fowler and senior Greg DeLuca after the graduation of CJ Costabile, last year’s faceoff specialist and recipient of the Lt. j.g. Donald MacLaughlin Jr. Award as the nation’s top midfielder.
The Blue Devils will face a Pioneer squad that returns five of its seven leading scorers from last season, including the starting midfield line of junior Jeremy Noble and seniors Chase Carraro and Cameron Flint. The trio has started together for the past two seasons, establishing itself as a force to be reckoned with. The three midfielders combined for 55 goals last year.
“We’ve played together for so long that we know what to expect from each other and are aware of each other’s tendencies and habits,” Noble said.
Denver lost its leading scorer, Mark Matthews, to graduation after he scored 47 goals last season. Denver head coach Bill Tierney hopes that highly-touted freshmen Gordie Koerber and Tom Moore will fill the void left by Matthews and fellow graduate Alex Demopoulos, who scored 20 goals last season. Koerber and Moore were ranked No. 31 and No. 42, respectively, in Inside Lacrosse Power’s top 100 Freshmen.
“He’s got a great shot left-handed,” said Duke sophomore Kyle Turri of Moore, a high school teammate. “In high school, teams had to force him to the right because if he had to step on people lefty he was probably putting the ball in the cage.”
Between the pipes, Tierney has yet to decide who will earn the starting nod. Junior Jamie Faus anchored the defensive unit during the 2010-11 season, when Denver reached the NCAA semifinals before falling to Virginia. After the goaltender was sidelined due to injury early last season, sophomore Ryan LaPlante took over, recording a .535 save percentage. He put up a career-high 16 saves against the Blue Devils.
“We have two really viable goalies,” Tierney said.
Exactly 24 hours after playing the Pioneers, Duke will take on Jacksonville, which fell to the Blue Devils 16-7 last season.
“We don’t think in terms of revenge,” Dolphin head coach Guy Van Arsdale said. “We have the utmost respect for Duke lacrosse and coach Danowski, and the level that they’ve achieved is something that the rest of us aspire to. We’re honored to be on the field with them and compete with those guys.”
Jacksonville’s seniors constitute the first group of four-year players that the young Dolphin program has had. Seniors Cameron Mann and TJ Kenary were among Jacksonville’s top three scorers last season with 19 and 17 goals, respectively. The duo combined for three of the Dolphins’ seven goals against the Blue Devils in last year’s matchup.
“Cameron Mann is a very talented player and a leader,” Van Arsdale said. “He’s a guy that we count on in lots of different ways, for more than just scoring points. “TJ Kenary has done a great job of being a goal-scoring threat.”
Jacksonville’s focus, much like that of Denver and Duke, is finding out more about itself as a team this weekend.
“We’re trying to come together as a team and develop some identity,” Van Arsdale said.