In 2013, two brand-new Division I men’s lacrosse programs took the field for their first seasons. High Point is one of them.
The Panthers will make the short trip to Durham Friday to take on the No. 9 Blue Devils—the first ranked opponent on their schedule—for the first time in program history.
“We’re excited,” High Point head coach Jon Torpey said. “It’s a great experience to play Duke because it’s one of the best programs in the country. Our guys are looking forward to it.”
In their inaugural season, the Panthers (3-8) are experiencing growing pains—of the eight teams that they have lost to, five currently sit at or below .500. Now a perennial lacrosse powerhouse, even Duke (8-4) was susceptible to the hardships of fielding a new program. When the Blue Devils played their first season 75 years ago, they finished the year 2-5. High Point, which scheduled a road game with No. 7 North Carolina in addition to its matchup with Duke, is equally concerned with growing as a team and getting in the win column.
“We want to kill two birds with one stone,” Torpey said. “We want these guys to learn what it takes to win, and we want to develop our large number of freshmen.”
With 31 freshmen and just nine sophomores, juniors and seniors, the Panthers are the youngest of any of Duke’s opponents this year. High Point relies on freshman Dan Lomas—who leads the team in scoring with 29 goals this season—to bear the bulk of its offensive load. Sophomore Matt Thistle and redshirt freshman Mitchell Dupere round out the Panther attack with 16 and 10 tallies, respectively.
The Blue Devils, on the other hand, have a strong veteran presence on their roster, with 10 juniors and 13 seniors. Duke’s upperclassmen account for 72.2 percent of the team’s scoring.
“All year we’ve been preaching that none of us can play like freshmen,” Lomas said. “We have to play like upperclassmen to be successful, which we’ve gotten better at.”
Duke and High Point have squared off against three of the same teams this season: Mercer, Jacksonville and Towson. The Blue Devils blew out all three teams by an average margin of 10.7 goals. The Panthers, on the other hand, gritted out two-point wins against Mercer and Towson and lost to Jacksonville by one goal. Containing a Duke squad that boasts a more explosive and dynamic attack than the Bears, Dolphins and Tigers will be no easy feat for High Point’s inexperienced defensive unit. In particular, the Panthers will have to focus on their man-down defense, as the Blue Devils rank 12th in the country in man-up offense, scoring on 41.7 percent of their extra-man opportunities.
“Our team defense has come a long way this season,” Lomas said. “Lot of guys have taken control back there. They have the ability to take over games, which gave us a shot to come back against Mercer Sunday.”
But High Point has been cautious about turning too much attention to any one aspect of the game.
“Any time you talk about Duke, you pick your poison,” Torpey said. “If you focus too much on one area, they’ll take advantage of you in another area. We’re going to go in there and put our best foot forward in all facets whether it’s man-down, six-on-six defense or possessing the ball.”