Duke started 2-4 in its run to an NCAA title in 2013. The 2014 Blue Devils also got off to a slow start in their first step toward title defense—this time they overcame it much more quickly.
A combined 11 points from seniors Jordan Wolf and Josh Dionne allowed No. 1 Duke to overcome a slow start to top Jacksonville 16-10 in its season-opener Saturday at Koskinen Stadium. After allowing the Dolphins to jump out to an early lead, the Blue Devils dominated the final three quarters en route to a convincing win.
“The ball wasn't really going our way too much [at first],” Wolf said. “Give Jacksonville credit, bunch of great shots. We were being a little impatient on offense but we’re a senior-laden team. We’ve been here for big games and small games, whatever you want to say. We just kept fighting.”
After being held scoreless for the majority of the first quarter and falling behind 3-0 to the Dolphins (0-1), freshman Thomas Zenker started the scoring for the Blue Devils (1-0), the first of what would be seven unanswered goals for Duke.
“It gets that monkey off everybody’s back,” Dionne said of the Zenker’s goal. “You see everybody’s face light up. I don't think I’ve ever seen Zenker smile that big, so to see him tally his first one and kind of calm everybody down… it was kind of just that relaxing point.”
Sophomore Chad Cohan, starting in place of injured classmate Case Matheis, was also a big spark to the Blue Devil squad, scoring two goals and adding three assists on the afternoon.
Duke's offense taking control allowed the team's defense to settle down. Led by redshirt senior Casey Carroll—playing in his first collegiate game since 2007—and a new cast of defensive characters—the Blue Devils grew on the defensive end as the game wore on and took a lot of the pressure off junior goalie Kyle Turri. As Duke took its 7-0 run to seize control of the contest, the Blue Devil defense held Jacksonville scoreless for 21:25.
“Defensively, we were prepared and we knew exactly what they were going to do,” Duke head coach John Danowski said. “But this is Casey Carroll’s first game since 2007. He needs to play to see the speed of what’s going on. This is Jamie Ikeda’s first start. This is Brian Dailey’s first time playing with a short stick…. So with all those things being said, the game changes when it's a game and its not practice anymore.”
Senior faceoff specialist Brendan Fowler also had to overcome a slow start. Fowler lost the first two faceoffs of the contest to Jacksonville redshirt freshman Jet Harding, which led to two Dolphin scores. Fowler would recover, taking 18-of-28 faceoffs in the game.
“I wanted to pop everyone forward and score,” Fowler said. “I wanted to go out there, get the first one and score in five seconds. I just kept wanting to go forward and once I kind of figured out, like alright, I [have to] get back to my roots. I don't need to score every time—I just need to get us the ball.”
From the second quarter on, the Blue Devils showed why they are the No. 1 team in the nation. With the team's first win of 2014 in the books, Danowski made a point of maintaining perspective on a long season.
“It’s so early. When I first got here, I don't think we played until the last weekend in February and so… that's two weeks less of practice to prepare," Danowski said. "I think it was a great first test in that Jacksonville was emotional and well-prepared.”
The Blue Devils have a stiff test upcoming when they host No. 4 Denver—a team that has beaten the Blue Devils in each of the past three seasons—next weekend.
“Denver’s a great team,” Wolf said. “They've had our number the last few years so this was a good game to have, give us some experience and get a little momentum going into next week. But next week’s a really big game, and I think we’re up for it.”