Duke will get its first taste of ACC play this weekend when it faces one of the conference’s hottest teams in one of the most anticipated games of the season.
The No. 1 Blue Devils will face No. 2 Maryland noon Saturday at Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium in College Park, Md. Duke will be looking to close out the month of February with a signature road win to add to its resume, which already includes victories over then-No. 4 Denver and then-No. 18 Pennsylvania.
Head coach John Danowski said his team is focused less on rankings and more on improving their play heading Saturday’s matchup.
“The rankings are unimportant to us,” Danowski said. “How people can figure out who is ranked where this early in the season is beyond me. We just try to look at who we are, what we think we are capable of doing and can we be a better team this week than we were last week.”
The two undefeated teams are on a collision course to fight for an early edge in the ACC standings. Both teams have been building momentum, especially the Terrapins (3-0), who upset then-No.2 Syracuse 16-8 in their conference opener.
Maryland has won the last four contests between the two teams, including a 16-7 win last season in Durham. Blue Devil seniors will be out to avenge a stinging 4-9 loss in the 2011 NCAA Semifinals that knocked Duke out of contention for a National Championship.
A huge reason for the Terrapins' success is their explosive offense, led by attack freshman Matt Rambo who leads the team with nine goals and three assists on the season. Junior midfielder and faceoff man Charlie Raffa has also been a consistent contributor, scoring two goals against Syracuse. He also has won 39 of 58 faceoffs this season.
Even though the threat of matching up against Maryland’s third-ranked scoring offense might have some teams focused on their opponent, Duke chose to focus on themselves for a better part of the week.
“The first day back we always work on ourselves,” Danowski said. “We concentrate on Duke—work on the mistakes that we made and find the areas where we need to get better. We start concentrating on our opponent [later in the week].”
The Blue Devil defense will look to slow down the high-tempo pace of the Terrapin offense this weekend and will need the services of close defenseman Casey Carroll and longstick midfielder Luke Duprey who have anchored a defense that has only allowed six goals in each of the last two games.
Carroll, who ranks tied-for-10th in the nation with 10 turnovers caused this season, should help get the ball to the Duke offense, which has scored 14 goals or more in three of its four games this season.
Senior attack Jordan Wolf, who leads Duke in scoring thus far, scored 10 points in wins against Pennsylvania and Stony Brook. Wolf was responsible for the Blue Devils’ last win against the Terrapins, after scoring a goal in overtime to give Duke the 9-8 victory on March 5, 2011.
Even when defenses have concentrated on Wolf, he has found a reliable sidekick in Josh Dionne who posted a 47 percent shot percentage and collected 10 goals this season. Eleven other players have scored at least one goal this season.
As Duke prepares for this historic No. 1 versus No. 2 matchup, the team is relying on momentum from its fast and solid start this season to propel them to a huge win early in the season.
“The only way you get there is experience, playing games,” Danowski said. “Having played four games, that more than anything else helps us because we have the experience.”