After a week to rest and get back to its winning ways, Duke will begin its postseason with hopes of repeating the success of last year's national championship run.
The top-seeded Blue Devils will take on Air Force Sunday at 5:15 p.m. at Koskinen Stadium in the first round of the NCAA Championship. The two teams have not faced each other in the past four years, so the only exposure Duke players will have to the Falcons is what they see on film in the days leading up to the game.
"We’ve watched some film now of both the Fairfield and the Ohio State games in their tournament," Danowski said. "[Air Force is] extremely dangerous. They’re good at what they’re good at, they play with a lot of energy and as you would imagine, an academy team, they seem to be tough-minded individuals."
The Falcon defense will be their biggest strength, as they allow an average of only 8.75 goals per game. But if Air Force (11-5) wants to have a shot against the defending national champions, it will have to up its offensive production. The Falcons average 11.88 goals per contest—well below the 14.50 mark the Blue Devils (13-3) produce each game—and it will be up to Duke goalkeeper Luke Aaron to keep them off the scoreboard. But this was not always his responsibility.
At the beginning of the season, the net belonged to junior Kyle Turri, the starting goalkeeper for last year's championship squad. But after the opening match against Jacksonville, Danowski made the decision to switch things up between the pipes and inserted Aaron for the Blue Devils' game against then-No. 4 Denver. The sophomore recorded a career-high nine saves in the 14-10 victory and secured his spot as a starter for the remainder of the season.
"[Aaron replacing Turri is] not something that we planned, but we’re delighted that we have that depth and we had somebody that was able to step in," Danowski said. "I don’t think any of us would hesitate to put Kyle back in, I just don’t know if any of have the courage to put Kyle back in at this point. Right now, this is Luke’s team, but Kyle is very capable, and we know that, and he’s still ready to play."
With Aaron in the net behind a stout defense and a potent offense, the Blue Devils ran to a 13-2 regular season clip, good enough to earn the top seed for the NCAA Championship.
But despite earning the No. 1 slot in the tournament, the Blue Devils were quick to point out that once the playoffs get underway, regular season rankings and records no longer matter. After winning the national championship last season as a No. 7 seed, nobody knows this to be more true than Duke.
“It’s a cool accomplishment to us, but like we always say, No. 1 seed, last team in the tournament, once you’re in it really doesn’t matter," senior faceoff specialist Brendan Fowler said. "It’s an awesome accomplishment and really cool to be recognized as No. 1, but last year we were the eighth seed. It really doesn’t matter where you come in, it’s all about what you do with these three weeks.”
But that's not to say the Blue Devils are completely disregarding the benefits that have come with their seeding.
By virtue of being awarded the top seed, Duke also secured home field advantage for the first round of the playoffs. Considering that the Blue Devils are 9-0 at Koskinen Stadium, playing in Durham is certainly a big reward for their regular season play.
"I know we’re definitely excited to play at home again," Aaron said. "Koskinen’s been really good to us, and we’d like to protect the home turf, so we’re definitely excited.”