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Deeper, healthier lax looks to run back to NCAAs

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Deeper, healthier lax looks to run back to NCAAs**

On the message board in the Duke lacrosse office there is a list entitled "Things To Do." The list reads of mundane chores like "line turf field for practice," and "get new answering machine." At the bottom is perhaps the list's most pressing item -- "fix leak in roof."

But ask head coach Mike Pressler about his expectations for this season, and he'll tell you of a list much more important than the one on the wall of his office.

He'll tell you of beating hated rival North Carolina, last year's NCAA tournament runner-up. He'll tell of winning at least two Atlantic Coast Conference regular season games out of the three they'll play. He'll speak of winning in the opening round of the ACC tournament. And he'll let you know of his team's overwhelming desire to get back to -- and win in -- the NCAAs.

But Duke has not beaten Carolina since 1987. The Blue Devils have won just a single ACC game in each of the past two seasons. Two years ago, they made their first-ever appearance in the NCAA tournament, but lost in the opening round. The last time they won in the ACC tournament was in 1989. Just how do they propose to reach these lofty goals?

"Number one we've got to play a lot more people than we have," says Pressler. "We have a lot more people to play. We're not relying on 12-13 guys playing against 15-20 guys. You look at our schedule in the month of March -- where we play that one stretch where we go Navy, Carolina, Georgetown in that one week -- we've got to have some fresh legs out there."

Indeed, the chief problem with Duke's 1993 squad, which finished the season 9-5 and ranked 13th in the polls, was a lack of depth. Plagued by an uncanny 13 serious injuries and a lack of experienced players, last year's team often fell victim to late-game fatigue and opponents' up-tempo attacks.

But this season sees the return of four players who sat out much of last year with season-ending battle scars. Pressler's third recruiting class is large (11, the largest class he has ever brought to Duke) and talented (seven high school All-Americans, seven participants in the prestigious North-South All-Star game). Two other Blue Devils return after sitting out the 1993 season due to disciplinary problems. The result is increased depth and proficiency at nearly every position.

Nowhere is this more evident than on defense, where, except for at the goalie position, Duke has its most formidable unit in recent memory. Fifth-year senior Joe Proud is back to lead the group after recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, while Sam Cady and David Stilley likewise return from injury. Tri-captain Chris Affolter adds significant game experience.

The Wilton (Conn.) High School trio of Mark Allen, Jim Dumser and Ross Thomson rounds out the prospects for close defense, while the defensive midfield position is aptly manned by junior Jason Goger and sophomore Clay Curtis.

"It's the biggest, most athletic, most physical group of defensemen I've ever had the pleasure to coach," Pressler says. "We can go six deep on the close defense, and play two to three defensive middies. We have 12 longpoles, and we can play all of them. We're going to stop people first, and you've got to have those folks to do it."

At the midfield position, Pressler plans to run at least three lines in regular shifts. The remaining two tri-captains, Bo Mahoney and Mike Clayton, are both multiple-year starters. Juniors Matt Ogelsby, Ross Moscatelli and Steve Finnell form an imposing unit, with Ogelsby returning as an All-ACC and third-team All-America selection.

Depth equals balance at the offensive end, where junior Scott Harrison returns as last year's leading scorer. Senior Ken Fasanaro and junior Bob Carpenter, who matches up in size with most defenders, will most likely join Harrison in the starting lineup. In addition, a strong bench will allow Pressler to go eight players deep at the attack spot.

But assistant coach Mike Morrill might be the most important offensive addition. Morrill played his college lacrosse at Johns Hopkins, where he was a three-time All-American, and most recently served a two-year stint with Team USA.

With a few minor exceptions -- including the lack of a proven goalie -- Pressler seems to have found an answer for every problem that plagued last year's squad. He has lightened practice loads to curb injuries and adjusted Duke's schedule to increase national exposure. Duke is poised to make a legitimate assault on the upper echelon of NCAA teams.

"I've been very impressed with our enthusiasm, the feeling for each other the players are showing, the unselfishness and how much better shape we're in," says Pressler. "If you look at the fourth year, fifth year, sixth year after you take over a program, when you get a couple years of your own recruiting in, it's kind of a breakthrough time. We think this year is going to be a breakthrough year for us."

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