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Men's Lacrosse plays senior day rival UVa Sat.

Saturday is Senior Day for the Blue Devils. Their opponent is a familiar one: ACC rival and frequent Senior Day foe Virginia. Two years ago Duke defeated the No. 6 Cavaliers on a dramatic goal in the final 10 seconds of play.

Virginia (6-2, 1-1 in the ACC) offers the Duke men's lacrosse team a vital opportunity to turn around its inconsistent season.

Currently ranked 12th, and coming off embarrassing blowout losses to Johns Hopkins and North Carolina, the Blue Devils (7-4, 0-2) desperately need a win over a quality opponent to protect its spot in the NCAA tournament.

Despite very high aspirations entering the year, Duke has underachieved to this point of the season.

"A lot of teams would be happy where we are," head coach Mike Pressler said. "7-4, ranked No. 12 in the country-that sounds pretty good. But for us, we have much higher expectations then that."

Slow beginnings are nothing unusual for the program.

"For four years we've been in the same situation," said captain Kevin Cassese. "We've put ourselves in the position where we've had to win some big games in some pressure situations. But it's good in that we've been in this situation for the last three years, and we know how to respond, especially the senior class. We've been there before. There's no panic."

To regain their footing, the Blue Devils have focused on simplifying their approach to the game, especially on offense.

In its four losses, Duke has tallied just 30 goals.

"Our offense has been pretty dismal in big games this season," Cassese said. "We feel that, collectively, if we concentrate on the way an offense is supposed to be run - in every sport, not just this one - things are going to work out for us."

Defensively, the Blue Devils have been less then stellar as well. Historically a defense-oriented team under Pressler's reign, Duke has struggled to find an aggressive edge against elite opposition.

"We haven't been the same team defensively that we've been in the past," Pressler said. "We haven't been as tough on the ball. We haven't been tough, physically. We've given up way to many soft goals."

Senior defenseman Taylor Wray points to an inability to dictate tempo.

"Frankly, we haven't been on the attack as much as we would expected with the team that we've got," Wray said. "On both sides of the field, defensively and offensively, we're going to be looking to get after it."

Virginia offers the Blue Devils a stern test to see whether a week of practice has been enough to rekindle the winning fire that has brought Duke back-to-back ACC tournament titles in 2001 and 2002.

The Cavaliers took down UNC 10-7 last week, and earlier lost to Johns Hopkins by just an 8-7 score.

A preseason All-American, Virginia goaltender Tillman Johnson is perhaps the best keeper in the nation, and received ACC Player of the Week awards for his efforts against the Tar Heels.

Duke counters with A.J. Kincel in goal, whom Pressler says has played brilliantly even with a faltering defensive effort in front of him. Kincel's biggest task will be to forget the multi-goal losses over the past few weeks.

"To have any success at this position, the shorter the memory the better," Kincel said. "It's probably a little more magnified for a goalie, but it's a good attitude to have as an athlete."

Confident that he can do just that, Kincel speaks for the entire team when he declares a heightened focus for the season's final stretch.

"There's still plenty of time left to do everything we want, and more," Kincel said. "We're still really optimistic, and one of the major components as to whether or not we reach our goals is this weekend."


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