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Still unbeaten Duke faces Vermont

After two frustrating years, Duke’s midseason report shows the program is back on track. In fact, the team is off to its best start since 1998.

Ranked third nationally, Duke has a perfect 7-0 record and a leg up in conference play (it has a 2-0 record with one ACC game remaining). Most recently, the Blue Devils came from behind to beat rival North Carolina 12-10 on the road.

In five games against weaker teams, Duke has been in control, outscoring its opponents 57-30. Against top-tier Maryland and UNC on the road, the Blue Devils figured they would need to score in double digits and likewise hold the opposition to less than 10 goals. With the exception of one garbage score at the very end of Saturday’s contest in Chapel Hill, Duke has done that. It also managed to put together decisive multi-goal spurts in the second half to overcome deficits in both of those games.

In contrast, Duke lost all three of its biggest games of 2004 by a single goal.

“When you go 7-0, it’s the level of consistency,” Duke coach Mike Pressler said of the key to his team’s success. “I’m not saying we have been great every week, but we haven’t had any of those valleys yet.

“Our guys have worked our tails off in practice. It’s a hungry team based on the past two years: 8-7, 5-8. The juniors and seniors don’t want to go down that road again.”

Led by midfielders Brad Ross and Dan Oppedisano, Duke is far from in control of the face-off circle, winning 46 percent. But the team isn’t scratching for possessions as it was last year—losing all of the face-offs in its loss to UNC, for example.

Duke learned to cope with holding the ball less than its opponents last year, which seems to have carried over this season. The Blue Devils weathered a barrage of shots in the second half against Maryland March 5, making the most of the possessions they had.

When the team needed to overcome its deficits against the Terps and UNC, midfielders Matt Zash and Peter Lamade led Duke’s comeback.

Last year, opposing defenses were able to key on attackman Matt Danowski. Improved play by linemate Dan Flannery (11 goals, seven assists this year) and the emergence of left-handed finisher freshman Zack Greer (23 goals, three assists) have freed up Danowski (12 goals, 12 assists) in 2005.

“We certainly are pleased,” Pressler said. “The thing for me is that the guys have played like they have practiced.”

The Blue Devils’ win streak will be on the line when they host Vermont today at 3 p.m. Vermont is an emerging program from a second-tier conference, America East. The Catamounts are strong defensively, led by goalie Mike Gabel, and they return six of their top eight scorers from a year ago.

Not that Pressler has begun to think about Duke’s next game, another road showdown against No. 5 Georgetown Saturday.

“We are going to take care of business,” Pressler said. “We saw what happened to Syracuse in basketball with Vermont. If you don’t show up, you can be had.

“It’s on the bulletin board in the locker room—beat Vermont.”

With Duke’s permission, Vermont coach Steve Beville—whom Pressler is friendly with dating back to Pressler’s earlier days coaching at Ohio Wesleyan—and his Vermont squad are spending spring break in Durham. The Catamounts are one of several teams to visit Durham this spring.

“When I was at Ohio Wesleyan, so many D-I schools would look down their nose at us,” Pressler said.

“We don’t open up to everybody, but to our friends we certainly do.”


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