Knocking off the No. 1 team in the country often requires specific and complex scheming. But for his team’s matchup against top-ranked Virginia tonight, head coach John Danowski said that the game plan might be deceptively straightforward.
“Virginia is a very athletic team,” Danowski said. “The game becomes very simple, so it’s about execution and just playing the game as fast and athletic as you can."
No. 7 Duke (10-3, 1-1 in the ACC) travels to Charlottesville, Va. tonight in search of its eighth straight win and the ACC regular season title, though the Cavaliers (10-1, 2-0), who have defeated the conference’s other two teams, stand in the way.
In order to come away with an upset, the Blue Devils will have to focus on limiting Virginia in transition, where it uses elite athleticism to drive the country’s third-highest scoring offense.
“It’s going to be a run-and-gun type of game,” sophomore attacker Jordan Wolf said. “We’ve been working on a lot of transitions and stopping their transition game, because they are great when they run.”
Seniors Steele Stanwick and Chris Bocklet lead the Cavalier attack as the top scoring duo in the ACC with a combined 90 points. Stanwick has totaled 54 points, but just 17 of those come from goals. He leads the nation with 37 assists, and his 3.36 per-game average is the best in the country by a sizable margin. Second-place Keith Dreyer of Air Force averages just 2.5 assists per game. Bocklet’s 36 points have come from a team-leading 28 goals and eight assists.
But it will not only be up to the defense to stop the Virginia offensive juggernaut.
“You got to make good decisions on offense and not turn the ball over,” Danowski said. “You can’t give the goalie easy looks so he can get it out. Shoot smart, make good decisions with the ball and then get back.”
The Blue Devils boast a dynamic attack of their own, led by Wolf, senior Robert Rotanz and sophomore Josh Dionne. These three have combined for 74 goals, the highest tally of any trio in the ACC. Duke will look to draw on this attacking strength as well as its midfield depth.
Another hotly contested aspect of this game will be the ground balls. Neither team has seen an opponent pick up more than 50 percent of the ground balls in any of its games.
“Every day we’ve had an emphasis on ground ball play both on offense and defense,” Danowski said.
The Blue Devils will need to exhibit the same effort on special teams, which has been a weakness for them this year. This season, Duke has capitalized on just 24.7 percent of man-up opportunities. Even if the Cavaliers may possess an advantage in special-teams play, the Blue Devils are confident that they will be motivated to put up a good showing at Klockner Stadium, where Virginia regularly draws large crowds. Despite the postseason implications of Duke’s final conference contest, though, Danowski does not view this game as a rivalry matchup.
“For me, I don’t consider anybody a rival in that there are only 61 teams that play Division I lacrosse,” Danowski said. “So everybody’s a rival, and everybody wants to beat Duke. Everyone who is associated with Duke knows that everybody hates us from the outside.”
And that hatred will only increase if the Blue Devils pull off the upset in Charlottesville.
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