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Duke men's lacrosse seeks first wins of 2017 against High Point, Cleveland State

<p>Villanova transfer Sean Cerrone scored his first goal in a Duke uniform Sunday and is hoping to stand out among the team's inexperienced offensive midfielders.</p>

Villanova transfer Sean Cerrone scored his first goal in a Duke uniform Sunday and is hoping to stand out among the team's inexperienced offensive midfielders.

The Blue Devils fell short in their season opener Sunday, but have little time to dwell on the loss with more challenges approaching in a busy start to the season.

After its late rally fell short in a 11-10 loss to No. 17 Air Force, No. 10 Duke will look to respond against High Point Friday at 7:30 p.m. and first-year program Cleveland State Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Like the Blue Devils' opener, both games will be played at Koskinen Stadium.

Following its earliest regular-season opener since 1983, Duke got a sense of its strengths and weaknesses. But with another test at No. 3 Denver on the horizon next week, the Blue Devils know they likely need improved play from their young offensive midfielders and on the back end of their defense to make early-season improvements this week.  

“We did a really nice job when the ball was on the ground and in the faceoff game,” Duke head coach John Danowski said. “We got a whole lot of shots off. I think if we are going to be critical of ourselves, I think we could shooter better, and I think you will see that as the year progresses.”

Veteran attacks Jack Bruckner and Justin Guterding continued to shine on offense for the Blue Devils (0-1). Bruckner became the 47th Duke player to eclipse the 100-point mark, and Guterding led the comeback effort with two goals in 41 seconds to bring the team within one with more than seven minutes remaining. 

In addition to getting earlier production from their two offensive stalwarts, the Blue Devils need their newcomers to continue getting used to more pronounced roles. Midfielders Kevin Quigley and Sean Cerrone and attack Joey Manown all scored their first goals in a Blue Devil uniform, though Duke definitely showed its youth with a costly late offsides penalty. Five true freshman saw the field against the Falcons, and Danowski hopes that those contributions are a positive sign of things to come despite the growing pains.

“The freshmen and the new guys held their own, “Danowski said. “We have a couple different layers with the freshman, the transfers and some upperclassmen playing new positions. So we have these different levels of experience and we are trying to build this team dynamic, and it doesn’t happen overnight.”

High Point is also turning over a new page in the young program’s story, as many of the seniors that helped start the program in 2013 have all graduated. With the departure of the Panthers' leading scorers last year to the professional ranks, it is senior Michael LeClair’s squad now. 

The team's third-leading scorer last year, the Eldridge, Md., native will look to pace High Point's young offense against the Blue Devils' inexperienced defensive back line. Friday's contest will be the Panthers' season opener, and although Duke crushed High Point 17-6 last season, the Panthers showed they could play with ACC competition when they upset No. 10 Virginia in late February. 

Duke will also have to pay attention to senior offensive midfielder Dallas Bridle Friday. The Canadian brings a dynamic edge to the Panther offense and has shown a knack for finding gaps in opposing defenses and burying technical shots—traits that could test Blue Devil goalkeeper Danny Fowler. 

High Point head coach Jon Torpey likes to use Canadian styles of play on offense, and Bridle will look to challenge the Blue Devil longpoles. Defensively, the Panthers will turn to senior co-captain Tanner Landstra to lock down Guterding and company. The Cincinnati native has started every game over the past two seasons, logging 11 caused turnovers and 35 ground balls in that span.

“In the past, [High Point] has played a combination of man and zone on defense,” Danowski said. “They also have some Canadian players, so we have to watch out for the two-man game with pick and roll and pick, slip and pop and hidden ball tricks. They also play with three poles up on the faceoff. If we win the ball backwards, we will be facing a 10-man, full pressure ride.”

After the Blue Devils face off against the Panthers on Friday night, they will face an intriguing test from an unproven Cleveland State squad. The first-year program, lead by head coach Dylan Sheridan, is coming off an opening loss to Michigan 13-8. 

Freshman Tristan Copeland, a Concord, N.C. native, led the way offensively for the Vikings (0-1) with two goals and an assist. The young team will look to exploit a rare inexperienced Duke team on one of the sport's big stages, and the Blue Devils hope to build some early-season momentum to carry on the road next week. 

“We take great pride in trying to grow the sport,” Danowski said. "We played Boston University, Furman and Marquette when they first started playing as well. We think it is part of Duke’s responsibility, since we do have a national brand, it is important that we are on [Cleveland State’s] schedule. It helps their administrations, it helps the lacrosse community grow the sport and it gives them an affirmation on the national stage.”

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