Duke hung with the nation’s top-ranked team for 51 minutes last Sunday, but Denver’s late push proved to be too much in the crisp mountain air.
Now the Blue Devils return home hoping to avoid any more early-season setbacks in nonconference pay.
No. 18 Duke is looking to get back on track this weekend when they take on Saint Joseph's at Koskinen Stadium at 1 p.m. The Blue Devils stayed with the Pioneers for most of Saturday's game, but let the home team pull away after sloppy and uncharacteristic penalties killed momentum late in the game.
The Hawks are no stranger to playing the underdog role, as they took on ranked opponents in their first two games of the season.
“They are aggressive, tough and they take on the personality of their coach, Taylor Wray, who played here at Duke, graduated in ’03," Duke head coach John Danowski said. "Taylor was a tough, physical player and that is how their team plays.”
Although Saint Joseph's (0-2) has yet to notch its first win of the year, the Hawks' play on the field is a testament to the influence Duke and Danowski have had on the sport in the last decade.
Wray—who is a three-time defending Northeast Conference Coach of the Year—and sixth-year assistant coach Dan Keating are coming off a season in which they helped St. Joesph's tie its highest single-season win total in program history and will have the Hawks ready to make some noise on Saturday against the young Blue Devils (2-2).
Saint Joseph's midfielder Kevin Reidinger has two straight multiple-goal games to start the season. The Long Valley, N.J., native will look to test the young Duke midfield lines and will help space the Hawks' offense after burying 22 goals and finishing with three assists last season.
"It is hard to shut down really good players, you just have to be aware of where they are on the field and try to maintain the match ups we can, but you cannot let it make you crazy,” Danowski said.
Duke will need to have more success at the faceoff if it wants to keep the ball away from Reidinger and the opportunistic Hawks. Senior Kyle Rowe, who struggled mightily against Pioneer All-American Trevor Baptiste last weekend, continues to climb up the NCAA record books—he began the season tied for 16th in NCAA history with 153 career ground balls and has added 25 more so far in 2017.
Attackmen Jack Bruckner and Justin Guterding and midfielder John Prendergast will look to exploit a Saint Joseph's defense that has given up double-digit scores the first two weeks of the season. Despite losing its best offensive midfielders from a year ago, Duke is averaging nearly 12.8 goals per game thus far this season and has shown the ability to work around for good looks if they can control the draw.
Prendergast continues to impress in the early stages of the season after making the move from defensive midfield this offseason. Along with freshman Kevin Quigley, the young midfield duo has given the Blue Devils a speedy and athletic scoring option from outside the box.
"After three game weeks, you know we are making progress and that is all you want,” Danowski said. “We have a bit of a plan to match up with teams, but good players will figure out how to score goals in transition, man-to-man and settled offense."
Bruckner and Guterding will have a good chance to continue their scoring streaks, as the Hawks are starting a freshman and a junior—Brendan McNicholas—is making just the second start of his career. Look for the Blue Devils to capitalize on the Hawks’ mistakes, as sophomore Brad Smith is tied for first in the nation in man-up scoring with three goals so far this season.
After coming up short in a matchup with the No. 1 team in the country, Danowski and the Blue Devils know they will need to be patient with one of their youngest teams in recent memory.
Duke will have a chance to take a major step in its early developmental stage with a strong performance at home before hitting the road March 5 to take on Richmond.
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