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The Chronicle's guide to Duke's spring sports

The Chronicle's spring sports supplement hit stands Friday, getting you familiar with some of the Blue Devils' best teams and athletes with their seasons about to hit full throttle. As part of the supplement, our beat writers previewed Duke's spring teams—here's what you need to know about them:

Men's lacrosse

The Scoop: Entering his second decade at the helm in Durham, head coach John Danowski faces a challenge unlike almost anything he has ever seen during his tenure at Duke. The 2017 Blue Devils are overwhelmingly young on both sides of the ball and still play in a conference that boasts three legitimate national championship contenders in Syracuse, Notre Dame and defending champions North Carolina. The offense returns just two starters and the defense only one. What Duke lacks in experience, however, it makes up for in potential with a deep 10-man recruiting class that took Inside Lacrosse’s top recruiting ranking, as well as 11 sophomores that played sparingly during their first year on campus and now have a chance to contribute.

Key Players: Attack Justin Guterding—The Garden City, N.Y., native, recently became the fastest ever Blue Devil to 100 points, and with Myles Jones, Deemer Class and Case Matheis graduated, the junior becomes the new focal point of the Duke offense.

Kyle Rowe—After an excellent honorable mention All-American campaign in his junior season, Rowe is an anchor for the Blue Devils at the faceoff X and makes life easier for Duke’s newer offensive players.

Ethan Powley—Despite playing out of position for the last two years, Powley emerged as one of the team’s best defenders last season, starting all 19 games. Now playing again at his natural longstick midfielder position, the senior from Wake Forest, N.C., appears ready to be a force on both ends of the field, turning defense to offense on both the fastbreak and the clear.

Games to watch: March 11 vs. No. 9 Loyola, March 25 at No. 6 Syracuse, April 8 vs. No. 4 Notre Dame.

Prediction: Fourth in the ACC, NCAA tournament first round

Women's lacrosse

The Scoop: In her 22nd season as the head coach in Durham, Kerstin Kimel will attempt to bring Duke back to the national stage after the Blue Devils failed to advance to the NCAA tournament quarterfinals for the first time in more than a decade last spring. With a veteran defense to anchor a talented midfield group and loaded offense, Duke has makings of a team that can once again make a deep run in the postseason if it can avoid the turnovers that doomed the team last year. The Blue Devils had to replace four-year goalkeeper Kelsey Duryea along with a number of key midfielders during the offseason, but the addition of six of the nation’s top-100 recruits should soften the blow.

Key Players: Midfielder Maddie Crutchfield—Named a preseason first-team All-American, the Concord, N.H., native led Duke in assists and caused turnovers last season. The junior also ranked second on the team in free position goals and ground balls and third in points.

Defender Isabelle Montagne—A three-year starter, the Lake Forest, Ill., native contributed to last season’s stalwart backline that earned an 8.6 goals against average to rank fourth in the ACC. She will once again be tasked with shutting down opponents’ most potent scorers.

Midfielder Olivia Jenner— After spearheading the Duke’s efforts in the draw circle during her rookie season, the sophomore from Annapolis, Md., will look to best her 110 draw controls, the most recorded by a Blue Devil in a season, to inch up Duke’s all-time career draw controls list.

Games to watch: March 25 at No. 13 Virginia; April 2 vs. No. 6 Syracuse; April 22 vs. No. 1 North Carolina

Prediction: Third in ACC, NCAA tournament quarterfinals

Baseball

The Scoop: After breaking a 55-year NCAA tournament drought last season, the Blue Devils return an experienced lineup featuring all eight position player starters from 2016 as well as primary designated hitter Michael Smiciklas. The strength of Duke’s team lies in its offense with a pair of corner infielders that round out the heart of the order and slugged better than .500 last year—but also with a defense that ranked near the top of the league in fielding percentage. With the loss of all four starting pitchers, however, head coach Chris Pollard faces a unique scenario, trying to find starters from a deep bullpen that helped anchor one of the ACC’s best pitching staffs last season.

Key Players: 1B Justin Bellinger—The Blue Devils' leading hitter in 2016, the 6-foot-6 junior will likely be back in the cleanup spot providing power as he slugged .571 last year. He provides stability in the field as well, with just three errors in his last 42 games played.

3B/P Jack Labosky—The junior spent much of his 2016 season slotted right in front of Bellinger and should round out the top half of the Duke order again in addition to filling a crucial role as a relief pitcher—his 32.2 innings were the most of any non-starter for the Blue Devils last year.

CF Jimmy Herron—A speedy presence in the outfield, the sophomore led Duke with 24 stolen bases last year and finished second on the team in on-base percentage out of the leadoff spot.

P Mitch Stallings—With the Blue Devil rotation up in the air, the left-handed junior—who paced Duke with nine saves in 27 appearances last season—could fill a new role as a spot starter this season, but will need to find control as he registered only a 1.4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2016.

Series to watch: April 8-10 at Miami; April 21-23 at No. 7 Louisville; May 18-20 at No. 17 North Carolina

Prediction: 11th in the ACC

Women's tennis

The Scoop: After failing to advance past the second round of the NCAA tournament for the second straight year in 2016, the Blue Devils are hoping to avoid an early-round flame-out this year. Duke has gotten a major lift from freshman Meible Chi so far in 2016-17, and the 21st-ranked singles player in the country has teamed with sophomore Kaitlyn McCarthy to crack the top 25 doubles teams nationally. But following an 0-3 performance at the ITA national indoor team championships, the Blue Devils will need more inconsistency across the board in singles if they want to get back to into the top 10 as a team after dropping to No. 15 heading into the outdoor season.

Key Players: Meible Chi—Duke’s newest addition turned heads with a surprising fall run to the semifinals of the ITA national indoor championships. Although like her teammates she has been inconsistent to start the spring, more timely performances as the spring progresses could give the Blue Devils a major boost and make the 21st-ranked singles player in the nation the latest in a long line of standout Duke freshmen.

Kaitlyn McCarthy—McCarthy has shown she can hang with the nation's best players at various points the last two years but is looking for more consistency to finish her sophomore campaign. Her current tandem with Chi on the doubles courts has proven to be effective and could determine how the Blue Devils fare against other ACC powers as the No. 25 doubles team in the nation.

Chalena Scholl—Scholl has been the Blue Devils' most consistent player for most of her career, and Duke will need the 37th-ranked player in the country to close her career on a high note to get back into the top 10 as a team following a rough start to the spring.

Matchups to watch: March 19 at No. 21 Miami; April 19 at No. 2 North Carolina; April 23 vs. No. 13 Georgia Tech

Prediction: Third in ACC, NCAA tournament third round

Men's tennis

The Scoop: In his ninth year as head coach at his alma mater, Ramsey Smith will try to refocus his team following a frustrating season that saw the Blue Devils finish 10th in the ACC. Duke features a promising combination of veteran experience and young talent after bringing in the third-ranked recruiting class in the country. But a wrist injury to top singles player Nicolas Alvarez and sophomore Vincent Lin's unexpected departure from the program Feb. 14 will test the Blue Devil freshmen earlier than expected.

Key Players: Nicolas Alvarez—The back-to-back first team All-ACC performer has been hampered by a wrist injury so far this season, but when he returns, the junior will significantly bolster the Duke lineup. The 14th-ranked singles player in the country, Alvarez will almost certainly play No. 1 singles and possibly doubles as well if he can rejoin his teammates for the outdoor dual season. 

Nick Stachowiak—The freshman has been a revelation for the Duke this far, going undefeated in singles and in doubles with fellow freshman Spencer Furman so far this spring. He has quickly risen to the No. 4 singles spot and gives the Blue Devils some much-needed depth and reliability thanks to an 11-match winning streak.

TJ Pura—Duke's only senior has provided leadership so far at No. 5 and No. 6 singles, and the Blue Devils will likely need Pura to deliver in most dual matches against less experienced opponents to be competitive in a stacked ACC. 

Matchups to watch: March 7 at No. 4 North Carolina; March 12 vs No. 3 Wake Forest; March 26 at No. 1 Virginia.

Prediction: Seventh in the ACC, NCAA tournament first round

Women's golf

The Scoop: After falling in the semifinal round of the NCAA championship for the second straight year last season, the No. 13 Blue Devils are turning to a roster with experience and exceptional talent to make another deep postseason run. Duke’s fall season saw individual improvement from some players but was disappointing overall, with the team failing to capture a stroke-play victory for the first time since 2011. But as is often the case with Dan Brooks’ squads, the team features plenty of continuity with four of last year’s five postseason competitors returning to action.

Key Players: Leona Maguire—The junior and 2015 National Player of the Year considered leaving the Blue Devils in the fall to pursue a professional career, but returns to the roster this spring coming off of a fall scoring average of 69.3—the best of any team member by more than three strokes.

Virginia Elena Carta—The sophomore has not had a particularly noteworthy season so far, but Carta’s individual NCAA championship victory last season showed that she can go low when it matters most. Look for her to get hot late in the season and energize Duke on its road to this year’s championship in Sugar Grove, Ill.

Tournaments to watch: LSU Tiger Golf Classic March 24-26; ACC championship April 13-15

Prediction: Second in ACC, NCAA Final Four

Men's golf

The scoop: Following an up-and-down start to the fall season, Duke will look to carry the momentum it gained with a victory at the Bridgestone Golf Collegiate to close 2016. With a balanced roster, the No. 19 Blue Devils are looking to challenge for their first ACC championship since 2012-13 and qualify for the NCAA championship after missing it a year ago. In order for that to happen, Duke will likely need one of its many comparable players to emerge as a reliable star this spring. 

Key players: Chandler Eaton—The No. 13 player in his recruiting class, the freshman got off to a rough start to his college career but finished the season strong with two top-five finishes. The putting and short-game whiz will look to shoulder a bigger load for the Blue Devils this spring.

Alex Smalley—One of the top freshmen in the nation last year, Smalley has continued to develop, leading Duke in scoring average this season as a sophomore. With a top-25 finish at the Stillwater, Okla., NCAA regional last season, look for him to pace the Blue Devils once again against top competition in the spring.

Adam Wood—After earning All-ACC honors last season, the junior scuffled to begin his third season, losing his spot in the lineup. But the time out of the spotlight seemed to do wonders for Wood, who earned a top-20 finish in the final tournament of the fall. 

Tournaments to watch: March 31-April 2 Mason Rudolph Championship; April 14-15 Wolfpack Spring Open

Prediction: Third in ACC, NCAA regionals

Rowing

The Scoop: Head coach Megan Cooke Carcagno looks to continue building on early success in her second season leading the Blue Devil program. After taking Duke to its first ever NCAA championship last spring and demanding more commitment from the Blue Devils, Cooke Carcagno is hoping this year's team can close the gap between Duke and the nation's top programs. 

Key Players: Seniors Phoebe Donovan and Elizabeth Horne—The two veterans are two of the most important pieces in the Blue Devils' top V8 boat, which took fifth out of 59 competitors at the Princeton Chase last fall and also impressed at the Rivanna Romp. Donovan and Horne boast championship experience after helping to lead Duke's 2V8 to success at ACCs and NCAAs a season ago, and the tandem hopes to emulate last year's seniors and leave a legacy behind for a growing Blue Devil program.

Matchups to watch: April 15—Ohio State, Michigan and Notre Dame in Columbus, Ohio; April 29— Dale England Cup

Prediction: Second in ACC, 15th at NCAA championship

Track and field

The Scoop: The Blue Devils are currently wrapping up the indoor season at the ACC championship in South Bend, Ind. Although Duke does not appear to have enough depth to be a contender in the conference, several individuals and a few relay teams have posted many of the best finishes in program history already this spring. The Blue Devils should be in contention to qualify a few individuals for the NCAA championship, and perhaps the biggest positive is that their biggest stars should all be back next year.

Key athletes: Madison Heath—One of the best pole vaulters in the nation, the junior has the highest mark of any ACC competitor this season at 14 feet, and looks poised to capture an ACC title before moving on to the NCAA championship. The Mandeville, La., native has already cleared the mark twice this year, and will look to inch closer to 2016 graduate Megan Clark's program record in the coming weeks.  

Matt Wisner—An up-and-coming mid-distance runner for Duke, Wisner has had a stellar freshman campaign. The three times he has run the 800 meters this spring, he has won the event, and he also is part of the Blue Devils' standout distance medley relay squad. 

Madeline Kopp—The senior is currently ranked sixth in the ACC for the 400 meters and ninth in the conference for the 800 meters. The senior has enjoyed recent success expanding her sprinting skillset to more mid-distance events such as the 600- and 800-meter events, and is also integral part of Duke's 4-x-400 meter relay.

Events to watch: March 10-11 NCAA indoor championship; April 21-22 Duke Invite; April 27-29 Penn Relays

Prediction: Men 12th in the ACC, Women eighth in the ACC

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