The Blue Devils entered the season ranked No. 1, and on Monday, they will look to end the year at No. 1 as well for the fourth time in program history.
Fourth-seeded Duke is set to meet No. 3 Yale in the national championship game Monday at 1 p.m at Gillette Stadium, where the Blue Devils defeated top-seeded Maryland 13-8 in the semifinal. Despite taking down the highest-ranked team in the tournament, Duke will have a challenge ahead against a Bulldog team that features attackman and Tewaaraton finalist Ben Reeves, and is also responsible for a 20-11 drubbing of No. 2 Albany in the other semifinal Saturday.
“We've been really curious about Yale,” Blue Devil head coach John Danowski said. “Certainly when they put 27 on Brown, we were really interested in watching the highlights of that. They're a spectacular group. I think we've paid a little attention to them during the course of the year because of just watching them kind of run through their schedule and run through their opponents.”
Although Yale (16-3) ran through the Great Danes, Duke has reasons to be confident after a strong showing against the Terrapins. Goalkeeper Danny Fowler had a dozen saves in what Danowski described as the “best game of his career,” and the Blue Devil defense held Maryland to under 10 goals for the first time all season thanks to tremendous effort by the entire unit, from short-stick defensive midfielders John Prendergast, Terry Lindsay and Sean Cerrone, long-stick midfielders Peter Welch and Greg Pelton, and close defenders Cade Van Raaphorst, JT Giles-Harris and Kevin McDonough.
Despite Reeves’ status as one of the best attackmen in lacrosse, Van Raaphorst and Giles-Harris were All-Americans thanks to a combination of extreme physicality and defensive instincts.
Reeves, who scored five goals and added four assists, is not the only threat for the rope unit, however, as Matt Gaudet scored five of his six goals on his first five shots of the game, Joseph Sessa added a tally of his own, and Jackson Morrill lit up the Great Danes with three goals and five assists. The offensive firepower from Yale—which opened its semifinal on a 7-0 run—means that the Blue Devils (16-3) will need to score to keep up. Luckily for Duke, scoring is not in short supply.
Ranked in the top 10 in scoring offense to go with its top 10 scoring defense, Danowski's squad boasts a Tewaaraton finalist of its own in senior attackman Justin Guterding. Guterding, the owner of the NCAA Division I career goals record with 209, is bolstered on the offensive end by freshmen Joe Robertson and Nakeie Montgomery. The two first-year players were responsible for six of the Blue Devils’ 13 goals on Saturday and look poised to add many more in the national championship game and beyond.
“It's kind of like this coming of age thing when your senior captain, Justin, starts to believe in you,” Montgomery said. “Brad Smith, and Peter Conley and the other seniors. Even the defensive guys, like Cade Van Raaphorst and JT, when all those guys start to believe in you, you start to believe in yourself more and you gain confidence.”
Yale will counter with fellow freshmen standout close defender Chris Fake and goalkeeper Jack Starr leading the way. The Bulldogs silenced a top-10 offense by throwing Albany attackmen Connor Fields and Tehoka Nanticoke off their game, but will be forced to contend with Duke’s depth, featuring All-Americans Brad Smith and Peter Conley, as well as scoring threats in Sean Lowrie, Reilly Walsh, Kevin Quigley and Joey Manown.
The Blue Devils appear ready to play already due to the efforts and experiences of former Tewaaraton winners and offensive coaches Matt Danowski and Ned Crotty, as well as long-time head assistant coach and defensive coordinator Ron Caputo.
“Every team has a different story, you know,” Fowler said. “Every team is different. I think this year, as we did have a lot of success throughout the year with a record of 15-3, and now we're 16-3, but we did a really good job and the coaching staff did of staying critical on us, even through our wins, allowing us to continue to grow as a group.”
The Blue Devils' growing has to come to an end on Monday, however, as Duke will get its shot on the sport’s biggest stage and the season’s final game against Yale at 1 p.m.
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