Once again, Duke is on the doorstep of a trip to championship weekend. But to get to that familiar place, they will have to get through a just as familiar opponent.
The second-seeded Blue Devils will take the field at James M. Shuart Stadium Saturday in Hempstead, N.Y. to face off against the No. 7 seed Notre Dame with a Final Four berth on the line. It will be the third meeting between the two teams this season, with each winning a game.
“It's unique. I think we both know each other pretty well,” senior midfielder John Prendergast said. “It’s just going to be a lacrosse game at that point and you’re going to fall back on your fundamentals. You’re just going to have to play the right way. I think that the fact that we know each other intimately is going to factor into the game, but in the end it’ll be a non-factor.”
Since 2010, the Duke-Notre Dame rivalry has even rivaled that of the men’s basketball team and North Carolina in terms of competition. The Blue Devils hold a 10-9 record in 19 meetings over that span and have scored 172 goals to the 171 for the Fighting Irish. In two national championship game matchups during the nine-year run, Duke has won both contests.
In both of the Blue Devils' first two matchups with Notre Dame—a 14-8 win at home and a 12-10 loss in the ACC Tournament—they struggled to win faceoffs and started the game slow, getting into early holes. Duke will have to improve on their 20-52 mark on faceoffs through the earlier games with the Fighting Irish, but also get off to a strong start. They were able to come back from a 3-1 deficit in the first meeting, but were unable to tap into similar luck after falling behind by three after the first quarter of the ACC semifinals.
“The goal every game is ‘Hey, let’s score the first goal’ and let’s deliver the first punch, so to speak,” head coach John Danowski emphasized. “Make the first save, score the first goal, pick up the first ground ball. Easier said than done. The enemy, as the military has taught us, they get a vote and a say. Certainly you’d like to start with a lead, where everyone can relax and settle into the game.”
Notre Dame (9-6) will be led by star midfielder Bryan Costabile, who has posted eight hat tricks on the season. In many ways, the Fighting Irish’s offense goes as he does. The junior tallied just a goal and an assist with five turnovers in its loss to Duke, but scored a career-high five goals in the ACC tournament win.
Certainly the Blue Devils (12-4) would like to move on from last week’s narrow 12-11 opening round victory over Richmond, as the Blue Devils lost focus and collapsed late. Danowski said the team didn’t even look at the film from last Sunday’s win and that they just wanted to look at Notre Dame.
“Sometimes guys want to win so badly that they forget how to play. I think that’s part of that with this team,” Danowski said. “I think it was part of maybe Sunday at 12-7 after three quarters. They just want to move on to the next game and who’s going to be the next opponent, as opposed to the old carpe diem. Let’s just seize the day and stay in the moment, which is a harder thing for young men to learn.”
The winner will move on to Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia for the Final Four, where they will play the winner of third-seeded Virginia and Maryland. A championship is always the goal, but almost as important is the potential final extra week that the team gets to spend together.
“It’s the best. You’re with your best friends for another week and you can’t ask for anything else than that,” Prendergast said. “No matter what happened in the game before, you just want to win one more so you can go back to the house and hang out with your friends for another week. I think everyone is just working towards getting another week and that’s the only goal we have really.”
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