The bitter taste of a loss to Yale in last year’s national championship has remained with the Duke men’s lacrosse team for an entire year.
Starting Sunday, it’ll begin the journey back to that mountaintop, hoping to end on a different note.
The second-seeded Blue Devils will welcome Richmond to Koskinen Stadium Sunday at 5 p.m. in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the first of three games on the road back to the title game. Duke will be playing for the first time in 15 days after losing to Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament semifinals Apr. 27.
“In retrospect, losing [in the ACC semifinals] has been a gift,” head coach John Danowksi said. “It gave us time to go back to the fundamentals. Everyday we picked one or two or three fundamentals, and we worked. We worked Monday through Friday during finals, we gave them the weekend off, and then got back to work on Monday as a preparation week. It was really a godsend actually losing, though at the time after losing it didn’t seem so.”
It won’t be the first time that Danowski and his team have faced the Spiders (10-6) this season. Back in early March, the Blue Devils scored the final three goals of the game to secure an 11-7 victory over then No. 16 Richmond in freezing, rainy weather. Although rain is expected in the forecast Sunday, Duke won’t be putting too much thought into how things went last time around.
“That game was so long ago, played in the freezing cold pouring rain on a Friday night," Danowski said. "I don’t know if we draw much from that game as much as we draw from the last four or five games with Marquette and certainly the second Notre Dame game and that’s where we’re trying to get better from there."
The Spiders will be led by Ryan Lanchbury and Teddy Hatfield who rank No. 20 and No. 21 respectively in the country in points per game, with just over four per contest. Richmond relies a lot on their top scoring duo, as the next highest scorer averages less than two points per game.
Duke (11-4) will be anchored down on the defensive end, per usual, by senior Cade Van Raaphorst and junior J.T. Giles-Harris, the latter of whom picked up an ACC Defensive Player of the Year award and both earning all-ACC honors alongside teammates Brad Smith and John Prendergast.
“Those guys down low have developed a chemistry playing together,” Danowski said. “They are terrific athletes, they come from a great gene pool, they were multi-sport athletes in high school, and they are terrific young men. They’ve been steady, and they’ve gathered a lot of experience over three years.”
In their recent loss to the Fighting Irish, the Blue Devils connected on three out of their four man up opportunities, a promising sign, as they’ve struggled mightily with converting penalties all season at just 30 percent. Duke will need more of the same against the Spiders if they want to come out on top, as Richmond ranks third in the country in man down defense by with 79.2 percent of their penalties killed.
“[Man up offense] hasn’t exactly been our strong suit this year, but we’ve been working on it all week,” the senior midfielder Smith acknowledged. “Just trying to get ourselves right, get the ball spinning, get our sets, our formations, and what we need to do to be successful. Hopefully we’ll get the chance three or four times, but we just have to make the most of the opportunities we’re given.”
The winner will move on to face either Johns Hopkins or seventh-seeded Notre Dame in Hempstead, N.Y., next Saturday for a chance to go to the Final Four. And be certain that the Blue Devils are hoping for an opportunity to avenge their ACC Tournament loss by ending the Fighting Irish’s season.
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