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ChronSports' 2020 what-if series: Duke men's lacrosse

Freshman Dyson Williams carried Duke's offense during its shortened season.
Freshman Dyson Williams carried Duke's offense during its shortened season.

With the suspension and later cancellation of all Duke athletic competition due to the spread of coronavirus, many Blue Devil seasons were abruptly cut short. The Chronicle is going to take a look back at those seasons affected as well as what we missed out on with their cancellations. We've already looked at men's basketball, women's basketball and baseball. Next on the list: men’s lacrosse.

Season summary

After losing to Virginia in double overtime in the 2019 Final Four, Duke was crushed but not broken. For the most part, all of the pieces were still there, including all but one of its top five scorers. However, the Blue Devils started the new season on a couple rough notes. First, they lost to unranked Air Force in their home opener. Less than 48 hours later, it was confirmed that 2019 leading scorer Joe Robertson had suffered a season-ending ACL tear in practice just days before that Air Force game. The future looked grim.

Defying expectations, Duke took almost no time to recover from its nightmarish start, losing just one of its remaining seven games before the season was cut short. The highlight of the shortened campaign came when the Blue Devils welcomed Richmond to Koskinen Stadium. For much of the first half, the game looked to be a repeat of the Air Force loss, but Duke was eventually lifted up at halftime by freshman Dyson Williams’ astounding seven goals. The game ended with a dramatic overtime goal by graduate student Sean Lowrie, putting a cap on the gritty victory. -Christian Olsen

Team MVP

The undisputed MVP of Duke’s brief season was Williams. The Oshawa, Ontario native came to Durham as the No. 3 recruit in the nation, expecting to be initiated into the Final Four caliber team of 2019. However, when Robertson was ruled out for the season, the mantle was quickly passed to Williams. He was one of the Blue Devils' go-to scoring options the entire season, but when he single-handedly delivered the team to victory’s doorstep against Richmond, he became the star. He didn’t just deliver on one day either. Williams scored a hat trick in five of eight total games and ended the season as Duke's leading goal-scorer by an 11-goal margin. -Olsen

What we missed out on

Duke’s season expired before it was given a chance to prove its worth. The greatest challenge it had was Pennsylvania, a game that just slipped away in the final quarter. In the weeks following spring break, No. 8 Duke was scheduled to play No. 1 Syracuse, No. 4 North Carolina, No. 13 Notre Dame and No. 9 Virginia. These four consecutive games would have been an enormous undertaking for the Blue Devils, but one that would have shown us what they’re really made of. The world will never know just how good this team could have been. -Olsen

Best-case scenario

Although the Blue Devils’ start to the season may have been one of the rockiest in recent memory, head coach John Danowski has made a career of squeezing every last drop of potential out of every corner of his squad. The Blue Devils certainly had the talent to be a top team in the nation—road wins against No. 14 Loyola and No. 11 Denver speak volumes more than a disappointing home opener against Air Force. With Duke hitting its stride right at the mouth of conference play, the sky would have been the limit for this young Blue Devil team. As Danowski continued to push the pieces together to get Duke to work as a functioning unit, the Blue Devils had a genuine shot to compete at the top of an absurdly lethal ACC. With an offense powered by Williams and a defense anchored by depth and experience, Duke had all the pieces needed to make yet another deep NCAA tournament run. -Winston Lindqwister

Worst-case scenario

Adversity was an early theme for this season’s squad, and there is no telling if the Blue Devils would have been able to find their rhythm. Although Duke certainly had the individual talent to compete, a sometimes sputtering offense could easily spell doom for the Blue Devils’ hopes of surviving conference play. While Duke had been able to spread out its scoring in its signature wins, lacking a true go-to option on offense outside of Williams often left the Blue Devils stagnant in some of their most bitter defeats. As teams would adjust to Duke’s sometimes one-dimensional offensive scheme, the Blue Devil defense was gradually worn down, making closing games down the stretch a major weak point. Simply without a second gear on offense, Duke may never have been able to consistently make the plays needed to win big games. Just as easily as the Blue Devils could have turned heads on the national stage, Duke’s season could have been stamped out due to glaring scoring deficiencies. -Lindqwister

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