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Duke men's lacrosse 2021 season preview

JT Giles-Harris returns as arguably the top defenseman in the country.
JT Giles-Harris returns as arguably the top defenseman in the country.


Returning every starter from a top-10 squad while adding the top recruit in the country and the top player in the country sounds like a pretty good recipe for “superteam.” And that’s not even counting the return of the team’s top scorer from 2019, who missed all of the shortened 2020 campaign with a torn ACL, as well as two other preseason All-American transfers.

There’s a reason the Blue Devils enter the season as the (nearly) consensus preseason No. 1 team in the country, favorites to bring home the program’s fourth national championship. But in a year like this one, nothing’s a guarantee, and head coach John Danowski and his staff will have to ensure the team’s lofty expectations don’t get to everyone’s heads. -Evan Kolin

New player(s) to watch: Michael Sowers, Brennan O’Neill

With the talent of the new freshmen and transfers, picking just one new player to watch is impossible, so I won’t. I will restrain myself to two, though: Sowers and O’Neill. Sowers, the grad transfer from Princeton, almost needs no introduction. He was the 2020 Tewaaraton Award favorite (before the season prematurely ended) and Princeton’s all-time top scorer, among other accolades. Frankly, he’s the best player in the country. While he can of course score, he’s a playmaking machine as well, so keep an eye out for him to make some magic with his passes and assists. 

Joining Sowers at attack is O’Neill. As the No. 1 overall recruit in the Class of 2020 and the 2019 High School Player of the Year, O’Neill has an impressive resume of his own. He will deke any number of defenders, fake out any goalie and score from any angle. With O’Neill and Sowers, sometimes it’s best to just sit back and watch the show. -Sasha Richie

Returning player to watch: JT Giles-Harris

Giles-Harris is one of 10 Blue Devil 2020 seniors who were able to return for the 2021 campaign after the NCAA gave them an extra year of eligibility due to the pandemic. The team captain was recently picked as US Lacrosse Magazine’s Preseason Defenseman of the Year, as well as an Inside Lacrosse first-team All-American. Giles-Harris has been an active player throughout his Duke career, starting 63 of 64 games, and will be the anchor on defense for the Blue Devils as they contend for a national title. -Ramona Naseri

Most anticipated matchup: Syracuse, March 25

You may have noticed the nearly I added in before “consensus preseason No. 1 team in the country.” While both US Lacrosse Magazine and Inside Lacrosse comfortably placed Duke atop their rankings—with the former even acknowledging that most head coaches view the Blue Devils as “the runaway favorite to win the NCAA championship this spring”—the ACC coaches actually ranked Syracuse atop their preseason rankings.

While many may dispute that choice, the Orange are talented in their own right, garnering the most preseason All-ACC team and most preseason first-team All-American selections of any school. Duke’s top-end talent and potential makes its case as the national favorite right now, but Syracuse isn’t that far behind. -Kolin

Best-case scenario

Most teams’ best-case scenario is a national title. Not this team. While hoisting the trophy on Memorial Day Weekend is obviously the ultimate goal, and will always remain the focus of the players and coaches, there’s a chance this team goes down as one of the all-time greats if everything goes right. But that’s a big if. -Kolin

Worst-case scenario

With so much depth across the board, the Blue Devils have the highest floor in the country. Be wary if the new additions can’t find a way to gel with the returners to their full potential, though, mostly due to the unique season COVID-19 will bring. The-worst case scenario is an experienced, tough team pushes all the right buttons to upset Duke before it can reach the national championship game. -Shane Smith


Kolin: 14-0 (6-0 in the ACC), National Champions

Smith: 14-0 (6-0 in the ACC), National Champions

Richie: 13-1 (5-1 in the ACC), National Champions

Naseri: 12-2 (5-1 in the ACC), Loss in national championship game

Editor's note: This is a part of The Chronicle's series of previews for Duke's spring sports, the rest of which can be found here.

Sasha Richie profile
Sasha Richie | Sports Managing Editor

Sasha Richie is a Trinity senior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.


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