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The Chronicle's 2021 spring sports preview

It's been nearly a year since all spring sports were abruptly cancelled, a moment that saw historic seasons tarnished and championship aspirations put on hold. But the spring sports season is finally back, and it's sure to be a busy one in Durham, with contenders across the board. 

Follow along our spring sports preview over the coming week as we update with overviews for each of Duke's teams competing this spring season, and click on the name of each sport for a more in-depth preview.

Men's lacrosse

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

Women's lacrosse

Men’s lacrosse isn’t the only team on campus returning a wealth of experience and adding a top graduate transfer—women’s lacrosse is doing the same. And with all that firepower, the Blue Devils look set to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2016.

Duke’s 2021 squad features 33 returners, who account for all the team’s starts from the 2020 season and over 96% of the total points scored. The returners include both of Duke’s senior starters from last season: defender Callie Humphrey and midfielder Catherine Cordrey. On top of that, the Blue Devils add former Pennsylvania attacker Gabby Rosenzweig, the Quakers’ all-time leading scorer, as well as the 14th-ranked recruiting class in the nation. 

The Blue Devils enter the season ranked No. 15 in the country. But with six other ACC teams in the top-25, including the top three spots, their conference schedule will be no cakewalk. -Jonathan Browning

Men's golf

Given the new additions to an already talented and veteran squad, it’s not hard to reason why Duke came into the 2021 campaign ranked No. 25, with the Blue Devils jumping up to No. 18 after two top-four finishes to open the season. With a frenzy of tournaments against some of the best teams the ACC has to offer, this season will be captivating for any Blue Devil fan. In a year filled with uncertainty, however, the team will have to weather the many obstacles in their path to perform to its expectations. -Brennan Hurd

Women's golf

There’s a lot for the Duke women’s golf team to be concerned about. While the Blue Devils technically enter this season as reigning national champions, much of their title-winning squad from 2019 is gone. Duke did not play at all during the fall due to COVID-19 concerns. The team’s lone senior, Jaravee Boonchant, stayed in her native Thailand during the entire fall semester.

However, with seven-time national champion head coach Dan Brooks at the helm, there is plenty of reason for optimism as well. Boonchant, the No. 14 individual golfer in the country during the 2019-20 season, returns to Durham this spring. Junior Gina Kim boasts title-winning experience. An energetic freshman tandem of Phoebe Brinker and Anne Chen could provide a spark late in the season. It will take a rare mixture of luck and grit for the Blue Devils to defend their national title, but don’t count them out. -Glen Morgenstern

Women's tennis

Behind high-level returners and a couple of fresh faces, Duke looks to make its third straight Final Four appearance in three full seasons. 

Karolina Berankova, the sixth-ranked incoming freshman in the country, as well as Vanderbilt redshirt sophomore transfer Georgia Drummy represent the newcomers. The remaining six players are all returners, led by senior Kelly Chen and graduate student Meible Chi. While the Blue Devils may have fallen slightly from their preseason No. 6 ranking due to a rare early-season loss, they have the talent to regain and potentially surpass that spot in conference play. -Campbell Lawson

Men's tennis

There’s an argument to be made that no team was hurt more by the cancellation of the 2020 spring sports season than men’s tennis. With five elite freshmen, two highly-touted international transfers and two top seniors, Duke’s roster was especially positioned to contend.

But now, both seniors are gone and one of those highly-touted transfers couldn’t fly back from Switzerland in time for preseason workouts. Those 2020 freshmen got just over a dozen matches to adjust to the collegiate level, and one of the freshmen has turned pro. To call this a radical upheaval would be a criminal understatement.

It was truly anyone’s guess as to how this year would start, and it remains just as hard to figure how it’s going to end. Early losses to No. 20 South Carolina, Northwestern and now-No. 3 Tennessee were not nearly as bad as the combined score of 1-12 would indicate, but they’ve been a real cold shower for a Blue Devil team with at least conference title aspirations. Still, there’s talent here to dream on, and more than just a couple universes where we look back at that early stretch and laugh. -Em Adler

Softball

After blowing out expectations last year in just the third season in program history, including a landmark win against then-No. 4 Texas, the Blue Devils have come to prove that such a breakthrough was no fluke. An opening day win against then-No. 5 LSU in convincing fashion and the best start in the team’s short history have certainly helped in that regard, laying the foundation for a team that is, almost inexplicably, ready to mount a challenge for the ACC crown. Duke’s pitching is certainly going to keep it in contention, but it’s the boom-or-bust lineup and previously-average defense that will be key to this squad making the leap. -Adler

Baseball

A strong 12-4 start to the 2020 season was enough for the Blue Devils' ace to go pro while the team held on to the talents of several experienced leaders. The upcoming campaign poses some interesting questions regarding starting pitching and bench depth, but Duke looks ready to plunge into a heavy dose of ACC competition. The small sample size from last season showed that these Blue Devils are steady on defense and efficient on the basepaths, but it is yet to be seen whether the unpredictable landscape of the 2021 season will throw a back-door curve or a fastball down the middle as No. 16 Duke sorts out its path toward extending its conference and national success yet another year.  -Micah Hurewitz

Rowing

It’s officially spring, and that means Duke rowing is back. The team heads into this unprecedented season looking to win its first ACC championship in school history. And although they’ll have to go through perennial powerhouse Virginia, the Blue Devils appear to have a mix of experience and newcomers that’ll make them contenders to finally take home the conference crown. -Cameron DeChurch

Track and field

Last year was a hectic one for every track and field program in the country, but the Blue Devils dealt with a unique challenge outside of COVID-19. After 30 years as a member of the coaching staff—including the last 17 as the director of the track and field program—Norm Ogilvie announced his retirement last April. With Shawn Wilbourn now at the helm as interim head coach, a new era for track and field in Durham is underway. 

Duke brings back some key contributors from last spring—on both the men’s and women’s side—while adding some new blood via transfers. During the winter season, standouts such as Erin Marsh, Leigha Torino and Ben Beatty showed that they had what it takes to reach the podium in their respective events. The Blue Devils seem primed to improve on the eighth-place finish by the women and 10th-place finish by the men at the 2019 ACC Outdoor Championships, the last time the event was staged. -Max Rego

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