Joe Robertson scored his 100th career goal to complete a hat trick in the first 20 minutes of play Saturday afternoon. Then he decided that wasn’t enough, and scored four more.
The senior attackman posted a career day in No. 1 Duke's 17-7 win against Air Force, matching the entire Falcons team with seven goals while adding three assists to bring his point total to 10, marking the highest single-game point and goal totals of his career. His 10 points were only one behind the Duke record of 11, and mark the most by any Blue Devil since Justin Guterding notched 10 in 2018.
Robertson’s third goal of the day made him the 21st Duke player to score 100 career goals, but it wasn’t an easy road getting there. The Virginia native missed the entirety of the shortened 2020 season to injury after leading the team in scoring in 2019. Then, he missed the first two games of this season due to the school’s health protocols.
“I'm just grateful for every time I get out on the field, and the practice field as well,” Robertson said after Saturday’s game. “I just think, being on the sideline and being injured, you take so many things for granted...and you can’t take everything for granted.”
Now that he’s back, though, the team will take every opportunity to utilize his unique skill set—head coach John Danowski called him an “all-around, old-school attackman”—especially with so many new pieces at attack.
Robertson started at attack Saturday alongside graduate transfer Michael Sowers and freshman Brennan O’Neill, with the offensive triumvirate combining for 21 of the Blue Devils’ 30 total points. Sowers totaled three goals and five assists, while O’Neill added two goals and one assist.
In Robertson’s first game back Feb. 13, he started alongside Sowers and sophomore Dyson Williams at attack. But with Williams out the last two games due to health protocols, O’Neill has stepped into that role.
The current attack unit has demonstrated exceptional chemistry over Duke’s past two games, making the coaching staff hesitant to break it up once Williams returns. Danowski said that they may look to start Williams at midfield when he comes back, but in any case, having those four offensive talents on the roster and healthy can only boon the team.
In addition to the Blue Devils’ offensive firepower, their defense continues to show that they’re a force to be reckoned with in their own right. While the Falcons got five man-up opportunities, Duke (5-0) held them to just one conversion that came in the final five minutes of play. Additionally, Air Force (1-2) was held scoreless for nearly 20 minutes between the first and third periods.
Many other Blue Devils also chipped in impressive performances, including ones that don’t necessarily manifest in the box score. Preseason Defenseman of the Year JT Giles-Harris was solid throughout, and sophomore Tyler Carpenter, a long stick middie, picked up six ground balls. Meanwhile, freshman Jake Naso continued his exemplary play at the X, winning 16-of-26 faceoffs and picking up 11 ground balls.
On special teams, Duke went 4-for-4 on man-up opportunities, including two goals on an unreleasable three-minute Air Force penalty to start the second period for an illegal stick. Both of those goals were scored by Robertson.
The first of those goals was assisted by senior midfielder Nakeie Montgomery, with he and Robertson following up the score with an air guitar handshake celebration. When Robertson assisted on one of Montgomery’s two goals late in the third, the celly made another appearance.
“We've had something going every single year trying to do a new handshake...I think just playing with the guys is so much fun, just being able to let go and live in the moment with him,” Robertson said. “Me and him are super close on and off the field, and so I think that chemistry just kind of makes it really fun to celebrate moments like this.”
It’s that kind of chemistry and fun approach to the game that the team will have to build upon with tougher conference play on the horizon. But for now, the Blue Devils have some time to celebrate an undefeated opening month.
Duke returns to action next Sunday at Richmond.
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Sasha Richie is a Trinity senior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.