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No. 1 Duke men's lacrosse destroys High Point in historic fashion

Freshman Brennan O'Neill led the way with a career-high five goals.
Freshman Brennan O'Neill led the way with a career-high five goals.

A crime was committed at Koskinen Stadium Wednesday night, and the Blue Devils are guilty as charged.

No. 1 Duke has cranked out decisive wins this season like Mariah Carey cranked out No. 1 singles in the ‘90s, but there’s a difference between a decisive win and no mercy. Wednesday’s 27-8 win against No. 19 High Point was the latter. 

The Blue Devils’ win came just three days after their 13-6 victory against then-No. 16 Richmond, but they weren’t fatigued at all. If anything, the win gave them momentum. 

“As a player, the quick turnaround is...what I live for,” senior Nakeie Montgomery said after Wednesday’s game. “I wish every week was like [this].”

That sentiment must’ve been shared by the entire team, because the excitement was palpable and reflected on the scoreboard. The 27 goals were the most Duke’s scored against a Division I opponent since 1989, when the Blue Devils scored 28 against Ohio State, and mark the fifth most in a game in program history dating back to 1938. Meanwhile, the 19-goal differential was the widest margin of victory by any team this season. 

That sort of performance only comes from hard work. Head coach John Danowski said that at their team meeting the night before the game, he showed his players a video of Mark Knopfler of the Dire Straits playing guitar. 

“Nobody sees the 10,000 hours that he practices. They don't see his failures when they go to a concert,” Danowski said. “And they expect excellence when they...go to the show…. I tried to explain that what we're trying to accomplish is nothing different than other people who want to live extraordinary lives.” 

If Danowski wanted excellence, he got it. The Blue Devil offense, which has already been electric all year, was on a whole new level Wednesday night. The starting attackmen—Michael Sowers, Joe Robertson and Brennan O’Neill—had 12 goals split amongst themselves, and they each only played about 35 minutes.

After eight minutes of play, Duke (7-0) and High Point (1-4) were tied 2-2, and it looked like the game might be evenly matched. But then, O’Neill notched his first goal of the night to open the floodgates, leading to 14 unanswered Blue Devil goals and a 20-minute scoreless spell for High Point.

That wasn’t it, though. Going into the second period, the outlook for the Panthers wasn’t completely bleak. Duke entered with an 8-2 lead, a large but not insurmountable margin to come back from. However, O’Neill sealed High Point’s fate when he scored three goals in 24 seconds to open the second-quarter scoring. The Panthers would score just one more goal before the halftime buzzer.

O’Neill finished with a team-high five goals on the night.

With a miles-wide 16-3 lead to start the second half, Danowski put in his second string. The personnel shift didn’t stop the Blue Devils’ momentum, though—in the final 30 minutes, Duke scored 11 more goals, burying High Point under a deeper and deeper deficit. In the end, 12 different Blue Devils scored goals in the game, with eight of them notching multiple goals. And the cherry on top? Both Caputo (Jake and Owen) and Robertson (Joe and Phil) brothers found the back of the net in the same game for the first time this season.

One of the players put in the game in the second half was senior Cameron Mulé. Wednesday marked just the third game he’s played in this season, but he made his time on the field count, tallying the first hat trick of his career.

“Cameron Mulé is my boy. He unfortunately doesn't get to play a lot and watching him score three goals is way cooler than my three assists,” Montgomery said. “You don't have to be having fun only when you’re on the field. It's really cool to watch the boys who haven’t played for a long time and watch them score.”

Although Montgomery was quick to sing the praises of his teammates, he is quietly having a career season of his own. In eight games last season he had 14 points, and through seven games this year he’s already surpassed that with 21.

“I’m just incredibly proud of Nakeie and his selflessness,” Danowski said. “He is team-first...he’s a great leader…. Because he’s been so selfless, he’s playing the best lacrosse of his career.”

Selflessness is the cornerstone of the Blue Devils’ system. 

It’s why 12 players scored yesterday; it’s why new players like Sowers and O’Neill have been folded seamlessly into the team; it’s why second-string guys like Mulé are scoring hat tricks; and it’s ultimately why the Blue Devils remain undefeated on the season. 

For Danowski, this culture starts off the field. 

“It's always fun, you know, watching guys grow, and watching the team really get to know each other, get to respect one another because we have the same goals,” Danowski said. “And then they really get to like one another, and hopefully, and it's gonna sound corny, but hopefully we'll love each other.”

Love may have catapulted Duke to a remorseless win, but there is surely no love lost on High Point’s end. The Blue Devils will look to build off the dominating victory Sunday against Jacksonville.

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