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The more you know: JT Giles-Harris is the key to Duke men's lacrosse's defensive success

Graduate student and team captain JT Giles-Harris is anchoring Duke's defense in his final season.
Graduate student and team captain JT Giles-Harris is anchoring Duke's defense in his final season.

Contrary to what the dazzling sword fights in movies would have you believe, a Spartan’s most important piece of equipment was always the shield he used to defend himself. Among a plethora of offensive firepower, defensive powerhouse JT Giles-Harris may just be the Duke men’s lacrosse team’s Spartan shield. 

The graduate student captain is this week’s ACC Defensive Player of the Week as well as a member of the USILA Team of the Week. The honors come on the heels of now-No. 3 Duke’s 13-12 overtime win against then-No. 3 Virginia where Giles-Harris played an essential role in getting the team to the finish line. 

Aside from anchoring the defense like usual, Giles-Harris also picked up two ground balls and held the Cavaliers’ All-American Matt Moore to two points—Moore’s second-lowest single-game point total of the season. The New York native even tallied his first offensive point of the year with an assist on a third-quarter goal from freshman Brennan O’Neill. With the seconds ticking away for the Blue Devils to get the ball across the midfield line, Giles-Harris made a gutsy pass over nearly the entire length of the field. It fell right into the pocket of O’Neill’s stick, where the freshman was able to immediately rip the ball into the back of the net. 

It was a great game, and the weekly honors for Giles-Harris are well deserved, but they are but another footnote to a list of awards and accolades almost too long to count. The three-time All-American—2018 USILA third team, 2019 USILA first team and 2020 Inside Lacrosse First Team—was also named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year in 2019, was a 2019 Tewaaraton Award nominee as one of the most outstanding players in college lacrosse and is currently on the watch list for this year’s Tewaaraton, among numerous other achievements. 

These accolades, however, still paint an incomplete picture of what Giles-Harris means to the team. The consensus top defender in the country is by all accounts a phenomenal leader. Moreover, despite some very difficult matchups recently, the Blue Devils have been able to maintain their near-perfect record against some of the most talented offenses in the country. That is in large part due to Giles-Harris’ quiet grind on defense, providing a steady presence and the guidance to turn Duke’s relatively young and inexperienced defensive core into a cohesive unit. 

The paradox of defenders, though, is that the better they are the less you notice them. Even the best defenders aren’t going to make headlines too often, because ground balls and forced turnovers simply aren’t the kind of eye-catching stats that scream superstar. However, that is exactly what the Blue Devils have in Giles-Harris. As the level of competition ramps up with the team’s fifth consecutive top-five matchup on the horizon, Duke will assuredly continue to look towards its captain for the stability and consistency he has demonstrated over nearly five years with the team. Then, after he finally runs out of NCAA eligibility at the end of this season, his name will rightfully go down in the Duke lacrosse history books for his amazing contributions to the team. 

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