After an exciting weekend of lacrosse that saw three of the four Elite Eight matchups go to overtime, No. 2-seed Duke will face off against undefeated Maryland—the final remaining Division 1 unbeaten—for the fourth time n the Final Four since 2011 this Saturday at 2:30 p.m. in Hartford, Conn.
With the No. 2 scoring offense in the country, one spot ahead of the Blue Devils, and nine USILA All-Americans, including NCAA points and goals leader senior Jared Bernhardt, the Terrapins looks to be a formidable foe. But even against such a tough opponent, Duke graduate defensive midfielder Terry Lindsay—no stranger to taking on offensive firepower—says that it’s all about preparation.
“Every week, the coaching staff prepares us so well with all these offenses that have such talented players," Lindsay said. "Especially this week, they're going to be one of the best offenses we played. So it's just a challenge, and we fall back on the preparation we've had during the week. We're not going to step up to the level of competition, but rather fall back on our preparation. We win during the week.”
“No one's gripping their sticks hard, no one's not talking in the huddle. It's just calm, taking a deep breath and just play it next-goal-wins,” Lindsay said regarding the mindset that has guided Duke through high-pressure situations.
Now, as Duke heads into the final weekend of the 2021 season, head coach John Danowski emphasized that the game plan still hasn’t changed, nor has it gotten complicated.
“The hope is that you can win faceoffs, that you can make saves, and you shoot smart. If you can do those three things, you put yourself in a [good] position,” Danowski said.
So far this season, the Blue Devils have done exactly those things, evidenced by the cohort of Duke All-Americans—eight in total—at those positions.
Jake Naso, for one, has had the best season for a Duke freshman faceoff specialist. His match up against Maryland’s FOGOs could be an interesting one after the Terrapins struggled at X in their 14-13 quarterfinal win against Notre Dame, winning just 10 of 30 draws.
Meanwhile, in goal for the Blue Devils, graduate transfer Mike Adler has been rock solid backstopping a Duke defense that ranked second in the ACC. With standouts JT Giles-Harris and Tyler Carpenter assisting Adler on that end of the field, the combination of strength in goal and strength on defense will be key to the Blue Devils’ success.
“If you make saves, what that means is that you're playing good defense in front of the goal," Danowski said. "And I don't mean to put pressure on the goalie. It just means that you're playing well in front of [Adler], and he can see outside shots, bad-angle shots, contested shots.”
However, Maryland’s defense, anchored by a second-team All-American defensive duo in Nick Grill and Brett Makar and honorable mention goalie Logan McNaney, has also developed into a powerful stopping force. The Terrapins cut their goals allowed per game from 12.5 in the shortened 2020 season to 10.0 this year.
Duke notably ousted Maryland 13-8 in the 2018 Final Four, but Danowski notes that this Maryland team is an entirely different beast from three years ago, with the elephant in the room being Bernhardt’s development into a force of nature.
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“When you look at the Maryland offense in general, it’s five of their top eight scorers are seniors or graduate students. They're older, they’re experienced,” Danowski said. “With Jared [Bernhardt]... you can just see that athletically he is superior. Now you throw upon that lacrosse skills and IQ and experience and that's a win win win.”
When asked how to defend a player like Bernhardt, Danowski said, “You do the best you can. You put your best player on him, you slide when it's necessary, and you try to bluff them a little bit when you can... but listen, Maryland has more than one guy, and he's gonna get his points, he's going to score goals and get assists. But the idea is that the Duke team needs to beat the Maryland team, and it's not about just one person, one matchup.”
Still, the Terrapins probably are having similar conversations about Duke's Michael Sowers, who sits second in NCAA history in points and assists and third in points this season. But even more important than Sowers’ individual prowess is the combined strength of the attack group of him, Joe Robertson and Brennan O’Neill, not to mention midfielders Nakeie Montgomery, Owen Caputo and Dyson Williams.
Whatever the outcome of Saturday’s game, it certainly should be one of the most exciting matchups of the season. But as the Blue Devils make their way to Championship Weekend, the nitty-gritty stats and rankings don’t matter nearly as much as the opportunity to play with one another in the moments they’ve dreamt about since childhood.
“Growing up, I watched Duke lacrosse, and it's been a dream of mine to win a championship, and obviously, that's why I chose to come to Duke. This coaching staff and this group of guys is the best chance that I had,” Lindsay said. “To get to Championship Weekend as a graduate student has been awesome. I'm super happy for these guys...we kept saying another week with the boys...Being an older guy, obviously, my time is coming to an end, so just to keep playing, have the ability to practice and be with the fellas is the dream come true.”