As 2021 comes to a close, The Chronicle's sports department takes a look back at the biggest stories of the year in Duke athletics. Each day, we will review a major game, event or storyline that helped shape the course of the year for the Blue Devils.
Coming in at No. 9: Duke men's lacrosse compiles a team of All-Americans to go to the NCAA Tournament, making it all the way to the Final Four before being knocked out. For the full list, click here.
The Blue Devils are no strangers to the NCAA Tournament. With fourteen consecutive trips to the tournament and three national championship wins under head coach John Danowski’s belt since he took the position in 2006, Duke’s fight for the fourth set of rings this year was no joke. After going 12-2 in their regular-season slate, the then-No. 2 Blue Devils came prepared for the competition.
Duke began the tournament hungry to go far, conquering High Point 16-10 to head to the quarterfinals for the 18th time in program history. From there, the group took on Loyola for their 21st consecutive year of battle with the Maryland-based foes. The Blue Devils came in unrelenting and not ready to give up their journey to reach the hardware.
The contest went back and forth until the end as Duke lingered closely to the Greyhounds’ 9-8 lead. Yet, with 1:09 left in the fourth quarter, a goal added by freshman Brennan O’Neill, his fourth on the day, to tie the match brought the Blue Devils back to the victory conversation. The team attempted at goal again to finish off the game, but a Loyola save sent the game to overtime.
Another vacillating play between the Blue Devils and the Greyhounds had the crowd wondering who would take the lead until senior attackman Joe Robertson went forth with his tried-and-true overtime blitz to hit a corner shot—making the game 10-9 in Duke’s favor. For the 13th time in program history, the Duke was going to the final four.
In a parallel timeline, the Blue Devils’ next opponents, either Maryland or Notre Dame, competed for a ticket to the top that ultimately ended with a Terrapin triumph in overtime.
Two days before the clash, eight members of the Duke roster got named to All-American teams, and graduate student JT Giles-Harris was named the nation’s top defensive player. On Maryland’s side, nine were called to the list, giving the battle a balanced potential to go either way.
The undefeated Terrapins entered the field poised to Duke’s offense, with a 1-1 tie maintained throughout the first quarter until Maryland finally began to hasten. To finish off the half, the Terrapins managed six goals to Duke’s two to make the game 8-3. When all was said and done, the last 30 minutes of play were even worse than the first, with Duke seeing two goals to the Terrapins’ six—rounding out the game to a 14-5 loss. As much as the Blue Devils tried to exploit mistakes on Maryland’s end through their caused turnovers, they failed to hit the back of the net as much as they should’ve, going 5-of-32 shots on the day to the Terrapin’s 14-of-32.
Though the match didn’t go as the team would’ve liked, Duke’s season ended monumentally with only three losses recorded. Many graduating players from the roster achieved great heights, including Michael Sowers reaching second in NCAA history for points and assists at 383 and captain Giles-Harris suiting up for the Chrome of the Premier Lacrosse League after finishing his last chapter as a Blue Devil.
As Duke heads into the 2021-22 season, there is no doubt that the team will be just as competitive in the tournament, if not more. USA Lacrosse’s Player of the Year, freshman Andrew McAdorey, the former high school teammate of All-American sophomores O’Neill and Jake Naso, joins the squad in competition in the spring. Along with McAdorey, Duke already has three Preseason All-Americans per USA Lacrosse in graduate student Nakeie Montgomery, O’Neill and junior Tyler Carpenter. With an enumeration of significant factors in the Blue Devils’ favor, fans can expect many great things from this upcoming Duke team.
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