Junior attacker Dyson Williams completed a hat trick with 11:29 left in Thursday's game to put Duke up 15-6 against Virginia, which was previously undefeated in conference play. When preseason All-American faceoff specialist Petey LaSalla wasn’t at the dot on the next play despite his 14-for-23 mark, that might as well have been the Cavaliers waving the white flag.
Continuing a streak that began in 2005, No. 14 Duke once again defeated No. 6 Virginia in the teams’ regular-season meeting. This time, at home in Koskinen Stadium just days after narrowly falling to Notre Dame, the Blue Devils did it by a commanding margin of 17-8. And thanks to an otherworldly performance from goalie Mike Adler and the continued dominance of sophomore attacker Brennan O’Neill, the game was never even close.
“There's nothing better than winning a lacrosse game…. Especially against a team like UVA,” Adler said. “We had a really bitter feeling after the last game against Notre Dame…. But we stuck together, tough practices during the week, and it showed today.”
It took nearly 10 minutes for either team to score a goal. In that time, it looked like it would become a defensive slugfest, and it became Adler’s time to shine. The Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native logged four saves in the first 10 minutes, including one jumping backward into the crease, and 20 total for the game, tying a career best.
Even after the Blue Devils (10-5, 2-2 in the ACC) started rolling offensively—and when they did they did—Adler never let up, becoming a wall between the back of the net and the Cavaliers (9-3, 4-1 in the ACC).
“He came up with the saves that the team needed and played very, very well…. He had 20 [saves] against these guys, especially coming after Notre Dame, where he only has five. It shows his character, his ability to shake off a bad day,” head coach John Danowski said.
Time after time, whenever Virginia found a crack in Duke’s otherwise air-tight defense, Adler was there to be the backstop. However, Adler himself credits his teammates with his ability to make those saves.
“I think I'm the product of the defense. So when the defense plays well, I play well. Those guys in front of me were the stars of the game,” Adler said.
The entire first quarter turned into a defensive clinic. The Blue Devils doubled the Cavaliers in ground-ball pickups and limited them to tough angle shots that made Adler’s job just a little easier. Meanwhile, sophomore FOGO Jake Naso went 3-1 against LaSalla through the first frame, helping Duke keep the ball out of the Cavaliers’ hands.
Though the offense took a while to break through, that didn’t end up mattering because the Blue Devil defensive core, led by senior Wilson Stephenson and junior Tyler Carpenter, gave it time to heat up.
“It's the one-on-one on the ball winning battles. It's helping whoever's defending the ball…. Today I thought we played really well in front of [Adler],” Danowski said.
However, once somebody finally broke through, was it any wonder it was No. 34 in white? O’Neill, as he’s known to do, beat his defender to rocket the ball in off of an assist from senior midfielder Garrett Leadmon.
Thirty-four seconds later, he potted another one. After just 20:36, he had a hat trick and Duke was up 4-1.
In typical O’Neill fashion, when the Blue Devils needed someone to score, he showed up, scoring four by the end of the day. But he also showed that he is more than a goal-scorer, logging a career-high four assists.
“He's starting to understand how to play attack at the college level,” Danowski said of O’Neill’s growth. “He has such a unique skill set, and he's still learning, he’s still growing, and I thought today, he was very patient.”
Still, even with O’Neill and Adler showing up the way they did, Virginia wasn’t going to make it easy for Duke, riding aggressively to regain possession after Adler's heroics and forcing three failed clears and 10 turnovers in the first half. Despite that, they couldn’t get past Adler more than twice through most of the first half.
Then, a goal from freshman Reed Landin just more than three minutes into the second, one from O’Neill and two in 35 seconds for Williams gave Duke a hefty lead. Though the Cavaliers were able to sneak past Adler one more time with 2:20 left in the first half, they couldn’t stop Duke from entering the locker room with a four-goal lead.
“This is like a heavyweight prizefight, [where] they're gonna throw punches. And they're gonna land some, whether they score a goal, whether they take the ball away on a ride, and you've got to recover. You might stagger a little bit, but you're gonna have to figure out how to withstand the punches and then deliver your own,” Danowski said.
When Duke opened the third quarter with two Adler saves and a strike from graduate attacker Joe Robertson, it looked like the second half would be more of the same. With respect to Duke dominating, it was. With respect to the low-scoring grind of it all, not so much.
Duke erupted. While Virginia was able to respond to Robertson’s goal with relative ease, graduate midfielder Cameron Badour grabbed Duke a five-goal lead and rallied the crowd. A long-pole goal from midfielder Tyler Carpenter shortly after sent Koskinen into a frenzy.
After a brief intermission for a Virginia goal, senior midfielder Owen Caputo scored and then assisted on another Robertson make before Landin potted his second. One more goal for Robertson in the third quarter would all but put away the game for Duke, which finished the first 45 minutes up 13-5.
“We haven't been able to play a full 60 minutes…but I think we're all coming together and we're coming together at the right time. I think past games, past practices—it's really starting to pay off,” Adler said.
Though the game was pretty much decided, the fourth quarter delivered, as Adler matched his career-best save total, Williams finished his ninth hat trick of the season and Landin completed his second hat trick in as many games.
After some ups and downs this season, the Blue Devils left the field with an uplifting win and played Florence + the Machine’s “Dog Days Are Over” in the locker room, perhaps symbolic of the team’s growth this season. With a generous amount of time until its home game against North Carolina May 1, Duke has a lot to build on.
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Sasha Richie is a Trinity senior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.