This time last year, Duke’s number 51 was plying his trade in midfield.
Amid a roster with attacking options like third-place NCAA career points leader Michael Sowers, overtime hero Joe Robertson and the dynamic Brennan O’Neill fresh out of high school, there was hardly a place for a fourth offensive star. Dyson Williams, for better or for worse, was the unfortunate recipient of a position change and saw a diminished role on the squad, starting just eight of the 15 games he played in 2021.
He hardly struggled there. Quite the opposite, in fact—Williams recorded two hat tricks, including one at North Carolina, and amassed 25 total points on 23 scores. What he wasn’t, though, was dominant. At least not compared to his freshman and junior seasons.
Hailing from Oshawa, Ontario, Williams entered his first year in Durham with Inside Lacrosse’s No. 3 overall tag, behind teammate Kenny Brower and Virginia’s Connor Shellenberger. It was a label he certainly lived up to, starting every game of Duke’s shortened season and leading the group with 30 total points en route to 3.13 goals per game, the top mark nationally for freshmen.
Williams was a standout in a loaded attack in 2020, starting alongside senior Joey Manown. So, why wasn’t he there the following year if he was so impressive?
Simply, as mentioned above, it was a matter of trying to fit four fantastic players into three attacking spots—in a group billed as a potential superteam, no less.
So, who was going to be the odd one out? Sowers, a Princeton transfer who made college lacrosse his playground before the COVID-19 pandemic with 80+ points in three consecutive seasons? Surely not. Robertson, two years Williams’ senior, coming off injury after two years with a combined 119 points? Couldn’t be. O’Neill, the top-rated freshman in the class of 2020 with an imposing physical build and bazooka of a shot? No chance you’re dropping that guy.
And, thus, Williams was that odd man out, and showcased instead his tireless running and goalscoring exploits from a slightly deeper role. However, when a spot opened up on that attack after Sowers departed for the PLL last summer, Williams was back in.
And for that, head coach John Danowski, Duke fans and any lacrosse aficionado will be grateful.
Williams hit the ground running in 2022 and, through the first six games, scored at least a hat trick in every one. Since then, though that flame has cooled a bit, he’s added 17 goals to his already remarkable tally. His exploits have seen him become a crucial asset of a resurgent Duke front line and a key player when clutch moments are needed. In the must-win home games against preseason No. 1 Virginia and fierce rival North Carolina, Williams rattled the net three times in each outing, helping his team to win 17-8 and 19-11, respectively.
While he wasn’t dominant his sophomore season, he certainly is now. Ranking second in goals and points for the Blue Devils, Williams is getting hot right when Duke needs a star to carry it confidently into the NCAA Tournament later this month.
Against the Tar Heels Sunday, Williams’ hat trick brought his career points tally over the century mark. By joining the likes of triple-digit former Blue Devils Jordan Wolf, Justin Guterding and current assistant coach Matt Danowski, he’s etched his name onto an elusive list, all while playing an entire year out of his typical position.
Speculation is a fickle beast. If in 2020, one speculated Williams to realize his top-3 recruit potential and cement himself among the best in the nation in his class, they’d be vindicated by his recent performances. If in 2021, one speculated his attacking exploits to continue in the same vein, they’d be confused at his switch to midfield for the season. Crucially, however, if one speculated him to stay there and be outshined by other offensive options, they’d be flat-out wrong.
Amid this firing group, he has been a principal cannoneer. Williams’ 39 goals, eight assists and 47 points on a barn-burning team storming its way to the postseason after a difficult start is an outstanding record. More importantly, it bodes immensely well ahead of a possible make-or-break showdown Saturday with No. 7 Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.
Welcome to the Dyson Williams renaissance, folks.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
Andrew Long is a Trinity sophomore and Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.