They say that at the end of a rainbow is a pot of gold. Rainbow or not, four Blue Devils certainly found it.
Under international duty with the USA U-21 Men’s National Team, Duke juniors Brennan O’Neill, Jake Naso and Jake Caputo and senior Kenny Brower helped take down a talented Canada squad 12-10 Saturday to claim the gold medal at the World Lacrosse Men's U21 Championship in Limerick, Ireland. O’Neill, named to the All-World Team following Saturday's win, shone in particular, grabbing 18 goals and seven assists to lead the United States to its ninth consecutive title at the junior level. Brower, on the other hand, was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Defender.
The event, comprising 23 teams from five continents, made its long-awaited return after a two-year COVID-19 hiatus. Though lacrosse is often thought of as a North American sport, in recent years it has grown to possess a much more global audience. There is undoubtedly space for expansion, but showcasing the game to the globe is certainly a step in the right direction for the fast-growing sport.
For O’Neill and this Blue Devil group, the event was also a chance to make personal history. Duke, a three-time NCAA championship program, has sent its fair share of lacrosse talent to the U21 championship, but it stamped its mark as the top-represented university on the American roster alongside Yale. Keep in mind, this is a team that missed the postseason in 2022 yet still outperformed the likes of Maryland, Virginia, Notre Dame and local rival North Carolina for players on the roster.
The original event was slated for 2020, but strict pandemic regulations in Ireland forced the organizing committee to postpone. As a result, O’Neill, Caputo, Brower and Naso, alongside most of their national teammates, were originally selected for a U19 squad but were exempted because of the delay. The age classification will be upped to U20 following this year.
The age exemption in no way should diminish what this Duke group and Team USA accomplished on the Emerald Isle. Save for its two games against Canada, in which the Americans won by two goals each, the team outscored its opponents 78-12.
Naso excelled from face-off and Brower was suffocating in defense, with Caputo’s three goals a useful option for a loaded roster throughout the tournament. O’Neill led the team in scoring, followed by Cornell’s CJ Kirst with 15 goals. The Kirst-O’Neill duo combined for seven goals in the final, with the additional five split between Notre Dame’s Pat Kavanagh (2), Rutgers’ Shane Knobloch (1), Princeton’s Alex Slusher (1) and Georgetown’s Graham Bundy Jr. (1).
O’Neill provided a highlight in the final with an assist on Slusher’s goal. After brushing past his defender, the Bay Shore, N.Y., native jumped and faked a lefty overhand shot, instead opting for a soft overhead pass to Slusher for the sidearm goal.
It was a strong start to the year for these Blue Devils, who will no doubt hope to find that same pot of gold in the upcoming spring lacrosse season.
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Andrew Long is a Trinity sophomore and Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.