Lacrosse as a sport originated in Native American communities nearly 1,000 years ago, where it was called, “The Creator’s Game.” After a disappointing 2022, Duke will look to live up to the lofty expectations set by that moniker once again in 2023, beginning with its opener against Bellarmine Saturday.
“They're doing really well in school. In the weight room, a lot of PRs, a lot of personal records, a lot of just really good, hard work. And you know, we're undefeated and everybody's excited and it's fun,” head coach John Danowski said of looking toward the start of the season.
A few things will define this season: How do the Blue Devils respond to and rebound from last season’s unceremonious end? How do they fill key departures, like the sometimes superhuman goalie Mike Adler and five-year superstar Nakeie Montgomery? What new heights can junior attacker Brennan O’Neill, one of the preseason top contenders for the Tewaaraton Award, reach? Two years removed from the era of legendary defender JT Giles-Harris, can the Duke defense figure out how to shut down its opponents like before? Where does graduate transfer Thomas Schelling, Lehigh’s former leading scorer, fit into all of this?
Ultimately though, no individual—be it O’Neill, whoever guards Duke’s goal, Schelling or depth guys in the midfield and on defense—will decide the outcome of this season. What will, though, is how all those pieces gel together. Team chemistry can make or break seasons—it arguably broke the last two—but if it all comes together, the Blue Devils could be in for a successful, fun season.
“It's a good group, and we're hoping that the parts are greater than the whole,” Danowski said. “The work ethic has been great. The guys, they're just fun to be around … And I'm very proud of them. But that doesn't mean anything come Saturday. No, it's how you execute and perform during those two hours.” -Sasha Richie
Key departures: Mike Adler, Nakeie Montgomery and Joe Robertson
To avoid another NCAA tournament snub, the Blue Devils have a few hurdles to jump. Chiefly, Duke will have a new face in net. Adler closed his two-year stint in Durham having amassed multiple All-America honors in addition to finishing No. 14 in NCAA history in career saves. Not to mention that he was capable of carrying the Blue Devils on his back in key games to stave off opponents like Virginia. According to Danowski, the person to fill Adler’s shoes could be any one of the goalies on the roster.
“I’ll let you know [who is starting in goal] Saturday at [2 p.m.]. It’s still a work in progress. There's some really good competition,” he told The Chronicle. Some names to watch out for are graduate Andrew Bonafede, who has already played significant minutes as a backup, and St. Lawrence transfer William Helm, last year’s Liberty League Co-Defensive Player of the Year.
Meanwhile, the Blue Devils will have to find another go-to overtime scorer now that attacker Joe Robertson, a.k.a., “Broadway Joe,” has graduated. O’Neill certainly has the chops, and Schelling adds even more talent to an already stacked attack unit, bringing with him a 6-foot frame and the sixth-most prolific scoring career in Lehigh history.
The departure of Montgomery, the do-it-all First-Team All-American, also leaves major questions in the midfield. Danowski alluded to potentially using former top recruit and sophomore midfielder Andrew McAdorey at attack, which makes replacing Montgomery’s contributions even harder. This could mean larger roles for the veteran Caputo brothers, senior Jake and graduate Owen. Sophomore Reed Landin, who, playing in a limited role due to the depth of the roster last season, proved his merit by scoring a hat trick in big games against Notre Dame and Virginia. The other option: freshman Charles Balsamo. -Richie
New player to watch: Charles Balsamo
Balsamo joins the Blue Devils after racking up accolades and awards in high school. Ranked as the No. 7 player in the nation by Lacrosse Magazine and National Lacrosse Federation, Balsamo is an attack-minded, goal-scoring machine. Standing at 5-foot-9, Balsamo uses his agility to blow past defenders and slot the ball with his quick stick skills. His athleticism helped him to thrive as a two-sport athlete in high school, as he won a soccer state championship in 2021.
In the spring of 2022, Balsamo had a senior year for the ages, scoring a whopping 49 goals and dishing out 23 assists for Chaminade High School, a lacrosse powerhouse. Although his team lost the state championship in overtime, Balsamo earned recognition as a 2022 Senior Under Armour All-American and USA Lacrosse All American. The Manhasset, N.Y., native was also tapped the co-captain of the 2022 Nike National All-America squad. Joining an attack already headed by former Long Island stars O’Neill and McAdorey, Balsamo brings even more firepower for the Blue Devils. If the three can gel properly, stopping the Duke attack will be a nearly impossible task. -Luke Jovanovic
Returning players to watch: Tyler Carpenter and Dyson Williams
The obvious two answers here are O’Neill and McAdorey, a couple of St. Anthony’s products that were both No. 1 overall recruits and stole the show in their respective freshman seasons. However, I think two catalysts for Duke in 2023 could be two of its unsung heroes from 2022: senior long-stick midfielder Tyler Carpenter and senior attackman Dyson Williams.
Lacrosse is a game that lives and breathes the little moments—ground balls and hustling behind the goal to keep the ball in possession are just as crucial as a goal or an acrobatic save. Carpenter does those little things better than almost anyone else. The Blue Devils played their best games—a win against Virginia and a pair against North Carolina—when Carpenter was starting and playing extended minutes, vacuuming up ground balls, hounding midfielders out of bounds and occasionally popping up with a charge from defense to kickstart an attack. With a defense that is still trying to establish itself and a midfield coping without Montgomery, Carpenter’s proven reliability will be invaluable to Danowski.
In attack, Williams put up numbers in 2022, including 43 goals and nine assists in 13 starts along the forward line. The Oshawa, Ontario native leveled up last season after a brief stint in midfield, combining beautifully with O’Neill and using his intelligent positional sense to constantly find space for an open look on cage. Like last year, if opposing teams set their sights on shutting down O’Neill, Williams can make them pay. If he does, Duke’s attack will once again be up there with the country’s best. -Andrew Long
Most anticipated matchup: Notre Dame, April 8
While Danowski hasn’t circled any specific matchups, taking down Notre Dame this season will be key for the team to leave the regular season with an elite record and go far in the NCAA tournament. Last year, the Blue Devils took on and lost to the Fighting Irish in two late-spring matchups, battling in both games before falling 16-15 and then 16-14 in the regular-season finale in May 2022.
To return to the NCAA tournament, Duke must prove it is one of the ACC’s top contenders. Notre Dame is three spots ahead of the Blue Devils in the preseason Inside Lacrosse Poll, and with its top players returning, it’s clear that the South Bend, Ind., unit is ready for seconds. On the flip side, Duke, armed with some top returners and promising newcomers, will be preparing for revenge. -Ana Young
The ceiling for Duke is always a national championship, even if it enters the season with one-in-a-million odds. This year is no different, as star players like O’Neill, Carpenter and Williams carry the torch of one of the most decorated programs in the sport’s history.
However, with the fast-paced growth of “second-tier” teams like Jacksonville and Richmond into nationally competitive programs, entry into the 18-team field of the NCAA tournament isn’t even a guarantee anymore, as evidenced by last season. With that in mind, anything can happen. The most likely best-case scenario, though, is that the Blue Devils make the tournament and get through the opening rounds before getting knocked out by a surging Ivy League or Big Ten team. Meanwhile, in the ACC, Duke likely dukes it out with Notre Dame and Virginia for the top spot, miles ahead of Syracuse and North Carolina. –Richie
Last year, I said that there was no way Duke missed the tournament, and after an extremely controversial selection show, I was proven wrong. As a result, I’m hesitant to count anything out for the Blue Devils, no matter how well I think they may do. However, the main reason I think, at worst, Duke could miss the postseason is just because the selection committee is inconsistent and the field is notoriously small. Both the Blue Devils and Notre Dame should have qualified in 2022, but didn’t. In short, no team is exempt from missing the tournament, especially in an ACC with no conference tournament—and thus no automatic qualifier—and so much competition among itself. That said, Duke should be fine—I just want to protect against another overly lofty assumption. -Long
Richie: 10-5 (3-3 in the ACC), loss in the NCAA quarterfinals
Long: 11-4 (4-2), loss in NCAA quarterfinals
Young: 11-4 (4-2), loss in NCAA semifinals
Jovanovic: 12-3 (4-2), loss in NCAA finals
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
Sasha Richie is a Trinity senior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.
Andrew Long is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.