Every week, the Blue Zone breaks down an outstanding spring athlete, looking at their weekly performance and their season as a whole. Up next is Brennan O’Neill:
It has been nothing short of an excellent 2023 campaign for Duke men’s lacrosse. Now at the end of the regular season, the Blue Devils are the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament and sitting in a prime position to make a run for the national title.
While the team as a whole has been strong this year, the biggest individual factor in Duke’s success has been junior attackman Brennan O’Neill. O’Neill, the recently-named ACC Offensive Player of the Year, has had a tremendous campaign. He has racked up a whopping 80 points in the regular season with 44 goals and 36 assists. Additionally, the Bay Shore, N.Y., native was recently named as one of five finalists for the Tewaaraton Award, given to the most outstanding men’s and women’s college lacrosse players.
The Blue Devils have played all year in a talented and difficult ACC, with two other squads from the conference getting top seeds in their NCAA regions. Despite a strong schedule, O’Neill has helped Duke to only one ACC loss and a season sweep of No. 2 Virginia. In the game hosted by the Cavaliers, O’Neill scored a season-high six goals and tacked on three assists.
The junior has been a consistent source of offensive production all year for the Blue Devils, having only scored less than two goals in two games this year in a win against North Carolina and a loss to Notre Dame. Not only has his production been useful, but his presence on the field has been impactful for the rest of Duke’s attacking crew. He draws a disproportionate amount of attention from opposing defenses, allowing him to create opportunities for his teammates like fellow attackman and All-ACC team member Dyson Williams.
Now heading into the win-or-go-home postseason, the Blue Devils will have to buckle down as they face some of the top groups in the country. First up will be Delaware, followed by either No. 8-seed Cornell or Michigan. While Duke might have the top spot, the strength of competition means that no single game is guaranteed.
O’Neill will need to stay hot through the playoffs, providing more of that high-caliber offensive firepower against increasingly tough teams. If the Blue Devils manage to advance through to the Final Four, they will be staring down the barrel of a potential third matchup with Virginia. From there, a championship game could be against the Fighting Irish. O’Neill struggled against a physical Notre Dame defense that focused an outsized amount of attention on him in the regular season, putting only one point on the board. He will need to improve on that tally or distribute the ball more if the Blue Devils want to come out of that potential matchup on top.
This will be the most difficult stretch of games yet for Duke, but with O’Neill’s offensive leadership, anything is possible.
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