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 Jake Naso:
Duke men’s lacrosse’s NCAA semifinal game against No. 5-seed Penn State was nothing short of a thriller. The top-seeded Blue Devils won 16-15 in overtime, with graduate student Garrett Leadmon providing the game winner. Critical to that victory, and Duke’s 16-2 season, has been star faceoff man and first team All-American Jake Naso.
Despite his 5-foot-9, 185-pound stature, Naso is an extremely physical player who constantly bodies his way into getting the ball. The junior won 22 of his 34 faceoffs in the contest against the Nittany Lions, including four straight to open the game and a crucial one in the sudden death overtime.
Even more impressive was Naso’s performance after gaining possession. He scored twice and also tallied an assist. Coming through at a pivotal time, he found the back of the net with just over six minutes left in the fourth quarter to give the Blue Devils the lead.
While the Holtsville, N.Y., native has just seven goals on the year, stepping up in the biggest moment of the season proved that he is more than a one-trick pony. Normally, faceoff specialists are tabbed “FOGOs,” or faceoff and get off. Having a player capable of not just elite stick skills but also able to score adds another layer to Duke’s already dominant attack.
On the season, Naso has won 63% of his faceoffs, good for sixth in the nation. In fact, he is one of just 13 players to have a win percentage of over 60%. While the Blue Devils’ offense centers around attackmen Brennan O’Neill and Dyson Williams, he is the spark that gets things started, and his ability to win the ball keeps the fire going after each goal.
Naso will be critical in Duke’s championship matchup against No. 3-seed Notre Dame, and luckily for the Blue Devils, he has shown that he can rise to the challenge against top opponents. In the regular season meeting against the Fighting Irish, the St. Anthony’s alumnus went 22-for-32 in the circle and also chipped in an assist.
And, while he struggled in Duke’s first matchup against No. 2-seed Virginia, going just 14-for-34, Naso showed his resilience in the next contest, outperforming the Cavaliers’ Petey LaSalla and winning 21-of-32 faceoffs.
Notre Dame will likely focus its gameplan heavily on beating Naso, just as it did against LaSalla in its own semifinal victory. However, his showcase as a goal-scoring threat adds a major wrinkle for the Fighting Irish.
As the Blue Devils aim to win the national title Monday, possession will be paramount, and Naso will be the key to controlling the game. If he can repeat his performance from Saturday, Duke may very well lift the trophy in Philadelphia.
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Dom Fenoglio is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.