ChronSports Top 10 of 2023 — No. 3: Brennan O'Neill wins Tewaaraton Award as Duke men's lacrosse wins ACC title, reaches NCAA Championship game

Junior attackman Brennan O'Neill prepares to shoot during Duke's game against Notre Dame.
Junior attackman Brennan O'Neill prepares to shoot during Duke's game against Notre Dame.

As the bow gets tied on 2023, The Chronicle’s sports department is reviewing the biggest storylines in Duke athletics throughout the year. Each day until the calendar flips to January, we will cover two of the most significant moments in Blue Devil sports from 2023.

Coming in at No. 3: Duke men's lacrosse shook its disappointing 2022 season en route to one of its best in recent memory, featuring an appearance in the NCAA tournament championship game and a Tewaaraton Award for attackman Brennan O'Neill, the Blue Devils' third-ever. For the full list, click here.

Duke must have taken its shock exclusion from the Big Dance in 2022 to heart, because 2023 was an absolute disco at Koskinen Stadium.

Headlined by a slew of important returners, including senior defender Kenny Brewer, junior FOGO Jake Nash and the attacking trio of Dyson Williams, Andrew McAdorey and Brennan O'Neill, the Blue Devils were a different beast from start to finish this year. They began by ripping apart Bellarmine in their season opener ahead of a road win against then-No. 1 Virginia and an ACC regular season title sealed at home against Syracuse, culminating in a dominant 16-3 record. But the principal accolades of their historic season were made to wait until its conclusion.

It wasn't always smooth sailing, with a few frustrating defeats holding Duke back from a season that would be remembered as one of its objective best. Among them — an early season loss to Jacksonville that put the Blue Devils' ability to close out tight games into question and a comprehensive road defeat to Notre Dame, perhaps an indication of how Duke's season would inevitably end.

Come Selection Sunday and NCAA tournament time, though, the Blue Devils were fit and firing, holding a No. 1 overall seed to their name and, perhaps more importantly, a razor-sharp O'Neill leading the attack. The then-junior was Duke's sparkplug all season, finishing with 55 goals and 42 assists in a ruthless display of the offensive efficiency that made him a cornerstone of head coach John Danowski's summer roster for Team USA. The Bay Shore, N.Y., native earned tournament MVP honors at the World Lacrosse Championships playing out of position and among the best and brightest from the professional ranks as the Americans took home the top prize against Canada (and Williams).

But the most notable trophy O'Neill hoisted was the Tewaaraton Award, given annually to the best player in college lacrosse. No Duke player had won the prestigious honor since Ned Crotty in 2010, and O'Neill's triumph over the likes of Pat Kavanagh, Tucker Dordevic and Connor Shellenberger marked just the third time a Blue Devil had won the award in its long history. On top of the Tewaaraton, O'Neill also earned a spot on the All-American First Team and was named ACC Offensive Player of the Year. Danowski took home ACC Coach of the Year honors — the fourth of his career — while Naso, Brewer and Williams earned spots on the All-ACC First Team alongside O'Neill.

For all the success Duke saw on the field and in award voting, though, the finale of the season was a heartbreaking one. Selected as the No. 1-seed for the NCAA tournament, the Blue Devils squeaked by Delaware in the first round at home before steamrolling Michigan in the second, securing yet another trip to the Final Four in Philadelphia. The last time Duke took the turf at Lincoln Financial Field, it lost in overtime to the Cavaliers on a controversial goal, given despite the ball not crossing the goal line, setting Virginia up to eventually win it all.

This time, though, the Blue Devils were determined to not repeat painful history. Standing in their way was No. 4-seed Penn State, who gave Duke a dogfight of a semifinal contest that similarly required a sudden-death period. Graduate midfielder Garrett Leadmon was the one who stepped up this time, curling around the goal and slotting it past the Nittany Lion goalkeeper to seal his team's path to the title game. Controversy abounded this time, too, as video evidence after the game ended showed that Leadmon's foot stepped inside the crease — something that would have chalked it off if caught earlier.

Regardless, Duke was now within 60 minutes of a fourth national title, against one of the only two teams that beat it in the regular season. No. 3-seed Notre Dame throttled the Blue Devils in the first half, holding them nearly a half hour without a goal and to a 6-1 deficit heading into the locker room. Duke came back and actually tied things up in the second half, but some stellar goalkeeping from Fighting Irish goalie Liam Entenmann kept O'Neill and the Blue Devil attack sputtering as Notre Dame made them pay on the other end. By the final buzzer, the Fighting Irish had triumphed 13-9, securing their first-ever NCAA title in the process.

Despite the sour ending, it was a historic season for Danowski, O'Neill and the Blue Devils, who will look to avenge their title-game defeat with another run to Championship Weekend — and maybe another Tewaaraton ceremony — this coming spring.

Read more:

NOT ALWAYS SUNNY: Duke men’s lacrosse’s quest for fourth national championship falls short against Notre Dame in Philadelphia

Column: Duke men’s lacrosse’s title-game loss to Notre Dame proves why history doesn’t and shouldn’t matter

Duke men's lacrosse attackman Brennan O'Neill wins 2023 Tewaaraton Award for best player in college lacrosse

PHILLY SPECIAL: Leadmon's controversial sudden-death goal propels Duke men's lacrosse past Penn State, into NCAA title game

AREA 51: Dyson Williams pushes No. 2 Duke men's lacrosse beyond No. 15 Syracuse, clinching ACC crown

KINGS OF KLOCKNER: No. 4 Duke men's lacrosse wins at No. 1 Virginia behind star nights from O'Neill, Helm

Column: After top-ranked triumph at Virginia, Duke men’s lacrosse is a proven title contender

‘For the love of the game’: As the sport grows, Duke men’s lacrosse alums are helping pave the way

Andrew Long profile
Andrew Long | Sports Editor

Andrew Long is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


Share and discuss “ChronSports Top 10 of 2023 — No. 3: Brennan O'Neill wins Tewaaraton Award as Duke men's lacrosse wins ACC title, reaches NCAA Championship game” on social media.