No. 2 Duke men's lacrosse starts season strong against Bellarmine behind hat tricks from Zawada, O'Neill, Williams

Josh Zawada unleashes a shot in his Blue Devil debut against Bellarmine.
Josh Zawada unleashes a shot in his Blue Devil debut against Bellarmine.

On a cold Saturday afternoon in Durham, the whole school’s focus was in Chapel Hill. For those who kept their eyes local at Koskinen Stadium, they got a show. 

The large crowd in attendance was treated to an opportunity to watch the nation’s second-ranked team dominate Bellarmine 20-12 in its 2024 season opener. It was Josh Zawada’s debut as a Blue Devil as well, and the graduate transfer was as good as advertised. Michigan’s career goals and points leader scored a hat trick on his three shots on goal and dished out five assists while only turning the ball over twice. 

Not to be outdone, Brennan O’Neill, the All-World senior attackman, dominated as well, netting four goals and dishing three assists on 13 shots, alongside only one turnover. O’Neill credited the crowd at Koskinen for providing the team a jolt. 

“Koski always brings the juice, they’re always there for us,” O’Neill said. “Whether the weather’s bad or good, they’re cheering us on, which really gives us a lot of motivation.” 

O’Neill and Zawada were happy to give each other their flowers. Zawada said playing alongside O’Neill up front “makes it easy,” and the trio of star attackmen (rounded out by graduate student Dyson Williams) will “continue to build chemistry during the rest of the year.” On Zawada, O’Neill added that “it’s awesome that we have him, cause that means that someone else doesn’t.”

Duke’s first half flashed this year’s offensive potential. The Blue Devils (1-0) tallied a team-record 41 shots in a half, and scored 14 goals to Bellarmine’s five. The aforementioned trio was dominant, as at least one of them was involved in 11 of those scores. Head coach John Danowski was impressed with the teamwork that was on display this early in the season. 

“Brennan is going to draw any opponent’s number one defender, and Dyson is going to draw their top inside person,” Danowski said. “Josh is going to play against number two, as a classic attack he’ll figure out how to get support points and take an extra man in transition.” 

The addition of Zawada didn’t come without change for Duke. His arrival pushed junior Andrew McAdorey back into the midfield after starting in attack all of last season, an embarrassment-of-riches sort of situation. The St. Anthony’s product was characteristically energetic despite his changed role.

“Andrew was so dynamic between lines,” Danowski said. “He could play defense, you could put him in on faceoffs. He can break down people and stop [the opponent’s] offense.”

After a Duke-dominated first half, the two sides began to play a few more reserves as the game wore on. Danowski kept a strong group on the field early to score five goals in the first six minutes of the third quarter, but then started to ease off the gas. The stars stepped off the field, but the experience the reserves gained, especially the rotation of goalies who each saw playing time, will give Danowski some options to rest the starters in tighter games. 

With the combination of some players seeing the field for the first time in a while and it being the first game of the season, many Blue Devils had statistical firsts. Graduate students Alex Slusher, Jack White and, of course, Zadawa scored their first goals in a Duke uniform, while sophomore Max Sloat and freshman Benn Johnston scored their first collegiate goals. 

True freshman goalie Patrick Jameison started in net for the Blue Devils, the first true freshman goalie to start the season opener for Danowski since 2010.   

On Bellarmine’s side, last year’s team leader in points Kyle Playsted notched a hat trick. Strong returners Benny O’Rourk and John Alie combined for nine points, and that trio should lead Bellarmine (0-1) to a strong campaign on the offensive end.  

Duke will look to stay undefeated next week, traveling Saturday afternoon to High Point. 


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