The seventh-seeded Duke Blue Devils completed their run, beat the top-seeded Syracuse Orange 16-10, and won their second NCAA men’s lacrosse championship in four years in front of a crowd of 28,244 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pa. on Monday.
Midfielder Brendan Fowler was selected as player of the game, winning 20-of-28 faceoffs to enable the Duke offense to overcome an early 5-0 deficit and dominate the Orange, outscoring them 16-5, for the remainder of the game.
Jordan Wolf (4g, 2a) once again led the charge and was followed by Josh Dionne (3g) who both did their jobs around the crease while the Blue Devils’ chorus of senior midfielders filled the cage from farther out as Josh Offit (3g, 2a), Jake Tripucka (2g, 2a), David Lawson (2g), Christian Walsh (1g, 1a), and freshman Myles Jones (1g) finalized the lopsided victory over Syracuse.
Orange keeper Dominic Lamolinara held the Blue Devils at bay early on, making most of his 11 saves in the game then, while Duke’s Kyle Turri was lit up early on before he settled into the game to finish with 10 stops.
The Blue Devils’ six-goal differential was the largest winning margin posted in the national championship final since Virginia beat UMass 15-7 in 2006, the year before Duke began its postseason dominance with head coach John Danowski leading them.
Expectations and doubts
On the surface of it, doubting the Blue Devils would win another championship didn’t make sense considering they had earned their seventh consecutive trip to Final Four weekend.
However, the manner in which this Duke team wrapped its arms around the championship trophy really tells the tale of how this team grew and evolved during the season.
Among lacrosse diehards during the preseason, as six-time postseason semifinalists, it was a given that Duke would be considered as part of the conversation during Memorial Day weekend again.
They were voted in the preseason polls in the No. 4 (Nike/Inside Lacrosse) and No. 6 (USILA Coaches) spots as such.
However, in claiming only one title in 2010 and losing in the final in 2007, many were skeptical of how long a team could repeatedly make it so far, but yet not finish the job.
If anything, many were getting tired of not getting the ultimate ending that was fitting of such a consistent display of success.
That was until a shocked and stunned Orange team looked up at the scoreboard to see that they had taken a place with all of the other opponents the Blue Devils left behind during the last three months of the season to put the final touches on it all.
No star power
What was different about this Duke team that started in its slow typical style, sitting at 2-4 in mid-March before finishing the season winning 14 of their last 15 games, was that it was not comprised of really any superstars.
Sure, Jordan Wolf, the team’s leading scorer along with Josh Dionne and Christian Walsh were opposing team’s scouting focus for the early part of the season, but who expected the tremendous impact that senior midfielders David Lawson, Josh Offit, and Jake Tripucka would have.
Yes, draw man Brendan Fowler was expected to be a force to deal with, but just how much since it was graduated long-stick middie C.J. Costabile who was the Blue Devil’s strength at the faceoff X for four years previous.
He was the hero who scored the winning goal in overtime off the draw against Notre Dame that gave Duke its first title in 2010.
Duke’s defense was experienced, but with previous close defender Luke Duprey moving up to the defensive midfield to replace Costabile and help Fowler with faceoffs, the work of Chris Hipps, Henry Lobb and Bill Conners had many wondering if they were up to the task.
In the cage, returning starter Dan Wigrizer who had backstopped the Blue Devils as a freshman goalkeeper to the 2010 national title, suffered a career-ending concussion, previously undisclosed and one that impacted his performance during that rough start to the season.
His injury was revealed after the Blue Devils had suffered a demoralizing 17-6 loss to then top-ranked Maryland, a loss that dropped them out of the national rankings for the first time since 2004, and put serious doubt in what Duke would do to fill his spot.
As fate would have it, sophomore keeper Kyle Turri earned his chance to start the next game against the then-defending champion Loyola Greyhounds, and the rest as they say is history.
Downhill and picking up at light speed
The Blue Devils began a winning streak of nine games that was only slowed by an 18-17 shootout loss to North Carolina in the ACC semifinals which then picked up immediately afterwards.
Other than that loss, Duke’s postseason run provided the drama that made an eventual and unexpected blowout of Syracuse exciting right until the end.
It seemed that the Blue Devils had staged enough comebacks for anyone looking at the 5-0 deficit they had to overcome with 14:18 remaining in the second quarter to just wave a hand at it and wait for it to happen – and it did.
The signature of this Blue Devils team was to understand that being down didn’t mean being out.
After getting past the rough early-season start that they had, the consistent work that Duke’s players put in, coupled with their increasing success that produced a heightened confidence level that reached beyond explainable limits to win games, allowed them to persevere no matter what situation was presented to them.
For that reason, this season’s version of the Blue Devils has to go down as the greatest to date, just due to the fact of the depth of teamwork that was required for it all to happen.
They weren’t considered exceptional players when they started, just hardworking athletes.
After the final horn sounded, those same hardworking athletes put their sticks down and raised the NCAA championship trophy above their heads.
As a collective, their exultation in celebration truly showed how bright their collective star power truly was.
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