(Photo Courtesy of Duke Athletics)
Since John Danowski’s arrival in Durham ahead of the 2007 season, the Blue Devils have done nothing but win. They have made 13 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, which include five semifinal appearances, five championship appearances, and three national titles.
Everything that the Blue Devils have done for the past decade plus has been next level. From their success on the recruiting trail to their play on the field, Duke has been one of the most successful and consistent programs in recent memory. And even after a 2020 season in which they went 6-2 before the Coronavirus outbreak shut things down early, Duke looks to maintain that success and continue to reach new heights.
The Blue Devils have everything in place to not only contend for an ACC and national title, but get there and win. And most of the excitement around this Duke team, which could go down as one of the most loaded teams in history, starts on the offensive end.
At the time the 2020 season was cut short, the Duke Blue Devils ranked 11th in scoring offense, averaging 24.13 points and 15.25 goals per game. They also had a shooting percentage of .375, which was good for the fifth-best in the country. But those already impressive numbers could get even more impressive in 2021.
Duke brings in Princeton transfer Michael Sowers, who is taking advantage of the NCAA’s ruling to allow spring sport athletes an extra year of eligibility. Sowers is the Tigers’ all-time scoring leader and will be the likely favorite for the Tewaaraton Award next season. The 5-foot-9, 175-pound attackman immediately makes the Blue Devils better and legitimizes them even more as a national title contender.
When the season was cut short, Sowers was leading the nation in points per game (9.40) and assists per game (6.2). He was simply lighting the college lacrosse world on fire. And now he takes his talents south to Durham, N.C. where he gets to quarterback an offense at a program that has seemed to be searching for that perfect QB attackman since Jordan Wolf led them to back-to-back national titles in 2013 and 2014.
And while Sowers is a very special player in his own right, at Duke he will join forces with multiple players that can be described as special. Sowers will join attackmen Dyson Williams and Joe Robertson, and midfielders Owen Caputo, Nakeie Montgomery, and Cameron Badour to form what has the potential to be the best offensive unit in the country.
Williams, a lefty Canadian, lived up to the hype as a freshman as he led the Blue Devils in scoring with 28 points (24G/4A). Robertson was injured last season, but had a stellar sophomore season and is expected to bounce back strong and contribute in 2021. Caputo was the second-leading scorer on the team with 20 points (12G/8A) last season, while Badour tallied 15 points (8G/7A), and Montgomery put up 12 points (7G/5A).
Duke will also see attackmen Joey Manown and Reilly Walsh, A/M Sean Lowrie, and midfielders Trey Lindsay, Kevin Quigley, and Brian Smyth all back for an extra year as well. While Manown is the biggest name, they all have contributed during their careers at Duke and should continue to do so this coming season.
With a guy like Sowers quarterbacking the offense and all those aforementioned weapons around him, the options are endless. Sowers can turn on the jets from behind the cage at X and take it to the rack himself, find a cutting Montgomery in the heart of the defense, feed to a wide-open Williams on the back pipe, or many more options.
And while the current players on the roster plus Sowers will be enough to worry about for defenses, the Blue Devils are getting the services of the No. 1 player in the 2020 class, according to Inside Lacrosse, in St. Anthony’s (N.Y.) attackman Brennan O’Neill. The Long Island native has already been described as a generational talent by many, drawing comparisons to some of the game’s greats like John Grant Jr. and Gary Gait.
O’Neill just adds another dimension to this stacked offense. He can make plays all over the field and will make defenders look silly while doing so.
While Blue Devils’ offense in 2021 is certain to have a level of lethality that we have rarely (if ever) seen before, their defenses also has the ability to cause plenty of problems for the opposition.
The Blue Devils’ defense was tied for 29th best scoring defense in DI at the time the 2020 season was cancelled, allowing 11 goals per game. They also ranked 30th in the penalty kill and hovered around the late 20s and 30s in most defensive categories.
And while the Blue Devils certainly didn’t have the best defensive in the land, or even in the ACC, last season, they have the talent, experience, and depth to step up and be one of the best in 2021.
Duke will return sixth year (!!!) goalie Turner Uppgren (46% save percentage) in between the pipes. The Minnesota native has been the Blue Devils’ primary goalie for the past two seasons and has been pretty reliable. In addition, Duke brings in St. Joseph’s grad transfer Mike Adler to add even more talent and depth at the goalie spot. Adler ranked eight in save percentage (.594) at the time the 2020 season was cancelled and has been one of the most efficient goalies in DI over the past few seasons.
Beyond the depth and talent that they now have in goal, starting defenseman JT Giles-Harris will be returning for a fifth year. The Nyack, N.Y. native has been one of their most productive poles since his freshman season and looks to continue that trend and be a leader on the back end, again, in 2021. Giles-Harris led the Blue Devils in caused turnovers with 13 and was second in ground balls with 21 during the shortened 2020 season.
Duke will also return sophomore Kenny Brower, sophomore LSM Tyler Carpenter, fifth year senior Walker Scaglione, and junior Braden Burke. All four had solid, productive showings during the 2020 season and should take a step forward this coming season.
Like many high-level teams, Duke will also need a solid line of defense at the faceoff dot as well. And they likely will have that with junior Jordan Ginder returning and freshman Jake Naso coming in. Ginder went 99-for-167 (59%) at the faceoff dot last season and was 22nd in the nation in faceoff win percentage. Naso, who was ranked No. 14 in the 2020 class by Inside Lacrosse, went 80% as a junior in high school. He didn’t have a season this spring.
Holy cross grad transfer Dan O’Connell will also be spending his final year of eligibility in Durham. Serving as the Crusaders’ primary faceoff man, O’Connell went 96-for-145 (66%) at the dot in seven contests last season.
Ginder, Naso, and O,Connell could prove to be one of the faceoff units in the nation and having all three should certainly benefit the Blue Devils, especially down the stretch late in the season.