Fall Snapshot: Duke Blue Devils

(Photo Courtesy of Duke Athletics)

Welcome to the Fall Snapshot series. Throughout the fall I will be taking an early look at all 75 DI men’s college lacrosse teams and giving a snapshot of where each is heading into the 2023 season.

Head Coach: John Danowski (16th Season, 2007-Current)

Duke 2022 Record: 11-6 (3-3 ACC)

Key Departures: Sean Lulley (A), Joe Robertson (A), Nakeie Montgomery (M)

Key Returners: Brennan O’Neill (A), Dyson Williams (A), Andrew McAdorey (M), Jake Naso (FO), Jake Caputo (SSDM), Wilson Stephenson (D), Tyler Carpenter (D), Kenny Brower (D)

Transfer Additions: Tommy Schelling (A, Lehigh), Jamie Zusi (FO, Penn), Will Helm (G, St. Lawrence)

The 2022 season marked the first time in the John Danwoski era, and first full season since 2004, in which the Duke Blue Devils missed the NCAA Tournament. Duke went 11-6 on the year and beat six teams that made the NCAA Tournament. They lost to two such teams in Jacksonville and Penn. The former was one of three losses, along with defeats at Loyola and Syracuse, that ultimately held the Blue Devils out of the big dance.

On the flip side, Duke had some really good wins over the course of its 17-game schedule. The biggest of which was a 17-8 victory over Virginia on Holy Thursday, where the Blue Devils outscored the Cavaliers 10-5 in the second half and got things clicking as well as they had all season. However, those types of performances for the Blue Devils were rare as they never seemed to gain any consistency.

In 2023, Duke will be looking to find that consistency they couldn’t a year ago. If they can, the Blue Devils have a shot at making it back to Championship Weekend for a 12th time under Danowski. It is Duke after all and despite how last year went, one of the most talented rosters in college lacrosse still resides in Durham.

Burning Questions

How Does The Offense Operate?

Duke ranked fourth in scoring offense (15.41 goals per game), third in team shooting percentage (34.9%), and had the second-best man-up unit in college lacrosse as they cashed in on 60% of such opportunities. This offense, led by Brennan O’Neill (53G/21A) and Dyson Williams (43G/9A) was pretty darn good and efficient last spring.

Despite its success, the same question always seemed to linger: What does Duke want to do on offense? Sean Lulley and Joe Robertson were used what felt like 100 different ways. And overall it felt like Dyson Williams and Nakeie Montgomery were the only two key playmakers who Duke knew how they wanted to use. Of course, the talent on that end made those changes and questions less important than they would have been for some other teams, but it was still there.

In 2023, O’Neill and Williams are back on attack while Andrew McAdorey (23G/16A) returns at the midfield. Tommy Schelling comes in at attack from Lehigh. Those four alone make up an uber talented offensive core. Add in fellow returnees such as Owen Caputo (9G/9A), Aidan Danenza (8G/10A), and Reed Landin (9G/1A), as well as multiple others, and this is another super deep and talented offense. In what spots are guys put and how it all comes together is something to keep a keen eye on, and especially so given the past two seasons in Durham.

Who Starts in Cage?

Mike Adler arrived in Durham ahead of the 2021 season as a grad transfer following a strong career at Saint Joseph’s. He then proceeded to add even more accolades to his name as the starting goalie for Duke for each of the last two seasons. Adler made 33 starts in 34 games during his time in Durham and posted a 54% save percentage on 384 saves. That includes a 2022 campaign in which he made 222 saves with a 55% save percentage.

Adler has exhausted his eligibility, which means it’s time for a new man to take over in between the pipes for the Blue Devils. In finding that player, Duke will be looking in a five-man goalie room that features three graduate students in Andrew Bonafede, Garrett Smith, and William Helm.

Bonafede was the Blue Devils’ primary backup last season, playing in 11 games while making seven saves with a 44.7% save percentage. Smith played in three games and made two saves last spring. Helm is a grad transfers from DIII St. Lawrence where was a two-year starter. In 2022, he anchored one of the best defenses in DIII as he made made 194 saves with a 57.9% save percentage and was named Liberty League Co-Defensive Player of the Year.

Can The Defense Take a Step (or two) Forward?

The one area where Duke needs to improve the most from last season is on defense. The Blue Devils allowed 11.18 goals per game as the 26th-best scoring defense in college lacrosse last season. In its six ACC games, Duke allowed 11.83 goals per game. The Blue Devils’ final four games of the season saw them allow 12.75 goals on average. That stretch included a pair of losses against Notre Dame, where the Irish put up 16 goals.

Wilson Stephenson (40GB/19CT) and Kenny Brower (42GB/16CT) were the top two poles at close while Tyler Carpenter (67GB/17CT/3G/2A) served as the team’s top LSM. Those three formed one heck of a trio of poles for this defense build upon. All three are back.

Heading into the 2023 season, Duke is entering its second year with no JT Giles Harris or Cade Van Raaphorst on the roster. It seemed, at times, last season that the Blue Devils didn’t have an alpha the likes of which they previously had in both of those guys. With Stephenson and Brower both back at close to lead the way and Carpenter at LSM to headline the rope unit, Duke has talent on the back end. If that talent can come together on a consistent basis and produce week in and week out against those upper echelon teams is the question.

Potential Breakout Player

Reed Landin, Midfield, Sophomore

As a freshman, Landin played in 11 games and started each of the final three (vs Virginia, UNC, @ Notre Dame). He put up nine goals and dished out one assist on the season for 10 points. That included a 3-1 performance in the first Notre Dame game and a three-goal game against Virginia. Watch for Landin to be a much more important piece of that midfield as a sophomore.

Freshman Class

With its 2022 recruiting efforts, the Duke Blue Devils bring in another highly-rated freshman class that features 11 men. Duke’s 2022 class is headlined by Brunswick (Conn.) defenseman Charlie Johnson who is ranked as the No. 6 player in the class and rated as a five-star by Inside Lacrosse. Johnson was one of five Duke freshman who played in the Under Armour All-American game over the summer. Attackmen Max Sloat (Sacred Heart Prep, Calif.) and Charles Balsamo (Chaminade, N.Y.) also played in the game, as well as defenseman Henry Bard (Lower Merion, Pa.) and faceoff man Luke Engelke (The Pingry School, N.J.).

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