2022 NCAA Lacrosse Preview: No. 3 Duke (Men)

PHOTO BY NAT LeDONNE / DUKE ATHLETICS

Brennan O'Neill is expected to take on a larger role as a sophomore, and that's bad news for the rest of the ACC.


The 2022 college lacrosse season is nearly upon us. As is our annual tradition, we’re featuring every team ranked in the Nike/USA Lacrosse Preseason Top 20.

Check back to USALaxMagazine.com each weekday this month for new previews, scouting reports and rival analysis.

NO. 3 DUKE

2021 Record: 14-3 (4-2 ACC)
Final Ranking (2021): No. 3
Coach: John Danowski (16th year)

Eight years into his tenure as the head coach of the Duke men’s lacrosse team, John Danowski led the Blue Devils to the top of the ACC seven times.

The year he didn’t, he won the NCAA championship

The majority of those teams were built on the foundation of experience across the field, but after a six-year hiatus from being the kings of the Atlantic Coast, the Blue Devils took on a bit of a new approach last season.

Complementing the skills of Michael Sowers and Joe Robertson, the Blue Devils incorporated talented underclassmen into the lineup to reach their third consecutive Championship Weekend and win a share of the conference title for the first time since 2014.

Although the Blue Devils fell short of their national championship aspirations by losing 14-5 to Maryland a national semifinal, the growth of the young players and addition of the top two prospects in the country has No. 3 Duke looking ahead to 2022, for more reasons than simply competing for national acclaim.

“The irony of the season is that none of our juniors have played a game in front of a home crowd,” Danowski said.

When analyzing the Blue Devils’ core of young talent, sophomore attacker Brennan O’Neill has transformed into not only Duke’s top scoring option with the graduation of Sowers, but one of the most formidable threats in the country. He and Robertson will be a strong 1-2 punch in the ACC.

After O’Neill led the team with 45 goals last season, the former high school phenom is primed to take on a bigger role this season, in more ways than one.

NIKE/USAL PRESEASON TOP 20
TEAM PREVIEWS

1. Virginia

2. Maryland

3. Duke

4. Georgetown

5. Notre Dame

6. North Carolina

7. Loyola

8. Yale

9. Penn

10. Rutgers

11. Lehigh

12. Denver

13. Army

14. Syracuse

15. Johns Hopkins

16. Delaware

17. Drexel

18. Cornell

19. Vermont

20. Bryant

“Brennan is one of the finest young people I’ve been around,” Danowski said. “He’s incredibly coachable, and while he has this incredible, unique skillset whereas a coach you don’t want to mess with it, he was really eager to work on his deficiencies, and he’s become even more polished.”

While a plethora of sophomore midfielders gained experience last season, the unit is expected to be bolstered by the addition of Andrew McAdorey, another high school phenom and former teammate of O’Neill’s at heralded St. Anthony’s (N.Y.) High School.

Although taking center stage for one of the top teams in the country is a difficult proposition for any top prospect, McAdorey seems ready to take on the challenge.

“He was spectacular in the classroom, and his work ethic in the weight room is just incredible,” Danowski said. “And it’ll be interesting to see because with fifth-years and sixth-years now because of COVID, he’ll have to get started by playing against 23- and 24-year-old men.”

With a number of players gaining valuable experience last spring, the Blue Devils have depth and flexibility on the roster, as the returning players can still mesh well with the influx of top prospects.

Despite having plenty of minutes to distribute to a wide range of players, it is a task Danowski said he is fortunate he has to deal with.

With three national championships and experience coaching the U.S. men’s national team under his belt, Danowski understands what it takes to win it all. Despite the unusual circumstances of playing during a pandemic and rebuilding a roster on the fly, he believes the young pieces on the team, coupled with the leadership of returning players, can put the Blue Devils back on top.

“Thinking about like in pro football, it’s not always the best team that wins the championship; it’s the team that wins the tournament,” Danowski said. “You need some breaks, some confidence and some experience, and now we have guys that have been there before.”






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TOP RETURNERS

Brennan O’Neill, A, So.

After living up to his billing as the nation’s top recruit with 45 goals in his freshman season, expect the preseason All-American to capture more hardware by season’s end.

Nakeie Montgomery, M, Gr.

A full-time starter for three seasons, the veteran midfielder — who played football for Duke in the fall — is using his extra year of COVID-19 eligibility to lead a midfield unit that is considered to be one of the nation’s best.

Tyler Carpenter, LSM, Jr.

As one of the team’s most versatile defensive players, the Durham native led all non-faceoff specialists with 72 ground balls and led Duke with 23 caused turnovers.

KEY ADDITION

Andrew McAdorey, M, Fr.

After winning National Player of the Year in high school, the No. 1 player in the Class of 2021 is expected to take center stage and make immediate contributions to the Blue Devils.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE

Charlie O’Connor, M, So.

He started six games as a freshman and is one of several sophomore midfielders who could carve out time in the middle of the field this spring.

ENEMY LINES

What rival coaches say about the Blue Devils:

“They’re absolutely loaded. They’re a terrific team. They’ve got balance. I know they’re looking for a quarterback on attack, but they have three guys who are exceptional with O’Neill leading the charge. They’re just deep and consistent everywhere.”

“I probably feel like they’re No. 1 or No. 2 in the country. Sowers is gone, but here comes Dyson Williams, here comes Brennan O’Neill. I’m sure the ball is going to be in his stick a little bit more.”

“I think the rest of us are nervous that Brennan O’Neill is given the keys to the truck and does a lot more initiating this year. When he goes — talk about a handful. I don’t think you can stop him with one man.”

BEYOND THE BASICS
POWERED BY LACROSSE REFERENCE

35%

Michael Sowers was the attackman that got the attention, and he was great. But based on the defensive schemes that teams employed against Duke, he wasn’t the key to the offense. That was Joe Robertson. When Robertson had more turnovers than assists, Duke was 0-3 and put up an offensive efficiency of just 19 percent. When he had as many (or more) assists compared to turnovers, Duke was 15-0 and their efficiency rating was 35 percent. — Zack Capozzi

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