Duke Mixing and Matching its Wealth of Offensive Weapons

PHOTO BY NATALIE LeDONNE / DUKE ATHLETICS

Senior attackman Cameron Mulé has scored six goals over four games during Duke's 8-0 start.


It wasn’t by design that Duke had last weekend open. If coach John Danowski had his way, the Blue Devils would have played an extra regular season game leading into Thursday’s meeting with Syracuse.

From the outside, it does provide a convenient partition for Duke’s non-conference schedule and the six-game ACC slate.

The Blue Devils (8-0) are off to their best start since 2008 and haven’t received a serious test since the opening weekend of the season. Duke rallied past Denver and Robert Morris in its first two games and has won its last six by an average of 11.3 goals.

It’s provided time for Duke to figure out a number of positions. Freshman Jake Naso violated on his lone faceoff attempt in the opener. He’s since claimed the bulk of the work and is winning 65.5 percent of his draws. Saint Joseph’s transfer Mike Adler was yanked against Denver. He’s started all but one game since and owns a .609 save percentage.

But the most fascinating element of Duke’s roster was always going to be how its offense blended together, with impacts coming from a transfer (Michael Sowers), a freshman (Brennan O’Neill) and a player coming off injury who missed last season (Joe Robertson).

So far, so good.

“While you had some kids who came in with a lot of noise around them, they still had to learn how to play with our structure, our discipline that we require offensively so that everyone can benefit, not just the individual,” Danowski said. “That takes time.”

To Danowski, it’s not a matter of pegging players as a “first-line midfielder” so much as finding the right interlocking parts. Clearly, it makes sense to have the likes of Robertson (21 goals, eight assists) and Sowers (18 goals, 26 assists) on the field as much as possible.

But O’Neill (22 goals, five assists) has seen time in the midfield. So has Dyson Williams, who scored a team-best 25 goals last year as an attackman.

“We just look at balance — who can play with you?” Danowski said. “When Joe Robertson came back and Dyson was there, we actually played Brennan at midfield one game. You look for that balance in who can complement each other, and then, what kind of offense do you run with the skills those guys have? You’re not trying to force a square peg into a round hole. You’re trying to build around their strengths.”







It’s meant Nakeie Montgomery (10 goals, 12 assists) and Owen Caputo (nine goals, three assists), a pair of midfielders who often have the ball in their sticks, have usually not been on the field together. It makes a capable off-ball player like Sean Lowrie (seven goals) exceptionally versatile. And it’s why the left-handed Williams has found a home as a midfielder who can play both inside and on the perimeter.

Don’t expect the adjustments to end anytime soon. The numbers might be the numbers, as Danowski says, but it also means more potential combinations for offensive coordinator Matt Danowski to toy with as the season continues to unfold.

“I just think Matt has done a great job with teaching, and the hope is that we’re going to continue to evolve as the season goes on,” John Danowski said. “Listen, at some point, we’re going to get thumped by somebody, and we’re going to be back to the drawing board pulling our hair out with the schedule coming up. But that’s part of the growth.”

Four of the Blue Devils’ final six regular-season games will be part of the ACC Network’s Thursday night package, and Danowski admits as odd as it is to play in front of no one during the day, it’s even stranger in an under-the-lights setting.

Nonetheless, he’s especially pleased with how Duke has adjusted to the realities of this season, including just two positive virus tests out of more than 3,500 since Jan. 9 as part of daily testing protocols.

“Whatever happens this season, that might be the best story — the guys’ ability to adapt to a new environment, to a virtual classroom, to different best practices in the weight room and the locker room and travel,” Danowski said.

NUMBERS OF NOTE

10

Manhattan is off to a 2-0 start in Metro Atlantic play for the first time in 10 years. The Jaspers, who lost a designated non-conference game to Monmouth in their March 6 opener, have defeated Canisius (10-7) and Detroit (11-7) the last two weeks and will again meet Monmouth on Friday in a battle for first place in the league.

12

Richmond attackman Ryan Lanchbury set a Southern Conference record with 12 points (three goals, nine assists) as the Spiders rolled past Bellarmine 17-5. Lanchbury, who broke former Jacksonville attackman Tom Moore’s 2015 record of 11 points, also assisted on four of teammate Richie Connell’s school-record seven goals. Lanchbury was named the US Lacrosse Division I Men’s Player of the Week on Tuesday.

24

Loyola’s scoring output in its 24-10 rout of Bucknell on Saturday was its largest since a 24-5 defeat of Fairfield on March 19, 1997. The Greyhounds scored 17 goals in the first half, and Kevin Lindley had seven in a game that saw Peter Swindell (four), Aidan Olmstead (three) and Joey Kamish (three) also record hat tricks.

309

Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan has led the Fighting Irish to 309 victories, one shy of former Delaware coach Bob Shillinglaw’s Division I record for most at a single school. Corrigan can tie the record if Notre Dame defeats Virginia on Saturday in its conference opener.

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