Fall Ball Focus: Bringing the Fun Back to Duke Men's Lacrosse

PHOTO BY PEYTON WILLIAMS

Graduate student Garrett Leadmon could be returning to an offensive role this season after spending most of the last two years at SSDM.


There are obvious things to address as Duke gets ready for the 2023 season. Who replaces Mike Adler in goal? How do you overcome the loss of leadership and playmaking from midfielder Nakeie Montgomery, and who steps up in the clutch like Joe Robertson did so many times?

With a program like Duke, that’s business as usual. When you have a roster full of talented players, you’re going to lose some each year. The challenge for the Blue Devils is finding a way to replace something else that was missing last year.

“We were a good team last year, we just didn’t win enough games,” Danowski said. “It wasn’t from a lack of effort or a lack of preparation. There was something in the air where it was just off.”

There are tangible things like working hard in the weight room and focusing on the fundamentals that are priorities for Duke this fall. But in a very Danowski-esque approach, there’s something less measurable that he’s trying to fix.

“We’re just trying to have fun.”

LAST SEASON

It was a rare season in which the Atlantic Coast Conference landed just one team — Virginia — in the NCAA tournament. Our bracketologist, Patrick Stevens, had both Duke (11-6) and Notre Dame (8-4) joining the Cavaliers in the field, but that’s not how it played out.

The Blue Devils had quality wins — Delaware, Denver, North Carolina (twice), Richmond and Virginia among them — but stumbling against Loyola and Syracuse in down years for those programs, getting swept by Notre Dame and missing out on a key win against Penn with an overtime loss ultimately kept the Blue Devils at home for the first time of the Danowski era.

“I think all of us lament one or two games that we would have like to have won,” Danowski said. “There was an argument for Duke to get in. There was an argument for Notre Dame to have gotten in on the eye test. At the end of the day, it’s always been about a committee, and you never want to leave it up to a bunch of people in a room.”

Attackman Brennan O’Neill was a second team All-American as just a sophomore while defender Kenny Brower and longstick midfielder Tyler Carpenter earned third team honors. All three are back with Brower and O’Neill having helped ease the pain of the snub from the NCAA tournament by helping the U.S. U21 team win gold in Ireland alongside Duke teammates Jake Caputo and Jake Naso.







BIGGEST FALL QUESTION

What are the veterans bringing to the table?

Following the extra year of eligibility granted due to the COVID-19 pandemic season of 2020, college lacrosse rosters will continue to look different for the next couple of years. That’s especially true at Duke.

The Blue Devils have 13 graduate students on this year’s roster, including four players that began their college careers elsewhere.

“Are they just happy to have a fifth year,” Danowski asks, “Or are they hungry that they know this is the last time like a typical senior would have in their fourth year?”

There are some intriguing newcomers among Duke’s fifth-year graduate students, including goalie William Helm (a second team All-American at Division III St. Lawrence), attackman Thomas Schelling (a 179-point career scorer at Lehigh) and faceoff specialist Jamie Zusi (honorable mention All-Ivy at Penn).

MARQUEE ADDITION

Henry Bard

Duke has an experienced defensive unit returning, but Bard could make things even better. Bard, the highest ranked player in the class at No. 19 by Inside Lacrosse, was a longstick midfielder in high school, but the Blue Devils are considering him for a position down low as well. Carpenter could adjust his role depending on how things play out.

“We’re still experimenting,” Danowski said.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATES

Andrew McAdorey and Garrett Leadmon

On the one hand, it’s hard to call Andrew McAdorey a breakout candiate after he scored 39 points as a midfielder in his freshman season, earning honorable mention All-America honors. On the other hand, more could be coming.

“We’re looking at him on attack, at midfield, on the wing on faceoffs,” Danowski said. “We’re asking him to do a lot.”

Graduate student Garrett Leadmon played shortstick defensive midfield for the Blue Devils for much of the last two seasons, but he could be returning to an offensive midfielder role this year. A 200-point plus scorer in high school, Leadmon had 29 points in his first 26 games at Duke.

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