Reigning Division 1 men’s lacrosse champions Virginia started the season as the No. 1 ranked team and with eight consecutive victories. Many pundits penned them as a good bet to repeat as champions thanks to stars like Steele Stanwick, Colin Briggs and Chris Bocklet.
Meanwhile, Duke opened the season at No. 3 but lost three games before the Cavaliers lost their first game. They dropped to No. 15 in the rankings and many analysts questioned how strong they were, specifically with a young attack line and an unstable situation in goal.
What some didn’t acknowledge or chose to ignore was Duke’s dominance over Virginia. That is until the two teams met Friday evening.
Prior to the game, the Blue Devils had beaten the Cavaliers 11 of the past 12 times they squared off. A 13-5 victory on Saturday in Charlottesville for Duke not only increased the team’s winning streak to eight games, but also gave Duke the ACC regular season championship and the top-seed in the ACC tournament.
Duke, per usual, is getting better as the season goes along. They are working through the kinks, stepping up against big-time opposition in huge games and playing their best lacrosse at the most important time of the season.
What did they do against Virginia to dominate from the get-go?
The contrast of styles has always been a factor in the Duke-Virginia series.
Duke, with coach John Danowski at the helm, likes to get up and down the field and really put on the pressure offensively. Virginia, under Dom Starsia and with smooth passer Stanwick at the X, likes to play more of a half-field offense.
The problem is that Duke does such a better job at establishing its transition game that Virginia has a difficult time keeping up that same pace. There are a number of factors that lead to this.
The first is the play of the Duke poles. The Blue Devils did a very good job on defense Saturday evening. They played a pressure-man defense that Virginia had difficulty breaking through. Duke has some big, strong and athletic poles that imposed their will on the opposition.
The slides on defense were effective and sophomore Henry Lobb stepped up in a big way, smothering Stanwick behind the cage and allowing him only one goal and assists.
The poles caused a lot of turnovers—Virginia had 14 turnovers compared to Duke’s nine—which led to a lot of fast breaks which the defenders were more than capable of taking charge of. Many of the defenders are talented enough and had good stick skills that they were able to go on the fast break and hang around on offense, even having two long-poles (Mike Manley and Luke Duprey) score goals.
The pressure wasn’t just applied on defense, either. The offense continuously brought it to the Virginia defense. Duke outshot Virginia 42-33, including a 13-4 third quarter when the Blue Devils outscored the Cavaliers 5-0 and really took over the game.
Even with a lead, Duke never took its foot off the pedal; the final goal of the game came from Christian Walsh with 17 seconds left. Walsh was holding the ball but Virginia defensemen took some hard stick checks on him and didn’t defend him when Walsh wrapped around the crease and put the ball in the back of the net.
Duke could push the ball constantly because the team is so deep with so much offensive talent. Seven different players scored goals and two more tallied an assist each. The attack is young and talented, the midfield is deep and the defense has some good stick handlers and shooters as well. There are just so many weapons that it’s tough for teams to match.
While Duke was firing at Virginia at will, Blue Devils goalie Dan Wigrizer, the subject of much criticism this season, made some big saves throughout the game. He made 14 saves throughout the night and earned the win.
It was a total team effort that allowed the Blue Devils to continue to assert their dominance over the Cavaliers. It was Virginia’s second loss in its past four games.
Duke proved that they can play good lacrosse and beat anybody, even the best teams in the nation, and that its talent is as good as anybody’s.
The team is peaking at the right time and will be a tough team to play the rest of the way.