May 13, 2014

Duke Dismisses Talk of Repeat, Focuses on Hopkins

by Max Miceli | | May Madness

Midfielder Myles Jones' breakout season continued with a three-goal, five-assist performance in Duke's NCAA tournament first-round victory over Air Force.
(Peyton Williams)

Defending NCAA Division I men's lacrosse champion Duke got one step closer Sunday to becoming just the second team to win repeat titles in the new millennium. 

After routing unseeded Air Force 20-9 in the first round by dominating nearly every important statistical category, the top-seeded Blue Devils have their eyes set making it to championship weekend for the eighth straight year.

What stands in their way?

A team with more national championships than Duke has NCAA appearances — Johns Hopkins.

As Duke attempts assert itself as the new alpha dog in a sport seemingly filled with parity, it must first pass one of the original alpha dogs in lacrosse.

While the Blue Jays are recovering from their first missed playoff appearance since 1971, the Blue Devils are thriving with an array of talented players who don't know what it's like to not be in the top four a the end of the season.

From senior faceoff man Brendan Fowler, to breakout sophomore offensive midfielder Myles Jones, who tallied eight points Sunday, Duke has proven to be at least as good as the team that delivered its second NCAA title in four years last May.

"We're really confident in our offense," attackman Case Matheis said. "If you look at the midway point of the season when we played Syracuse and Harvard, our offense was pretty much unstoppable."

Matheis added that unselfish play like that of Jones' five-assist performance against Air Force makes "playing Duke lacrosse" possible.

While the team obviously has its eyes on grabbing another championship, Jones, whose 240-pound frame had Air Force coach Eric Seremet calling him "quite a large human," isn't letting the possibility of a repeat be in the forefront.

"It's definitely on everyone's mind, but you can only take it one game at a time," Jones said. "It's just one more week of hanging out and getting to play with each other."

Though the Blue Devils aren't perfect, and may have been assisted in recent years with some good luck, they're obviously doing something right in Durham. When looking at other teams that are perennially in the top 10, not even the best of them have been able to produce the consistent postseason success Duke has lately. Tobacco Road rival North Carolina, which won the ACC last season, has not made it to the final four since 1993.

Duke has remained consistently successful. And maybe it has something to do with the guy in charge — coach John Danowski — who is all about looking forward, not back.

"We never talk about last year," Danowski said after rejecting the idea of Duke being the Division I frontrunner. "That's for the program. One of the things I've learned is that that's a trophy for the program, but not for this team because this team is different."

Danowski added that Duke's hopes of a repeat could all come crashing down against great competition at Delaware Stadium this Sunday. Johns Hopkins once was the obstacle the Blue Devils could not overcome. The Blue Jays defeated Duke in the 2005 and 2007 NCAA championship games and in the 2008 NCAA semifinal.

But if the past eight years have told us anything, there's a reasonable chance we'll be watching the Blue Devils come championship weekend.

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