Duke has not reached the women's lacrosse version of the Final Four since 2008, but the opponents awaiting them look awfully familiar.
The Blue Devils will take on ACC foe and No. 1-seeded Maryland, for the second time this season, in the NCAA lacrosse championship's semifinals today at 5 p.m. in Stony Brook, N.Y. (5 p.m.) And, in a strange budgetary twist, Duke flew north in a charter plane with fellow semifinalist and rival North Carolina on Wednesday.
Duke (14-4) dropped its only ACC regular-season contest to Maryland (20-1) on Feb. 26 in College Park, Md., where the No. 1-ranked Terrapins claimed an 18-11 win. But since that game - the first game the Blue Devils played against a ranked opponent this season - Duke has met and beaten teams that play similarly to Maryland.
Last Saturday, the fifth-seeded Blue Devils traveled to Florida, where they took a 13-9 win over the fourth-seeded Gators to advance to the national semifinals.
The defending national champion Terrapins can afford to lose the draw, though, with a stellar defense that has allowed the second-fewest goals in the country (6.74 per game). Maryland also has the highest scoring offense of any team remaining in the tournament (15.1 per game).
In their previous meeting, Duke junior goalie Mollie Mackler did not have a good game against Maryland by her coach's standards, allowing 14 goals and making only five saves. But Duke coach Kerstin Kimel said Mackler's improvement since February is similar to how far the entire team has come along.
"She has improved tenfold since that game, and that's really exciting for her and us moving forward," Kimel said. "From a strategic standpoint, you have to try to limit Maryland as best you can. But when you're getting on this stage, you want to be focused on yourself and where you are as a team and not so much focused on your opponent.
"I don't think that bodes well for anyone at this level."