Duke seniors hope to finish lacrosse career like they started: with NCAA title

CorrespondentMay 24, 2013 

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    Men’s Lacrosse Final Four

    When: Saturday

    Where: Philadelphia

    2:30 p.m.: Duke vs. Cornell

    5 p.m.: Syracuse vs. Denver

    Championship game: 1 p.m, Monday

— Duke midfielder Jake Tripucka played plenty during his freshman season, one the Blue Devils finished with a national championship.

Back in the NCAA tournament semifinals for the fourth time in his career, Tripucka can finish his time at Duke this weekend the way it started.

“You want it to be the same as 2010, but no team in my four years has been the exact same,” Tripucka said Friday.

Duke, though, has established a remarkable level of consistency over the past seven years. The seventh-seeded Blue Devils (14-5), who meet unseeded Cornell (14-3) on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field, are chasing their first appearance in the annual Memorial Day final since claiming the national title three years ago.

Duke still relies on a handful of players who played roles in that memorable run. Defenseman Bill Conners played in all but two games in 2010, as did Tripucka. David Lawson appeared in all 20 contests. And midfielder Josh Offit scored eight goals as a freshman on that team.

The quality of Duke’s veteran midfielders, as well as the program’s overall depth, is an element that could differentiate the Blue Devils over the next three days.

Lawson scored five goals in Sunday’s quarterfinal defeat of Notre Dame and has 32 goals and 15 assists on the season. Tripucka has career-highs in goals (18) and assists (22). And Offit provides a potent option on the second line with 25 goals and 16 assists.

Three other Blue Devils midfielders – junior Christian Walsh and freshmen Deemer Class and Myles Jones – enter the weekend with at least 12 goals.

“I believe the game is won and lost at midfield,” coach John Danowski said. “You can have a star attack man, a great goalie, a great faceoff man. But if you can’t get up and down between the lines and those guys can’t create or finish or control in between the lines, I don’t think you have as great an opportunity to win games.”

That isn’t a problem of late for these Blue Devils, who have won 12 of 13 since dropping four games by March 2. The title team’s path was similar, shrugging off a 2-3 start to lose only once after March 10.

Both teams relied on deep midfields, something Offit believes is part of the legacy of the program’s finest season.

“You look back to 2010, we had two offensive midfields that played great and going forward we’ve really been able to have six midfielders or seven midfielders who have been able to step on the field and perform at all times,” Offit said. “That’s what we pride ourselves on – being players and being able to play on a moment’s notice.”

It will take two more victories for Duke to match that accomplishment. These Blue Devils aren’t an exact replica of their 2010 predecessors, but the common contributors on both teams have helped place Duke in position to add to its lacrosse legacy.

“I definitely think going to the final four is part of the overall journey for this team,” Tripucka said. “It’s part of how far we’ve grown over the four years. Getting to the final four is a huge goal of ours, but obviously it’s not the end goal.”

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