One week ago, the 2014 Duke lacrosse team finished its final act: addressing the media the day after winning the program’s second straight national title.
Since John Danowski arrived as head coach prior to the 2007 season, the Blue Devils have gone 8-for-8 in terms of Final Four appearances and have also won three of the last five national championships. Danowski credits the 2003 decision to fully fund lacrosse at Duke (made by then-AD Joe Alleva) with laying the foundation for Duke’s current run. Danowski’s son, Matt, the all-time NCAA leading scorer, arrived with the first fully-funded scholarship class for the 2004 season. Matt, now an assistant coach at Duke, undoubtedly influenced his dad’s decision to come rescue the in-limbo program in 2006, and the rest is history.
Anyhow, back to the present moment. Two straight national titles. What are the odds next spring the Blue Devils make it three?
"That’s the plan," defensive midfielder Will Haus said.
The reality, though, is that Duke has major holes to fill due to graduation. The Blue Devils lose their entire starting close defense—four-year starter Chris Hipps, three-year starter Henry Lobb and 29-year-old Army veteran Casey Carroll, a former first-team all-American. Duke also loses longstick midfielder Luke Duprey and all-American face-off specialist Brendan Fowler.
Moving up the field, four-year starter Christian Walsh is gone from the midfield, and the Blue Devils lose two attackmen: four-year starter Jordan Wolf, the first Blue Devil to score 100 points in a season, and three-year starter Josh Dionne.
Got all that?
All of those losses are the reason prognosticators have Duke at the back end of the top 10, behind several fellow ACC schools, in their "ridiculously early" 2015 polls. The Blue Devils are ranked ninth by the Baltimore Sun and seventh by lacrosse magazine—Patrick Stevens, though, will buck that trend and have Duke in his top five and ahead of Virginia, North Carolina and Syracuse when that part of his poll is released by the Syracuse Post-Standard.
The cupboard, of course, is not bare in Durham. All-American midfielders Myles Jones and Deemer Class are back, as is attackman Case Matheis. All three will be rising juniors and will draw the defensive focus that has long been attached to Wolf and Dionne. Rising senior Kyle Keenan, who scored six goals and added two assists while filing in for Dionne during the Final Four, will likely take over an attack or midfield spot. Haus could possibly move to offense, his natural position, though Danowski said last month he was leaning against that.
The Blue Devils are also brining in a nation-high six Under Armour all-American recruits, including to defenseman Greg Pelton. Expect him to play right away.
The most difficult position to fill, though, won’t be on the field. It will most likely be the leadership void left behind by this year’s seniors. The program historically relies on its senior class to serve as the compass for the team, and next year’s team will feature just two seniors with significant playing experience: Haus and Keenan.
So how does Danowski feel about next year’s potential leadership?
"I have no idea," he said, with a laugh. "Next year’s group will take a little bit more pushing because they don’t have as much playing experience, but the potential, we’ve seen now that the potential is always there if you’ve been in our program for three years."
It would be foolish to bet against another Duke trip to the Final Four—that would have been a losing proposition for eight years now—but still, significant challenges stand in the way of playing on championship weekend for the ninth straight year.