Duke

After 3 strikes, Duke’s seniors take final shot to reach women’s lacrosse Final Four

Duke's Katie Trees (24), left, controls the ball as she is challenged by North Carolina's Kelly Devlin (26) during their game at Koskinen Stadium in Durham on April 17, 2015.
Duke's Katie Trees (24), left, controls the ball as she is challenged by North Carolina's Kelly Devlin (26) during their game at Koskinen Stadium in Durham on April 17, 2015. Duke Photography

While some of her teammates preferred to dance around the obvious, senior attacker Kerrin Maurer didn’t hesitate to talk about what was at stake this weekend: a trip to the Final Four.

The Duke women’s lacrosse team, the No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament, hosts Princeton at 1 p.m. Saturday. It’s the first quarterfinal game the Blue Devils have hosted since 2007, and it represents the final chance this senior class has to advance to the final weekend. In the previous three years, Duke’s season ended in the quarterfinals.

Six of Duke’s 11 starters are seniors, and that group has grown and learned from defeats in previous years. Last week in their opening NCAA game against Southern California, the Blue Devils were able to make a break from the two-game losing streak that ended the regular season and start strong in their 17-9 victory.

“We focused on the small things, whether it was placing the shot where it needed to go or on defense just having small chatter, just making sure we were playing Duke’s brand of lacrosse,” senior midfielder Katie Trees said.

Trees has been to a Final Four before – she’s a two-sport athlete who was on the 2011 soccer team that advanced to the NCAA championship game. For the lacrosse team, she is part of a balanced offense with five players who have scored 30 or more goals on the year (four of whom are seniors).

At this point of the year, Maurer, who leads Duke with 41 goals and set the school record for career assists last week (117), Trees and the rest of the seniors are done with school and have the freedom to focus on lacrosse. While some of their teammates started summer school this week, the seniors get to continue to enjoy their tour of Durham breakfast spots (Nosh is a favorite) and the luxury of downtime with the mental break it provides.

“I finally have time to just twiddle my thumbs and figure out what I’m going to do with the day,” Trees said with a smile, adding that it’s usually resting her legs “so I can wait for the next time to come out to practice and run around some more.”

In many college sports, the quarterfinal round is regarded as the toughest – the game before the game, as nearly every team begins the year with dreams of a Final Four appearance. That’s how Duke started its year in January – now all that stands between the Blue Devils and making the dream a reality is one final game.

“We know that after that one game, it’s a huge opportunity, especially for our senior class,” Maurer said. “That one game is do or die, so that puts a little more incentive.”

Twitter: @laurakeeley

NCAA quarterfinals

Who: Duke vs. Princeton

When: 1 p.m., Saturday

Where: Koskinen Stadium

TV: ESPN3.

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