Duke wins second straight NCAA lax title
When the NCAA men’s lacrosse championship game was its tightest on Monday, when Duke’s jumbo lead was trimmed to a single goal with minutes to play, the Blue Devils needed calm.
At stake was a second consecutive NCAA title for a senior class that had delivered so much success.
One senior said the words. Another senior delivered the plays.
After Christian Walsh calmed down his teammates during a timeout, Jordan Wolf assisted on one goal and sealed Duke’s win with a goal at the 23-second mark as the Blue Devils beat Notre Dame 11-9 at M&T Bank Stadium.
“We could always fall back on them,” said Duke sophomore goalie Luke Aaron, who posted nine saves to aid Duke’s cause. “After every game, coach would say congratulations to the seniors. If we were back on our heels, they were the ones that fought back first and we would follow along.”
The win helps cement Duke (17-3) as the dominant power in the sport this decade. The Blue Devils now own three national championships -- 2010, 2013 and 2014.
This class of seniors entered school the summer after the school’s first national championship. They proceeded to add to the school’s lore in the sport.
“The seniors, they were hungry and they wanted to win,” Duke sophomore midfielder Myles Jones said. “They preached that to the younger guys and we just followed through. We played for them.”
Wolf, named the Most Outstanding Player of championship weekend, had two goals and four assists against Notre Dame (12-6).
His biggest plays came late, after Notre Dame cut what was once an 8-2 Duke lead in the third quarter to 9-8 with five minutes left.
With 2:39 left, Wolf tossed a pass to sophomore Kyle Keenan, who scored for a 10-8 Duke lead.
Notre Dame answered with 49.6 seconds left when Sergio Perkovic scored his fifth goal of the game to leave Duke up 10-9.
Senior Brendan Fowler, the Most Outstanding Player of last year’s championship weekend, won the all-important faceoff for Duke and the Blue Devils called timeout.
Walsh, a senior midfielder playing in his hometown of Baltimore, offered reassuring words to his teammates, just as he had done regularly in the fourth quarter as the Irish made their push.
“I mean, Christian Walsh was unbelievable,” Wolf said, “being a senior, he's just making sure everybody was calm, just making sure we had good fundamentals going into those big possessions and that was really it. We just wanted to make a couple more plays at the end. That's what we did.”
In the first half, Duke built its lead thanks to Notre Dame’s sloppy play.
The Irish, which lost 15-7 to Duke in the regular season last month in South Bend, Ind., committed 11 turnovers in the first half as the Blue Devils led 5-1 at halftime.
A Notre Dame turnover on its first possession of the second half led to a Keenan goal that put Duke ahead 6-1.
“We were so bad in the first half,” Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan said. “Honestly, I look at the turnovers that we had, and I don't know, what does it say, we had 11 turnovers in the first half. That's a game's worth of turnovers, and I'm going to say two of them were forced and a bunch of them just throwing the ball out of bounds.”
Aaron, who had been pulled from the goal in place of Kyle Turri in Duke’s quarterfinal and semifinal wins, had his strongest game in net. After allowing 10 goals and saving three shots in Saturday’s 15-12 win over Denver, Aaron made three first-half saves and had four in the fourth quarter to slow Notre Dame’s comeback.
“It was one of those things where I had to reset myself,” Aaron said. “It was one of those special days when I was seeing it. It’s an unbelievable feeling.”
Duke coach John Danowski was asked after the game to put his team’s run over the last five years in perspective.
“I don't know,” he said, “I think it's just a mix of tremendous character young men and a place that provides them an opportunity to grow.”