Blue Devils one win away from crown
Having arrived on campus the summer after Duke won its first men’s lacrosse championship in 2010, Josh Dionne has longed to add to the Blue Devils legacy.
On one hand, he’s done so while being part of three teams that have made the NCAA Tournament semifinals. On another, the ultimate goal has escaped him as, over his freshman and sophomore seasons, Duke’s season ended one win short of a national title game appearance.
Today, Dionne and the rest of Duke’s under classmen finally get their chance as Duke plays Syracuse in the NCAA Tournament championship game (1 p.m., ESPN).
“Obviously I couldn’t be happier,” Dionne said. “This is a dream come true. We were looking to escalate the program. The seniors, they set the standard for Duke lax. We wanted to elevate it. We followed our seniors and we didn’t want to disappoint them. We usually say we want one more week with our seniors. This time it’s one more day, one more time with our seniors.”
Duke (15-5) advanced to its first national championship game since 2010 with a 16-14 win over Cornell on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field. Syracuse won Saturday’s second national semifinal, beating Denver 9-8.
The Orange (16-3) are as well known around the men’s lacrosse championship weekend as the Blue Devils. Syracuse has won 11 NCAA championships, including consecutive championships in 2008 and 2009. Duke and Syracuse met in last year’s NCAA Tournament, when the Blue Devils won 12-8 at Koskinen Stadium en route to a national semifinals appearance.
Both Duke and Syracuse were challenged greatly in their semifinal wins on Saturday, where their championship pedigrees were on display. Duke trailed Cornell 5-2 early before dominating the second and third quarters. The Blue Devils scored seven consecutive goals during one stretch and built a 14-6 lead.
The Big Red, though, reeled off six consecutive goals to climb back into the game and trail 14-12. Cornell sliced Duke’s lead to 15-14 with less than a minute left, but junior Jordan Wolf scored to put the game away for the Blue Devils.
In notching his 10th hat trick of the season, Wolf scored four goals and added an assist for Duke. He, too, sees the importance of delivering a championship to the senior class that helped win the 2010 title.
“I thought that we started off a little slow (against Cornell), but we have great senior leadership and a lot of maturity and we kind of settled down a little bit,” Wolf said. “We made a run and Cornell is a great team with great players so they unexpectedly made a run, also. We were just fortunate to hold them off at the end.”
Duke senior David Lawson played on the 2010 title team but didn’t move into the starting lineup until the following season. He was impressed with how his teammates have proven they can handle pressure, particularly in this year’s NCAA Tournament.
“I think it’s a staple of a great team to be able to win in the fourth quarter,” Lawson said. “It is very tough to play up seven (goals). It’s hard to not take your foot off the gas pedal. I think our seniors did a great job of calming people down.”
Sophomore goalkeeper Kyle Turri showed mettle beyond his years as well on Saturday. He recorded 16 saves to help stem Cornell’s rally.
“He was an absolutely stud,” Lawson said. “There was a lot of pressure on him.”
Dionne said Turri’s play inspired the whole team. “I thought Kyle did a great job of not only stopping the ball but being poised,” Dionne said. “He looked like an anchor for that defense. For such a young player to play like that, it rippled through the whole team. I couldn’t be happier for him.”
Duke coach John Danowski continues to say this team’s balance, from seniors to freshman and all in between, is why it’s on the doorstep of another national championship.
“We’ve had a tremendous balance from day one, and (Saturday) was nine different individuals getting goals and eight different individuals getting assists,” Danowski said.
Today, for one final time, the eldest of Duke’s players will take the field with the young stars like Wolf and Turri and Dionne.
One last great performance could bring them the championship they crave.