By Sullivan Bortner, GoDuke the Magazine
A season ago, Brad Smith started all 18 games as a midfielder for the Duke men’s lacrosse team, scoring 20 goals and tallying 19 assists en route to a USILA All-America third team selection. Yet, unsurprisingly to some, the player often referred to as Duke’s best all-around talent has found a way to take his game to another level in 2018.
Entering Duke’s NCAA championship game against Maryland on May 28, Smith has recorded 28 goals, 35 assists and picked up 25 ground balls — all career bests for the junior from Mountain Lakes, N.J. His 63 points so far this season vastly outpaces his 2017 total of 39, good for second on the team behind Justin Guterding’s 110 points.
Coming off a strong 2017 campaign, Smith acknowledged not changing much in terms of his offseason work. Rather, his main focus heading into his junior season was taking on more of a leadership role for the 2018 Blue Devils.
“For me personally, I was just trying to be more of a leader, bring the younger kids with me, and elevate my game,” said Smith. “Just be a leader on the field for everybody and then work with other guys to make this season as good as it can be.”
For the Blue Devils, it appears Smith’s leadership has indeed produced a positive impact in 2018 — not just for himself, but for the team as a whole. Playing on Memorial Day weekend for the first time since 2014, Duke is 16-3 on the season and recently advanced to its sixth NCAA title game. Duke’s 13.79 goals scored per game is good for fourth in the country as well.
This year, Smith has been taking on a different role in more ways than one. Smith begins the game on attack, easing back into the midfield as the early stages of the game evolve. This is in large part due to his exceptional ability as both a scorer and an all-around player.
This stems back to a game just over two months ago, when the Blue Devils took on No. 6 Loyola on March 10 in what would be a turning point for Smith. Matching his career high with four goals and posting a career-best six points that day, Smith led Duke to a key road win over a top-10 opponent.
“On any given day, anybody can have a big day,” Smith said, referring to his March 10 performance. Smith agreed that game was a big confidence-booster for himself moving forward. “I proved to myself that I could do stuff like that.”
While Smith’s success can be attributed mostly to him being more aggressive on the field and confident with the ball in his stick, the addition of graduate student transfer Peter Conley also helped launch Smith into the national spotlight.
Conley joined the Blue Devils after a solid career at Georgetown. The Hoyas’ standout was a two-time All-Big East first team selection, tallying 77 goals and 43 assists (120 points) during his stay in the nation’s capital. Conley’s 26 goals and 18 assists his senior year also earned him USILA honorable mention All-America status.
In the win over Loyola, Smith and Conley combined for 12 points. Conley mirrored Smith’s output with four goals and two assists. Much of the success the Duke offense has experienced this year can be attributed to the tandem of Smith and Conley, who tend to feed off of each other on the offensive side of the game.
“They can’t always (post) on both of us so we like to work with each other on the field,” said Smith. “Then, whoever’s got up to the short stick just attacks that.”
Smith has enjoyed competing on the field with Conley this season. “It’s a lot of fun,” said Smith. “Pete’s a very gifted athlete. Sometimes it’s hard to work off of him and predict what he’s doing because he’s so quick and explosive, but it’s been a blast so far. I really like playing with him and hopefully we can extend that for the remainder of the season.”
With the success both Blue Devils have had on the field in 2018, it is no mystery that Smith and Conley will play vital roles as the Blue Devils’ bid for the program’s fourth NCAA championship during the final four in Foxboro.
For Smith, a three-sport athlete in high school (football and basketball), he is considered to be the “quarterback” of the team by head coach John Danowski.
Smith echoed this sentiment through his style of play in the opening round of the NCAA playoffs. In the 17-11 win over No. 17 Villanova, Smith scored one goal and assisted on four others for a total of five points on the day. He also scooped up two ground balls.
“Brad Smith has been consistently solid for us all year,” said Danowski, following Duke’s opening round win.
While the Blue Devils' sole focus is on winning their fourth NCAA title, Smith took a moment to reflect on the year he and his team have had.
“We’ve had a good season,” he said. “We like where we’re at right now. We’re just trying to take it one day at a time, get better every day, and see where it takes us.”