One of the keys to Duke's success this season has been the performance of the defensive unit. Led by upperclassmen such as seniors Michael Manley and CJ Costabile and junior goalkeeper Dan Wigrizer, the Blue Devils' D has limited opponents to just 8.89 goals per game, including a season-low six-goal effort by Colgate in the NCAA quarterfinals.
But it is the unique combination of experience and emerging talent on the defensive half of the field that has been the story for Duke in 2012, and will likely play a large factor in the team's performance in Foxborough this Memorial Day Weekend.
"The combination of some experience in guys like Dan Wigrizer, Chris Hipps, Luke Duprey, Mike Manley and CJ Costabile - who started every game last year - coupled with the emergence of Henry Lobb, Tom Patterson, Greg DeLuca and Will Haus has been a huge, huge proponent to the success of our unit," says assistant coach Chris Gabrielli, who oversees the squad's defensive personnel. "Our short stick D middies have really emerged as some of the best we've ever had here at Duke in our era as a coaching staff. They allow us to do some different, more athletic things defensively as a unit."
While sophomores Hipps and Duprey both saw significant minutes last season, classmate Lobb has provided a boost to the close defensemen group this year. Factor in the presence of defensive midfielders Haus and Patterson - who have seen time in all 19 games - as well as DeLuca, and the contributions of the defense's youngest players are evident in the team's success.
Lobb in particular has developed into one of the Blue Devils' most dependable defensemen after putting in a lot of hard work during the offseason to sharpen his skills. The Narberth, Pa., native has been called upon by the coaching staff to defend some of the top attackmen in the country, including the reigning Tewaaraton Award winner Steele Stanwick of Virginia and the nation's leading scorer in Colgate's Peter Baum.
"Henry has taken on some really, really great challenges this year," Gabrielli says. "He is a good matchup because he does not do the undisciplined things that would get a lot of our players out of position. So we trust him to not throw checks, move his feet, use his athleticism and his size to his advantage and not make mistakes that would allow the opponent to play well."
The confidence of the coaches and his teammates has gone a long way for Lobb. The sophomore also says he and some of the other young defensemen have benefitted from playing alongside more experienced teammates like Manley, who have taught him a lot about how to conduct himself on and off the field.
"[Manley] is a leader at heart, just a great guy," Lobb said. "He's a fifth-year senior so he knows the game in and out. It's been great to learn how to play the game under him because he plays the game right and he plays the game with an attitude that represents Duke, and that's how we all strive to play."
With the Blue Devil defense set to match up against Maryland's talented attack of Joe Cummings, Owen Blye and John Haus on Saturday, Lobb knows it will take a top-notch performance to keep Duke's NCAA title run alive. Regardless of the result, though, Lobb says he appreciates his time on the field and the opportunity to contribute to one of the nation's best defensive units.
"There has been a lot of growth for me over the past couple of years," he says. "It's been larger responsibility, and it's been great to mold myself into that role of playing every game and being a large part of the team. I obviously wouldn't be here without the coaches and everyone else on the team. It's been great just to work hard."