DURHAM, N.C. – If the Ohio State lacrosse team thought that top-seeded Duke might get rattled by some pregame taunting, they were sadly mistaken. After listening to the Buckeyes run their mouths during warm-ups on Sunday afternoon, the Blue Devils calmly ran them off the field with a 10-0 outburst and cruised to a 21-10 victory in the NCAA quarterfinals at Ithaca, N.Y.
The win sends Duke to the final four for the third time in four years, with defending NCAA champion John Hopkins slated to face the Blue Devils in the semifinals on May 24 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. The championship will be played on Memorial Day.
“They came out talking a lot of trash right out of the locker room,” Duke senior Brad Ross said of the Buckeyes. “We kinda knew they were going to do that, so we just kept our mouths shut and tried to let the play talk. When they scored the first goal, that’s happened a few times this season, so we didn’t freak out and then we scored a few of our own. I think that worked a lot better than getting involved in trash talking.
“They came out and they were kinda fired up. They hadn’t been here before so I think they were excited. As far as the game, we just tried to keep our mouths shut and let our play talk.”
The Duke women’s lacrosse team also let its performance do the talking last weekend. Unseeded in the tournament after a seven-loss regular season, the Blue Devils defeated third-seeded Maryland 9-7 in College Park in the women’s quarterfinals. It was their second straight playoff road triumph over a favored opponent and punched Duke’s ticket for a fourth straight final four.
The Devils square off with No. 2 Penn on May 23 at Johnny Unitas Stadium in Towson, Md.
“What they’ve done has been spectacular,” men’s coach John Danowski said of the women. “Winning on the road at Georgetown, then winning on the road at Maryland — we’re just so proud of them. They work as hard as any athletes on campus and we’re proud to be part of what goes on in the Murray Building.”
“We’re so close,” women’s coach Kerstin Kimel said of the relationship between the two teams, both of which are headquartered at Murray and share Koskinen Stadium. “Watching them take Ohio State apart was really great. They go into this next weekend in a little bit different position than we do — as the hunted — but I think it’s just great for our programs considering that two years ago we were embroiled in such a tough time. I know that we’ll enjoy this last week of practicing next to each other and going to team dinners together before we leave.”
For the men, NCAA wins over Loyola and Ohio State pushed their season’s record to 18-1. That’s a new Division I mark for most victories in a season, topping the record of 17 that Duke (2005, 2007) previously shared with Hofstra (2006) and Virginia (2006).
A high-scoring quarterfinal might have been anticipated given that Duke ranks as the top scoring team in the country and Ohio State stands third in goals per game. But after the Buckeyes went up 1-0 in the opening 30 seconds of the game, the offensive display turned one-sided.
Duke scored the next 10 goals of the contest, nine before the first period expired, to take complete control. The Blue Devils outshot Ohio State 18-4 in the first period and had 27 shots on goal by halftime, when their lead ballooned to 12-3.
The domination continued into the third quarter when Duke scored seven more goals. The Devils pushed the margin to 21-6 in the fourth before the Buckeyes scored four times in the last nine minutes.
Senior Zack Greer, who became the NCAA’s all-time leading goal scorer in the Blue Devils’ regular season finale, scorched Ohio State with a career-high 11 points on six goals and five assists. Greer’s previous career high of 10 points came in last year’s quarterfinals against UNC.
Greer scored Duke’s first goal of the afternoon, the 200th of his career, and that ignited an eruption. By the time the Devils were up 10-1 two minutes into the second period, Ross already had a hat trick; Greer, Max Quinzani and Steve Schoeffel had two scores apiece; and Ned Crotty owned a career high four assists.
“We just did a little bit of everything,” Danowski said. “We scored three goals on extra-man, we rode the ball really well and we just did a good job all over the field.
“Defensively we did a great job on the ball and a great job in the passing lanes. We were able to create some transition, and certainly in the first quarter that helped us tremendously.”
After an early penalty led to Ohio State’s first goal, Duke committed just three more the rest of the game. The Buckeyes, meanwhile, committed 10 and that led to numerous extra-man minutes for the Blue Devils. Three of their first-period goals and another in the third period came in man-up situations.
“We have pieces of the puzzle,” Danowski explained. “You have a left-hander, you have a shooter, you have a feeder, you’ve got a guy in Brad Ross who’s an outside shooter, an inside guy in Max Quinzani, so we have a lot of different pieces, a lot of players who aren’t similar, and that’s a big part of it.”
“With some of the players we have, specifically Zack and Matt (Danowski), a lot of teams are going to pay attention to them and that opens up opportunities for other people,” Ross added. “As long as we’re unselfish and sharing the ball, we’ll have a good offense.”
The good offense extended well beyond extra-man chances, as eight players scored goals and the team registered 50 shots. The coach pointed out that even though Greer had impressive numbers, the approach all year has been to spread the wealth and not put the pressure to produce on any one or two players.
“When the game is over, you don’t even know that Zack has 11 points. The game just comes to him,” Danowski said. “When people pay extra attention to Matt or they slide to Matt or they come off their guy, Zack is just in the right spot at the right time. He doesn’t dodge, he moves the ball smartly, he makes good decisions with it, then you look at the scorebook and you see that he has 11 points by making the plays that come to him. He does a great job.”
The win was Duke’s tenth in a row. The Devils have not lost since March 22 at Georgetown. One of the most complete performances during that stretch was their 17-6 shellacking of Johns Hopkins on April 3 at Koskinen. Hopkins was slumping at the time but hasn’t lost since in moving to the final four for the 28th time.
Duke has played a series of classic contests with the Blue Jays over the past few years, including twice in the NCAA final. Hopkins topped Duke 9-8 in the 2005 championship game and 12-11 last year, so the seniors on the Blue Devil roster will be facing the Blue Jays for the third time in four years at the final four. Seeded fifth in the 16-team field, Hopkins knocked off Hofstra and Navy to reach Foxborough.
“I think they are a night-and-day different team now,” Ross said. “They are nothing like what they were before. They were reeling when we got them and we don’t expect anything like what happened last time. This is Hopkins’ time, the playoffs, and they’re playing great so it will be a huge test for us.
“As much as some people say we’d love to play different people, this is the best. To be the best you’ve got to beat the best and Johns Hopkins is the defending national champion. They’re our next game and we’ll have to play our best.”
Duke will be looking for its elusive first NCAA lacrosse title amid a tradition-rich and familiar quartet. Syracuse is in the semis for the 25th time and owns nine national crowns, just like Hopkins. Duke, Virginia and Hopkins are all making their third semifinal appearance in the last four years.
“It means the world to us,” Ross said of Duke’s return to Memorial Day weekend. “This year was a little different than last year. Last year was about getting back on the field and establishing ourselves as a good team again. Obviously we would have loved to win last year, but this year we started off with winning a title in mind. We have a great team coming up. We have to play one at a time and Johns Hopkins is the next team.”
This year has also been different for the Duke women. The Blue Devils made the NCAA field for the 11th straight season, but they weren’t really sure they’d be invited until they beat Dartmouth in the regular season finale and saw their name called when they gathered at Devine’s restaurant to watch the selection show.
The last nine years in a row, Duke’s regular season performance had merited a home opener for NCAA play. During each of their last three final four seasons, they got to play twice at home to advance. But this time they were unseeded and knew they had to get the job done on the road if they were to make it four-for-four for the senior class.
And that didn’t seem to bother anyone. The Devils relished the underdog status after a couple of seasons as a high seed.
“Therein has been the biggest difference,” Kimel said. “I think the last two seasons we’ve gone into the tournament with a lot more pressure on us to win and to be in this position. This year we’re just grateful to be in the tournament. We felt good about our draw and we felt if we did the things we needed to do, we could advance.
“I don’t want to say I’m surprised because I’m not. You always believe in your team and believe you can accomplish your goals, but I would have to concur with one of my seniors who said this is probably the most gratifying trip that we’ll be taking to the final four.”
After an 11-7 regular season, Duke edged sixth-seeded Georgetown 10-8 before eclipsing Maryland in the quarters. Duke had defeated both teams by a single goal at home during a regular season that was marked by some key injuries, immense growing pains for a young team and a murderous schedule of highly-ranked opponents.
The biggest initial obstacle to overcome was the loss of preseason national player of the year Caroline Cryer after the first game, but Kimel was also without three other seniors for a significant chunk of the season. The Devils endured a four-game losing streak against top-ranked competition at midseason.
Kimel’s team grabbed an early 3-0 advantage against Maryland, but the Terps rallied and the game remained even late into the second half. Duke took the lead for good with three straight goals in a seven-minute span, by Lindsay Gilbride, Megan Del Monte and Christie Kaestner.
Defensively, Duke held Maryland’s Tewaaraton Trophy finalist duo of Kelly Kasper and Dana Dobbie to one goal apiece as the Terps totaled their second-lowest scoring figure of the year.
Maryland saw a 17-match home winning streak come to an end and finished with an 18-3 record, with two of the three losses coming to Duke. Goalkeeper Kim Imbesi was instrumental in that outcome with 13 saves, including six late in the second half after the Devils took the 9-6 lead.
“Nothing was going through my head other than that I knew that the longer I could keep them from scoring, the more time would run off the clock and the less chance they would be able to have to come back,” said Imbesi.
Duke’s final four trips the last three years have ended in the semifinals with dramatic losses to Virginia (15-13), Northwestern (11-10, double overtime) and Virginia again last year (14-13).
But this team heads to Towson from a completely different direction than those squads.
“After the game yesterday I pulled the kids together while they were in mid-celebration and said, ‘Let me be kinda corny for a second,’” Kimel related. “’This is a tremendous life lesson for you guys. Forget lacrosse for a minute — life is hard and things don’t always go the way you want them to go. All season long we just kept saying, let’s stay together, let’s stay the course, just keep working.’
“And because of our incredibly challenging schedule we really had no choice. We didn’t have time to feel bad for ourselves, we had to get right back in the saddle and prepare for our next difficult game. So I was so impressed with the faith our kids sustained over the course of the season, believing in themselves.”