Duke Well Stocked for Another Memorial Day Run in 2024


Andrew McAdorey (2) is part of a Duke starting attack that combined for 223 points and returns intact next year.

PHILADELPHIA — Duke’s players didn’t need much time to set up for the postgame handshake Monday, waiting patiently as Notre Dame’s players savored a long-awaited championship on the field and in front of a delirious cheering section.

The Blue Devils’ fourth national title will have to wait for another year — quite possibly next year.

The 13-9 loss in the NCAA title game meant top-seeded Duke (16-3) couldn’t solve its two-year Notre Dame conundrum in time to win its first championship since 2014. And there will undoubtedly be reflection over lackluster offensive play in the first half and missed opportunities in the final 20 minutes at both ends of the field.

“The other team was better today,” Duke coach John Danowski said. “And that happens. But let's not hang our heads. Let's be really proud of who you are and what you've accomplished and what you're going to accomplish going forward.”

What the Blue Devils did was clear enough. A year after going 11-6 and missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2006, Duke was the No. 1 seed for the first time since its last title run. While it didn’t completely even out its occasionally inconsistent play, it achieved a steadier level --- especially after absorbing the program’s requisite February defeat (in this year’s case, at Jacksonville).

From there, the Blue Devils won 14 of 16. The only losses coming against the Fighting Irish (14-2), one on April 8 in South Bend and the second on the final day of the season.

“Obviously it didn’t end up being a championship season for us, but I did think it was a great step moving forward,” attackman Dyson Williams said.

With some adjustments and improvement, Duke appears well-equipped to capitalize on that step. The Blue Devils will lose some contributors, but it isn’t a mass exodus heading into the final season that will feature a hefty number of players utilizing COVID-era bonus years.

The starting attack of Williams (team-high 60 goals), Tewaaraton finalist Brennan O’Neill (55 goals, 42 assists) and Andrew McAdorey (36 goals, 25 assists) can remain intact, and midfielders Charles Balsamo and Aidan Danenza are coming off 20-goal seasons. Kenny Brower, a first team All-America selection, will be back to anchor the defense, and faceoff man Jake Naso (another first team pick) also returns.

There will be some holes to fill. Midfielder Garrett Leadmon, a third-round pick in the PLL Draft, graduates after a 28-goal season he capped with a spot on the all-tournament team. Duke will have to rebuild its second midfield line with Owen Caputo (15 goals, 15 assists) and Lehigh grad transfer Tommy Schelling (10 goals, 10 assists) moving on.

Wilson Stephenson, a three-year starter on defense, also departs. So does goalie William Helm, a plug-and-play portal option who posted a .505 save percentage in his lone season with the Blue Devils.

But there’s still a core coming off a title game appearance, and many of the holdovers were also members of Duke’s 2021 team that reached the NCAA semifinals. That’s a good start to next season for Danowski, who was contemplative less than an hour after the Blue Devils fell to 3-4 all-time in NCAA finals.

“If this is the worst thing that's going to happen in your life, you're living a really good life,” Danowski said.

That’s some Dick Edell-level sagacity, both accurate and hard-earned. Duke does have some work to do over the next eight months. It needs to find a goalie, something that almost feels like an evergreen issue in Durham. And Danowski acknowledged the Blue Devils’ lack of two-handed players, a problem a disciplined Notre Dame defense was well-equipped to exacerbate.

Still, Duke is such a Memorial Day weekend regular --- its 13 trips to the semifinals since 2005 are the most in Division I in that span, two more than Maryland --- it would come as little surprise if the Blue Devils find themselves back in Philadelphia next May.

“Every year is a new journey, new guys, new team, but the standard doesn't change,” Brower said. “This will continue to be our goal to get back here and eventually one day, win.”


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