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Ugly winter weather and a tough day on defense appeared ready to undo the Harvard men’s lacrosse team last week against UMass, but a frantic fourth quarter comeback now has the Crimson (1-0) off on the right foot to start its 2015 campaign.
Instead of bemoaning a fourth straight loss to the Minutemen, No. 13/10 Harvard will enter its Saturday road matchup with two-time defending national champion No. 6/6 Duke (3-1) looking to build on that gritty victory and pull off a season-sparking upset.
In previous seasons, the teams have scheduled this tilt for late March, during the heart of the regular season, after both had already shaken off the rust.
Because Harvard starts its season later due to Ivy League restrictions on practice schedules, its opening out of conference games often pit the Crimson against teams who are weeks further into their seasons.
“They have spent more hours, but we are confident in our system, our coaching staff and our team,” captain goalkeeper Jake Gambitsky said. “We think we’re as prepared as we can be to play them this weekend.”
Despite its abbreviated preseason preparation, heading down to Durham a month earlier this year may actually prove advantageous for the Crimson. Duke has become notorious for starting slow under head coach John Danowski, often dropping a handful of games early before coming on strong to close the season.
If Harvard hopes to take advantage of this trend and beat the Blue Devils, its defense must contain the dangerous Duke offensive midfield, considered one of the best units in the country. The group is lead by juniors Myles Jones and Deemer Class, who combined for 128 points last season on their way to All-America honors.
“I think communication is the biggest piece, taking away their strong hands, forcing them to be a bit uncomfortable with their weak hands,” Gambitsky said. “We’ll just rely on our long pole midfielders... put a lot of trust in them and support them when they need it.”
Jones in particular was stellar for Duke during its run to the national championship, earning a place on the NCAA All-Tournament team. Entering this season, his name has frequently appeared in the national player of the year conversation, and he has validated that hype so far by notching 24 points through the Blue Devils’ first four games.
Staff writer Phil Delamater can be reached at email@example.com.
Another player off to a hot start this season is junior attackman Deke Burns, who carried the Crimson offensively against UMass, netting a career-high seven goals on just nine shots.
If their performance against the Minutemen is any indication of what’s to come, the attackmen of the junior class have asserted themselves as Harvard’s go-to offensive options, as Devin Dwyer, WillWalker, and Ian Ardrey combined for five goals to give the group 12 of the Crimson’s 14 total goals.
With an offense that can clearly put up points, possession will be a major factor for Harvard this weekend. Sophomore Austin Williams had a strong performance at the faceoff X against UMass, going 16 for 28 and recording an assist. His battle with senior Jack Rowe and sophomore Kyle Rowe could have a large role in determining the outcome of Saturday’s contest. The brothers have combined to win 56.8 percent of their draws in Duke’s three wins but won just 27.3 percent in the Blue Devils’ loss to Denver.
Although Duke holds a 14-4 lead in the all-time series between the two programs, the Crimson must merely look to last week’s games for inspiration in overcoming history.
The Minutemen held a 32-13 all-time lead over Harvard heading into last week’s matchup, while Ivy League rival Yale beat lacrosse blueblood Maryland for the first time since 1925 to spur a 5-1 weekend for the Ancient Eight.
“[The Blue Devils] are a very well-coached team and they combine that with great athleticism and talent. It’s always going to be a very challenging game,” Harvard coach Chris Wojcik '96 said. “We’re going to have to play our best game to date to beat them.”
If the Crimson can best the Blue Devils in Durham on Saturday, it would merely solidify what many college lacrosse followers already know: the Ivy League is a force to be reckoned with.
—Staff writer Phil Delamater can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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