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Duke men's lacrosse.

The Streak Lives: Duke Beats Virginia in 19th Straight Regular-Season Meeting

April 14, 2024
Patrick Stevens
Peyton Williams

DURHAM, N.C. — The time will presumably come when the Duke-Virginia men’s lacrosse series isn’t quite so one-sided, particularly in the regular season.

It did not arrive Sunday.

Josh Zawada scored five goals and tacked on an assist, Jake Naso scored twice in the second half after leaving twice before the break with an ankle injury, and the Blue Devils rolled to an 18-12 victory before 3,500 at Koskinen Stadium.

Duke (11-3, 1-2 ACC), which dropped a three-goal decision at home to Notre Dame a week earlier, has won the last 19 regular-season meetings against the Cavaliers (10-2, 2-1) and 24 of 26 overall.

“When you lose last week, it makes it easier to focus,” Duke coach John Danowski said. “There was a group here from California last week, and a young man asked me a question in front of a big audience, and he said, ‘Coach do you treat the guys any different after a loss?’ And I said, ‘Hell yeah, we do.’ And we do. We’re tough on them. We coach them hard. And the guys here traditionally have responded to that.”

Danowski insisted again Sunday the lopsided nature of the series over the last two decades is never a subject of discussion for him with his team, and understandably so. Many of the Blue Devils weren’t even alive the last time Virginia won a regular-season meeting between the teams.

But that doesn’t make it any less of an oddity with how the series has evolved over the 7,302 days since the Cavaliers collected a 13-4 victory that’s now just three days shy of reaching its 20th anniversary. Consider: Virginia has won four national titles since it last beat Duke in the regular season.

(The Cavaliers did topple the Blue Devils in the 2019 NCAA semifinals on the way to a title.)

On the surface, that 2004 game that should have been long forgotten. Both teams were on their way to 5-8 seasons, Virginia enduring disappointment the year after a title, Duke the year before its young core blossomed and made a push to a national title game.

And yet it warrants at least a passing mention, though not to the current Blue Devils and Cavaliers. For Virginia, preparing for this trip meant scrutinizing both of last year’s meetings and nothing prior.

“There’s a lot of noise about the stretch of games that we’ve lost in the regular season, but let’s just focus on last year, learn from that and watch this year’s team,” Virginia coach Lars Tiffany said. “Bottom line, Duke’s a really good team. We’re not losing to a bad team 20 years in a row. We’re losing to a good team.”

Duke has enjoyed its share of lopsided victories in that span, some of them downright boring. Sunday wasn’t one of them.

Where to begin? Duke defenseman Tyler Carpenter didn’t dress because of a leg injury. Naso went down and had to be helped off the field. Blue Devils star Brennan O’Neill had three goals and an assist. Naso came back for a couple faceoffs and departed again. Virginia goalie Matthew Nunes was pulled after allowing seven goals without a save.

And that was all before the faceoff to start the second quarter.

Virginia backup goalie Kyle Morris entered with Duke up 7-3 and made five saves. The 15-minute outing was the shortest of Nunes’ three-year career.

“You see an NHL coach say, ‘Hey, sometimes, it’s just not the day — let’s not worry about it and we’ll play for tomorrow,’” Tiffany said. “So, Matt Nunes is our starting goalie.”

While O’Neill would later add another goal to continue his career-long penchant for tormenting the Cavaliers — he has 19 goals and 11 assists in five career games against Virginia — the biggest lift might have come from Naso.

The second time the senior straggled off the field in the first half, he slammed his stick to the ground in frustration. He didn’t look like a man who was certain he would be back in soon.

But with several members of Duke’s sports medicine team working with him, Naso managed to be back in time for the start of the second half with the Blue Devils up 10-7.

“I did think my day was over,” Naso said. “I felt my ankle pop and I wasn’t too sure what happened, but I couldn’t put too much pressure on it. Taking some time off, we tried a couple different tape jobs. We came back here in the locker room and taped me up. … It was my last game in this stadium [that was] guaranteed, so I just wanted to give it everything I had.”

And it was Naso (along with another play off a faceoff) that helped seal it for Duke. The Cavaliers rattled off three goals in a row to close the third quarter and pull within 13-10, and they won the draw to open the final period while going backward. However, Dyson Williams deflected long pole Ben Wayer’s pass, then collected it and fired into an open net.

That extended the cushion, but Naso did much of the remaining damage, scoring twice off faceoffs in a span of 57 seconds for his second career multi-goal game.

“We have orthopedic surgeons right there on the sideline, and Joe Ferraro, our [athletic] trainer, wrapped him up and then he scores two goals,” Danowski said. “I said, ‘Listen, if I knew that’s what it would take, I would kick you in the ankle every week.’”

Naso ultimately finished what Duke’s attackmen started. O’Neill, Williams and Zawada combined to shoot 12 of 22, and the Blue Devils as a whole shot 42.9 percent. (They were at 50 percent before missing their final six.)

“I think our offense did an amazing job at answering whenever they scored and kind of keeping them to 3-4 goals away,” Naso said. “The other guys fed off that.”

And helped keep a Duke winning streak the Blue Devils have no interest in talking about going for another year.