Most teams like to open their season against a weaker opponent to gain confidence going into the season.
Penn men’s lacrosse is not most teams.
Instead of a creampuff, the Quakers (0-0) will take on No. 14 Duke (2-2), the only team in the country to make six consecutive Final Fours.
But the Quakers are not afraid of the Blue Devils. They have been looking forward to playing Duke since the fall.
“We’ve had this game circled on our schedule since day one when we came back on campus,” senior captain Tim Schwalje said.
Schwalje, who has started against the Blue Devils each of the past three seasons, loves starting the year against “an ACC school with a rich history.”
“It’s a great opportunity to make some noise,” he added.
Despite the hubbub, Penn coach and Duke alum Mike Murphy isn’t buying into the excitement.
“It’s really no different than a lot of the other games,” he said.
Schwalje expects Duke to be a well-balanced opponent. He pointed out that they have one of the most experienced attack units in the country.
The Blue Devils’ offense is led by Jordan Wolf, a Wynnewood, Pa., native who has already notched 13 goals and 19 points this season.
On the defensive end, “they’re always big and physical,” Murphy said, adding that on defense, “they’re very aggressive.”
Duke has been a bellwether opponent for Penn in recent years. Both last year and three years ago, losses at the Blue Devils’ home field in Durham, N.C., were signs of things to come in losing seasons for the Quakers.
Two years ago, after opening the season with a win at home against Duke, Penn finished the season with a winning record and an NCAA Tournament bid.
But this Quakers team is very different from last year’s squad that managed to record only one Ivy win on its way to a woeful 3-10 record.
“We’re a tougher team right now,” Schwalje said. “We’re a faster team — our chemistry is hitting on all cylinders.”
Much of those changes have come on the offensive end. The Quakers have a new offensive assistant coach, Judd Lattimore, who transformed Michigan into one of the most offensively efficient teams in the nation last year.
“This offense is going to be good for us,” Murphy said. “We’ve changed our style of play a little bit and that helped us as well.”
There are plenty of new faces on offense as well. Penn lost three of its top five scorers from a year ago to graduation in John Conneely, Dan Savage and Anthony Adler.
Those losses have put additional pressure on Schwalje, Penn’s top returning scorer. Thus far, he has found it strange to take on the leadership role.
“You look up to those seniors and older guys when you’re a freshman and sophomore and it’s weird now to look back and it feels like it was yesterday,” he said.
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