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Men's Lacrosse vs. Princeton Credit: Imran Cronk , Imran Cronk

As birds begin to return north after the long and cold winter, a different kind of flock is heading south.

After a nine-month layoff and rejuvenated following a surprising 2012-13 campaign, the Penn men’s lacrosse team begins its season this weekend in Durham, N.C., against the defending national champions, No. 1 Duke.

“We always play Duke first game of the season,” senior defense Maxx Meyer said. “They are defending national champions, we actually beat them my freshman year, three years ago when they were defending national champions, so it’s always good to play that type of team right out of the gate.”

“It’s great because one, they are very good; two, they are down south, so it’s a trip for us to take south this time of year; and three, it’s a good school so we recruit some of the kids,” coach Mike Murphy added.

The Quakers have dueled the Blue Devils (2-0) each of the past four years. Over that period, the teams have split all four meetings, with the Red and Blue taking both matches in Philadelphia and Duke standing tall in Durham.

While Duke has the home field advantage this time around, the Blue Devils also have game experience under their belt. Coach John Danowski’s squad opened its season with a win over Jacksonville before knocking off then-No. 4 Denver last weekend.

But the Red and Blue have different assets. Because this is the first game in No. 18 Penn’s season, Duke hasn’t seen tape of this year’s squad.

“We have the advantage of knowing something they have done, and they have the advantage of playing a couple of games and ironing out the kinks,” Murphy said. “We haven’t played a game yet, so we really haven’t done this stuff when it matters so it’s a tradeoff.”

Though the Quakers have yet to show their skills in an official game, the team is working to play much faster and more aggressively this year.

“We are definitely playing a lot faster, getting the ball up, out of the defensive end to the offense faster and really just attacking the first 10 seconds,” Meyer said.

Penn also features a core of solid veteran players returning from last year’s upstart team. In addition to Meyer, senior goalkeeper Brian Feeney , senior midfield Zack Losco and junior attack Will Laco are expected to help guide the Red and Blue through a difficult schedule.

But before the Quakers look too far down the road and think about competing for an Ivy League championship, all sights are currently set on the matchup with Duke.

While learning from Friday’s game is most important, nothing but a win will be considered a success in Meyer’s opinion.

“We are not afraid of them at all, we’ve beaten them two years, they are the same guys we played against in high school, most of us know each other,” Meyer said. “So we aren’t afraid of Duke, they are just an old competitor of ours.”

But Murphy views the situation a little differently.

“If we can play better than we did last year and not win the game, I can live with that,” Murphy said. “At the end of the day we want to win an Ivy League championship and then try to compete for a national championship, and beating Duke isn’t going to guarantee that and losing isn’t going to prevent it.”

Either way, the Red and Blue are excited to get their season under way. With a strong senior class and some new fresh talent, this might be the year for Penn to capture that Ivy title, but only time will tell.

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