Johns Hopkins and Duke had a week to get ready for Sunday's NCAA quarterfinal matchup at Delaware Stadium. But for Duke midfielder Myles Jones and Hopkins long-stick midfielder Michael Pellegrino, whether they knew it or not, their preparation began seven years ago as freshman high schoolers on Long Island.
Jones graduated from Walt Whitman High in Huntington Station, N.Y., while Pellegrino played less than 20 miles away at Connetquot. Pellegrino came out on top in three of their four prep matchups, but Jones got even Sunday in Newark. The 6-foot-4, 240 pound sophomore electrified the Blue Devils offense with seven points (3 goals, 4 assists), powering Duke to its eighth consecutive Final Four appearance.
For much of the game, Jones, who was named to the All-Atlantic Coast Conference team last month, wreaked havoc on the Blue Jays defense. There was nothing Pellegrino could do about it.
"His game has changed a lot since high school," the 5-8, 180-pound Pellegrino said. "I hadn't seen him in two years. He got a lot better with his off hand. His shakes have gotten better. He's no longer swimming and doing unorthodox things. He's just really fast."
In the midst of Duke's 6-0 run to start the game, Jones showcased his athleticism. He took a pass from teammate Christian Walsh (Boys' Latin), drove down the left alley and shot across his body with his opposite hand into the upper right corner of the net, leaving a look of shock on the face of Hopkins goalie Eric Schneider.
When Hopkins decided to swarm Jones with defenders, he was able to zip passes to open teammates all over the field. A little over two minutes after his first goal, Jones pressed toward the cage and saw nearly the entire Blue Jays defense start to slide to him. That was all Jones needed to find Josh Dionne on the crease for an easy goal.
Jones' uncanny natural athleticism and diverse skill set are a product of more than the prowess of legendary Duke coach John Danowski. In addition to twice receiving All-America honorable mention as a high school lacrosse player, Jones scored 1,000 career points on the basketball court and was named all-county as quarterback of Whitman's football team. Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski has even reportedly talked to Jones about trying his hand at college basketball after he exhausts his eligibility in lacrosse.
"My overall development, it's just been work," Jones said. "My coaches have pushed me, [my teammates] have pushed me on the offensive end. I've stepped into a big role as a sophomore. I've been fortunate to be able to grow up this year and start playing like a senior."
Duke has needed him to play like a seasoned veteran this season. With the graduation of midfielders David Lawson, Jake Tripucka and Josh Offit from last year's national championship team, the Blue Devils entered 2014 with question marks at the position. So far this season, Jones has served as a resounding answer, with 57 points, including 27 goals in the team's last nine games.
Duke senior attackman Jordan Wolf said the emergence of Jones, as well as his fellow first-line midfielders Walsh and Deemer Class (Loyola High), has helped the Blue Devils offense develop into a more cohesive unit that ranks second in the nation in scoring.
"These guys stepped in, and we really haven't missed a beat at all," Wolf said. "I'm really not surprised. Our midfielders have worked extremely hard and listened to their coaches and listened to us."
Duke will take on another explosive offense in Denver on Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium. This season, the Pioneers are ranked third nationally in scoring, just behind the Blue Devils. With a bevy of offensive firepower on both squads, Danowski said he takes solace in knowing the most athletic player on the field will be on his side.
"As a freshman, I remember we were explaining some defensive things and he was down on our end," Danowski said. "So right away, he understood how to take advantage of that. … He makes a lot of extra passes, and that's something not every young man buys into."
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