"I think, playing them earlier in the season, we can kind of find out what we did well, and what we didn't do well," Notre Dame sophomore attackman Matt Kavanagh said Sunday. "I think seeing a team and being prepared and seeing what they have already done to us in the first game is going to help us tomorrow."
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Many lacrosse observers will point out that the game is a rematch of the 2010 title game, which the Blue Devils won, 6-5, in overtime, after a faceoff win and goal from long-stick midfielder C.J. Costabile to open the extra session. But no current player on either side played in that game.
The two teams played April 5 this season when Duke, the reigning national champion, routed the Fighting Irish, 15-7. But much has changed for both teams since then.
Notre Dame has won eight of nine games since that loss, and the Fighting Irish beat Maryland and Syracuse for the ACC tournament championship. Notre Dame has scored at least 11 goals in each of its past five games.
But Blue Devils coach John Danowski noted that the Fighting Irish's scoring has been fueled by a change in defensive philosophy.
"Defensively, they seem to be a little more aggressive checking, and they seem to be a little more active with their sticks," he said. "They want to get the ball to the ground, they want to be able to push and play in transition."
Fighting Irish junior short-stick defensive midfielder Jack Near has a point in each of his past seven games, and senior short-stick defensive midfielder Tyler Brenneman added an assist in Notre Dame's 11-6 victory over seventh-seeded Maryland in Saturday's semifinal.
"They're very athletic," Duke senior midfielder Christian Walsh (Boys' Latin) said. "Jack Near, their defensive middie, has been playing very well lately on defense and in transition. We're going to have to take advantage of the opportunities we do get and just make them slide and do what we've been doing all year by sharing the ball."
Duke's win over the Fighting Irish in April is part of an 11-game streak in which the Blue Devils have scored at least 11 goals in each game. The offense has scored 54 goals in the NCAA tournament and will likely eclipse the program record of 60 in the postseason set by the 2005 squad and matched by the 2007 team.
"I think it's going to start with getting out and guarding these guys, and then from there, just making the right decisions from the slide perspective and inner reads," Notre Dame senior defenseman Stephen O'Hara said. "Hopefully, we can give [junior goalkeeper Conor Kelly] shots that he likes to see and he can eat them up."
Duke's first midfield of sophomores Deemer Class (Loyola) and Myles Jones and Walsh combined for eight goals and five assists in that regular-season game against Notre Dame, and Fighting Irish coach Kevin Corrigan knows that avoiding a repeat result is a priority.
"We're still kind of doing a little bit of comparative analysis to see what they're doing more of and less of," he said. "But I guess the simple version of that is, if we play like we did the first time, they'll thump us again. So we've got to get better."