May 15—CHAPEL HILL — When it faces No. 2-seed Duke today in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, the High Point University men's lacrosse team will try to extend its season by avenging an early season loss for the second straight match.
The Panthers gained their berth in the tournament when it won the Southern Conference's tournament and automatic bid by defeating Richmond 11-8 on May 7.
HPU lost to the Spiders 17-10 in the regular season. The Panthers haven't tasted defeat in the six matches since in boosting their record to 8-5-0.
In the rematch with the second-seeded Blue Devils (12-2) at North Carolina's Dorrance Field, HPU seeks to atone for its low point of the season, a 27-8 blowout loss that was the last of four straight defeats to ACC schools. The others in that stretch were a close loss and a blowout at the hands of then-No. 2 North Carolina and a close loss at No. 9 Virginia.
""The Duke game earlier in the year, it helped us a lot," HPU senior attacker Asher Nolting said. "It exposed us and showed us what we need to work on. After that game, we started to become a better team, and after the Richmond loss we started to become a better team.
"We started playing more of a team style. It's not offense vs. defense, it's all of us against the other team."
The Panthers were still a work in progress and weren't at full strength when they faced Duke, head coach Jon Torpey said.
"We were still working on our scheme, our offense and defense," Torpey said. "And from a personnel perspective, we were battling through some injuries and COVID issues, trying to get guys back at 100 percent physically. Around that time, going into SoCon play with VMI and Richmond, we started to become the best version of ourselves."
Duke, making its 14th straight NCAA appearance, is ranked in the top three in both weekly lacrosse polls while HPU is 18th and 16th. The Blue Devils shared the ACC crown at 4-2 with top-ranked North Carolina after losing to the Tar Heels 15-12 in their regular-season finale. All of Duke's matches in the ACC were against top-five opponents.
Duke is led on the attack by Micheal Sowers, who is third in career points in NCAA history, and ACC Freshman of the Year Brennan O'Neill, who has 26 goals in the past eight games.
"They're loaded all over the field," Torpey said. "The goalie is fantastic, the faceoff guy is fantastic. They have some of the best offensive weapons, and the defense is very, very good. They're balanced all over the field.
"I wouldn't say we have to play a perfect game, but we'll have to be pretty close. To solve some of the issues that haunted us the last game, we have to manufacture some possessions that got away from us last game, taking care of the ball, initiating contact, doing what we've been doing the last few weeks defensively. I love our guys and the way they are playing.I think they'll play great on Sunday."
Faceoff time is 5 p.m. The winner plays either No. 7-seed Denver or Loyola Maryland on May 23 at Notre Dame.