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Knee injury not enough to sideline Concord’s Duprey during Duke’s lacrosse run

Luke Duprey’s season was supposed to be over. At least that’s what the doctors said after Duprey tore two ligaments in his knee back on April 11.

But Duprey, a Concord native, wouldn’t let little matters like torn ligaments or medical science curtail his final season at Duke. Instead, he convinced his coaches and team doctors that he could play, and then he went out and did just that. The senior captain returned to the lineup on May 24 for the national semifinals, a 15-12 win over Denver, and then helped the Blue Devils to their second straight NCAA title as the they beat Notre Dame, 11-9, two days later in the

championship game.

“The doctors said there was an 80 to 90 percent chance that I would re-injure it or injure it further, but I didn’t care. I didn’t care if my knee got hurt anymore because one way or another I was going to have surgery on it,” Duprey said last week from Duke University Hospital just hours after he had the surgery he knew was coming. “So it was really worth it for me to give it a shot.”

Not only did Duprey risk further damage, he also gave up any chance of playing Major League Lacrosse this year. The New York Lizards selected Duprey, a 6-foot-5, 210-pound long stick midfielder and defender, with the No. 4 overall pick in the MLL draft in January, but there’s no way Duprey will be ready to play for the Lizards before their season ends in August. He might have made his pro debut this summer if he had knee surgery in April, but he wasn’t considering that option.

“Playing for Duke was more important. It’s really the pinnacle of lacrosse playing for the university and for the records we have going right now with eight straight final fours and getting to play in the national championship again and winning it again,” Duprey said. “I wouldn’t have done this any differently.”

Duprey played his high school lacrosse at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., where he earned All-American honors as a senior. He made an immediate impact at Duke as a freshman, playing in all 20 games and finishing third on the team in caused turnovers with 12. He put up similar numbers as a sophomore, playing in all 20 games and finishing third in caused turnovers with 18. Duprey upped his game as a junior when he led the Blue Devils in caused turnovers (37), finished second in groundballs (69) and came up with five groundballs and three caused turnovers in Duke’s national semifinal win against Cornell.

This season Duprey tied for the team lead in caused turnovers (22) and penalties (10) despite missing five games with the torn knee ligaments. The injury happened at Virginia in the penultimate regular-season game. Duprey was running with the ball on the clear when Joe Losicky came out of the penalty box and blindsided him. Losicky was given an unnecessary roughness penalty, but the hit was not blatantly dirty. It was more about timing and circumstance, and Duprey isn’t holding a grudge over it.

“I think it was a fine hit,” Duprey said. “Let’s put it this way, if I saw a Virginia kid running that close to the box looking the other way, I would have done the same thing.”

One week later, Duprey was lobbying his doctors. He was telling them his knee didn’t feel as bad as they said it should and asking if he could please just test the thing. Eventually he did test it, going through drills as his physical therapist took videos. That footage, plus Duprey’s insistent pressure and willingness to assume the risk, convinced the Duke coaches and doctors to give him a chance.

He began working his way back into practices early in May and he was ready to contribute a few weeks later. Duprey said he could have played in the May 18 quarterfinal against Johns Hopkins, but the team decided another week of rest was more valuable (the Blue Devils ended up beating Hopkins, 19-11).

Even though Duprey was getting his wish when he took the field against Denver in the semifinal, he still had some anxiety about playing on his injured knee. But once he made it through that contest without a hitch, he was all in for the final.

“In the semifinals I’d say I was around 80 percent and then for the championship I was about 90 percent, and that was a mental thing,” Duprey said. “After I got out there against Denver it gave me confidence that I could do it. I was like, ‘Okay, I can cut, I can run, I can body up on these kids,’ so that’s why I played more in the championship game.”

Duprey was healthy enough to make a key play late in the final. The Fighting Irish had cut Duke’s lead from 8-2 to 9-7 with seven minutes left to play when Duprey fought off two Notre Dame players to earn his team a critical possession. The Irish did cut the lead to one goal in the final minutes, but the Blue Devils held on for an 11-9 win and back-to-back titles, all of which is still sinking in with Duprey.

“We noticed the same thing last year, it takes a few months for it to really hit you,” Duprey said. “After the game it’s disbelief and shock. And every day or so for a couple of months you’ll get the feeling like, ‘Did we actually win? Is it over?’ ”

For most lacrosse players, it is over after college, but not Duprey. He’ll begin looking for a full-time job in the next few weeks, but when the 2015 MLL schedule begins next spring, he’ll be on the field for the Lizards. If two torn ligaments couldn’t stop him, a gig in the real world won’t, either.

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at tosullivan@cmonitor.com or 369-3341 or on Twittter @timosullivan20.)

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