Scoring goals in the NCAA Tournament will bring one much attention.
For Duke freshman midfielder Nakeie Montgomery, the spotlight has been on him since his back-to-back goals in a 14-9 win over Johns Hopkins last Sunday helped ensure the fourth-seeded Blue Devils (15-3) would return to the Final Four for the first time since 2014.
Following up on a three-goal finish against Villanova a week earlier, the Dallas, Texas native has posted five of his 11 goals when it’s counted most – in the postseason.
His ability to snipe shots past the Wildcats’ and Blue Jays’ opposing keepers has undoubtedly helped to put Duke in a position to contend for its fourth national title in nine years.
Other than a start against North Carolina back on Mar. 30th, Montgomery has had to work hard to earn additional starts, both of which came over the past two weeks.
You see, it’s taken him time to understand how to harness his ability and talent to enhance the Duke offense.
Even though he came out of Episcopal School of Dallas highly touted as a two-sport athlete, also as a running back, Montgomery needed to broaden his focus during the season.
“He’s a special talent,” senior attackman and Tewaaraton finalist Justin Guterding said of the midfielder.
“Definitely raw — you could definitely see earlier in the year his mind was so focused on himself, and not as much on what he needed to do to make the team successful. He would focus on, ‘what do I need to do to not mess up.’ That happens as a Freshman. Now it’s more him just having fun out there, just playing lacrosse because he’s learned the offenses and studied up. Now it’s more of him making a play.”
Understandably, Montgomery wasn’t the player he was coming out of high school and needed guidance from the senior captain.
“I talked to him earlier in the year when he wasn’t playing as much,” Guterding said.
“He was kind of concerned, he thought he should have been on the field more, and I told him ‘your time is gonna come’. Now it is. Watching him develop is something really special.”
Speaking in front of cameras and media earlier in the week, Montgomery noted when asked what he’s developed most up to this point in the season.
“Confidence, for sure,” he said.
“That plays a big role. You start to believe in yourself, you start to believe in your teammates more.”
Playing the since third grade, Montgomery possesses exceptional speed, agility, and a heavy release that has worked to his and the Blue Devils’ advantage.
While he cited Johns Hopkins as his favorite team growing up due to his admiration of former Blue Jays midfielder and Tewaaraton Trophy winner Kyle Harrison as his “favorite lacrosse player ever,” he eventually set his sights on going to Duke following in the footsteps of another idol, three-time All-American midfielder Myles Jones.
“When I realized what I wanted to do, I wanted to go to Duke,” Montgomery said.
“I looked up to Myles Jones so much. I still talk to him; he texted me after the (Hopkins) game, texted me after the first playoff game as well. We stay in touch.”
Thus, getting guidance from two of the top players ever to adorn a Duke jersey indeed has helped Montgomery eventually realize what his role on this year’s team is.
He’s no stranger to big-time game situations, having played in front of a lot of big crowds in Texas in lacrosse and football – a stage he apparently seems to excel on.
“He’s a guy who played high school football in Dallas and rushed for over 1,000 yards and was recruited to play college football, so he’s gotta be confident in his athleticism,” Blue Devils head coach John Danowski said.
“And you don’t come to a Division I program if you’re not confident. Everybody masks it a little bit, but at this time of year, you are who you are, and if you’re on the field and if the coaches are putting you out there, then you’ve gotta be a pretty good player.”
Set within the ideal situation and circumstance he envisioned and desired to be in playing at Duke, with confidence, Montgomery will focus on helping the Blue Devils earn another championship over the Memorial Day weekend.
“Just perform to the best I can; don’t leave anything on the table.”
In Saturday’s 13-8 championship weekend semifinal win over Maryland, Montgomery again stood out with a three-goal performance, building on his impressive postseaosn.
“You go into a game plan offensively with an idea about what you’d like to accomplish or where you’d like to initiate from, and then it’s up to guys to make plays,” Danowski said after Saturday’s victory. “You know, they didn’t slide the first time or they slid late, I think, if I remember, and so Nakeie hammers it and scores. The goal at the end, if he would have slid early, then we would have moved the wall. It’s just kids at this time of year making plays that lacrosse players do. You kind of put them in situations, but now it’s up to them.”
Montgomery will have one more chance to impress when he and the rest of the Blue Devils take the field Monday against Yale in the NCAA championship.