‘We never talk about championships’
With seven consecutive trips to men’s college lacrosse’s version of the final four and a second NCAA championship having been claimed last May, Duke and championships are synonymous around the sport.
The only place they are not is at Duke itself.
As the Blue Devils begin their new season at home against Jacksonville today (1 p.m., ESPN3), Duke coach John Danowski doesn’t want this year’s team talking or thinking championship yet.
Instead, the highly successful coach prefers his team focus on taking the steps now that will put it in position for bigger prizes later.
“We never talk about championships,” Danowski said. “We rarely talk about winning. We talk about showing up. We talk about paying attention to details. We talk about competing. We talk about being accountable. I think that being successful and winning a championship is the result of doing all those little things.”
The Blue Devils who will take the field today are well-schooled in those areas. Duke returns 33 letterwinners, including seven starters, from the 2013 squad that went 16-5 and beat Syracuse 16-10 in the NCAA final at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field on May 27.
While Duke enters the new season ranked No. 1, the players know they have work to do to retain that ranking.
“We bring a lot of guys back but we are also kind of young,” senior midfielder Christian Walsh said. “We have young midfielders coming in who are supposed to play a lot. Every year is a new year. That’s how we take it.”
Walsh is the one experienced player at midfield, as graduation hit Duke hard in that area. That’s one thing Danowski refuses to look past.
“Midfielders in our sport are always the key,” Danowski said. “You can have terrific attack men or a great goalie or some stud defensemen, but if you don’t have those really confident, competent midfielders, it’s hard to compete on the last weekend in May.”
One young player who will get time there does have some big-time experience. Sophomore Myles Jones started five times, played in 18 games overall and scored 16 goals. One of his goals came in the NCAA final.
Duke does have all-American honorees all over the rest of the field.
Jordan Wolf, last year’s leading scorer, will team with Josh Dionne and Case Matheis to form one of the nation’s top attacking lines. Last year they combined for 40 percent of Duke’s points as the Blue Devils averaged 14.05 goals per game – third in the country.
On defense, Henry Lobb and Chris Hipps return along with long stick midfield Luke Duprey.
In goal, Kyle Turri returns after posting a 14-1 record last season.
But among the most important players Duke has back is senior Brendan Fowler, whose prowess on face-offs makes the Blue Devils so difficult to beat.
His ability to win those battles after each goal allows Duke to get on a roll and carry that momentum a long way.
In last year’s NCAA final, Syracuse took a 5-0 lead. But Fowler won 20 of his 29 faceoffs that day, allowing Duke to score 16 of the game’s final 21 goals to win going way.
Fowler was named the NCAA championship’s most outstanding player, a first-team all-American and the ACC’s men’s lacrosse Scholar-Athlete of the Year. He also set the NCAA single-season record for face-off wins with 339.
His play helped Duke to a championship last year. While the lacrosse world expects Duke to be in the hunt for another title this season, the Blue Devils are content to build with each game so they are playing their best in May once again.