Duke, Danowski back on top
With a glistening new NCAA championship trophy sitting to his right, Duke men’s lacrosse coach John Danowski admitted his thoughts drifted back seven years on Tuesday.
In summer 2006, Duke hired Danowski as the program began its recovery from false rape accusations.
On Tuesday, Danowski was back in the Cameron Indoor Stadium media room having taken the Duke program from the depths of that day to the heights of two NCAA championships.
“Never in my wildest dreams,” Danowski said Tuesday, the day after the Blue Devils beat Syracuse 16-10 in the NCAA Tournament final at Philadelphia. “You never think in terms of wins and losses and championships and sitting here next to the trophy.”
Yet from the first team Danowski coached all the way to the present, all that Duke has done is win big under his watch.
This year’s final four appearance was the seventh for Duke in his seven seasons. Monday’s national title win was the second as this year’s team joined the 2010 NCAA champions.
“I think it proves to everybody that what we do here is right,” Duke junior attacker Josh Dionne said. “What Coach Danowski preaches to us, the discipline, he makes us mature very quickly. The greatness that he demands of us, that's a bar set so high.”
Monday’s win made Danowski one of five active coaches in NCAA Division I lacrosse with multiple national championships. Moments after the win was secured, he did something to show the amount of respect he had for another member of that group, Syracuse coach John Desko, as well as to the sport itself.
The Orange have won 11 NCAA championships. Desko has led Syracuse to five of those titles.
But after Duke prevented the Orange from winning No. 12, the players were given newly minted NCAA championship T-shirts to wear in the postgame celebration.
Before the Blue Devils went through the traditional handshake line with Syracuse, Danowski told the players to remove the shirts and wear their jerseys.
“I just never got that whole thing about bragging,” Danowski said. “In lacrosse, traditionally, you shake hands. It just never made sense to me to put on a T-shirt that says, `We beat you.’
"It doesn’t seem to be sportsmanlike. It doesn’t seem to me to be in the spirit of our sport.”
Brendan Fowler, Duke’s All-American junior face-off specialist who was named the Most Outstanding Player of the national semifinals and finals, said the gesture exemplifies Danowski in particular and the Duke program as a whole.
“It shows everyone who is watching what kind of person Coach Danowski is and the amount of respect he has for the game,” Fowler said.
Danowski’s first championship was won with a team that featured a number of players who were left over from the lost 2006 season, which was abandoned early while the scandal raged.
The NCAA awarded players an extra year of eligibility, so the fifth-year seniors in 2010 played roles in that championship.
The seniors on this year’s team were freshmen that season, giving them a chance to add the next big chapter in Duke’s growing lacrosse legacy.
David Lawson, Jake Tripucka, Josh Offit and Bill Conners were the seniors who played the biggest role this season. The younger players fed off their intensity.
“When they are down,” Duke junior Josh Dionne said, “they kind of take offense to it.”
For Dionne and the players returning next season, their task is to keep Duke on top.
Hunger won’t be a problem.
“We want more.” Dionne said.
Fowler, sitting nearby, concurred.
“We want more,” Fowler said. “We want more.”
The Blue Devils expect to get there by continuing to follow Danowski, the man who has led Duke to the top.
“We have the best coach in the world,” Duke junior Jordan Wolf said. “Coach Danowski is a genius. We all trust him with our lives. Whatever he says, we believe in him. He’s the best at what he does.”