National champion Duke men's lacrosse team welcomed home

May. 28, 2014 @ 08:20 PM

It has become Duke’s rite of spring.

The men’s lacrosse team hauls home another NCAA championship trophy on Memorial Day and the short work week for everyone else begins with celebration talk about the nation’s best in the sport.

When the Blue Devils returned to campus early Tuesday morning following their 11-9 win over Notre Dame in the NCAA title game at Baltimore, banners honoring the latest championship were already hanging from the Murray Building, which houses their training facility.

Below the big sign that read “Welcome NCAA Champs” were three banners, one for each of the national championships the program has won in the last five years.

“The feeling definitely doesn’t get old, I’ll tell you that,” Duke senior midfielder Christian Walsh said Tuesday.

Walsh is part of a group of seniors that reached the NCAA semifinals in all four years of their career. The last two years, they helped win national championships.

National player of the year finalist Jordan Wolf, who set a Duke single-season record with 103 points (64 goals, 39 assists), is another. He recorded either a goal or an assist in his final 61 games in a Duke uniform, scoring a goal in the last 22 games.

In his final game for Duke, Wolf scored two goals and dished out four assists against Notre Dame. He was named the NCAA championship weekend’s Most Outstanding Player.

“I’m just so fortunate to be at a place like this,” Wolf said following the game. “It just sucks that I have to leave. But it’s a good way to walk off.”

Duke (17-3) hasn’t lost an NCAA Tournament game since 2012 and on Monday became the first school to win back-to-back NCAA men’s lacrosse championships since Syracuse in 2008-09.

“Sometimes its hard to put in context back-to-back because you are living in the moment,” Duke coach John Danowski said. “You don’t really think in terms of what happened last year. That’s for another time to reflect. Right now everybody is pretty much just enjoying the moment right now and celebrating the accomplishment of the particular team.”

Danowski came to Duke in2006 and has led the Blue Devils to eight consecutive trips to the sport’s final four. Senior leadership is a key component in all his teams and this year’s team had a standout group.

“Sometimes it’s an accident and you get lucky that students get attracted to this place for all the right reasons,” Danowski said. “They get attracted to your program and want to play for the right reasons. But they bought into what we were trying to coach.”

In addition to Wolf and Walsh, defensemen Chris Hipps, Henry Lobb, Casey Carroll and Luke Duprey are all seniors.

Brendan Fowler, a face-off specialist, won the Most Outstanding Player award for the 2013 NCAA championship weekend and returned to led Duke again as a senior. Senior attacker Josh Dionne contributed 49 goals before suffering a season-ending knee injury in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals.

They have all played their final games in Duke uniforms and have contributed to a program that’s reached dynasty standards.

Of course to keep Duke at such a high level of excellence and achievement, the players returning as seniors next season will be asked to carry the burden.

Will Haus and Kyle Keenan were Duke’s only juniors who started in Monday’s NCAA title game. As the saying goes, they’ve got next.

“All the seniors are great leaders with their determination and their will,” Haus said. “In practice everyday they work hard, they work really hard. I think that’s something that next year we’ll have to do the exact same thing. Just come and work hard and hopefully do this again.”

Count Wolf among those confident these Memorial Day celebrations are set to continue for Duke.

“I think the program is in really good hands now,” Wolf said. “Younger guys who saw what the guys last year gave and seniors and what we gave as seniors. We set the standard here to win national championships and I know they are going to do a great job continuing it.