No. 2 Duke, on 10-game streak, has grown up

Lessons of a 5-8 season turn Blue Devils tough

Men's notebook

College Lacrosse

March 31, 2005|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Duke has not been to the NCAA men's lacrosse tournament since 2002, has not gone to the final four since its only trip in 1997, and a year ago, the Blue Devils staggered to a 5-8 finish.

Everything has changed in Durham, where No. 2 Duke is 10-0 for the first time in school history, has possibly the nation's most dynamic freshman, Canadian attackman Zack Greer, and is one of only two unbeaten teams left in Division I.

Yes, the Blue Devils are for real. You don't fake your way to a three-game road sweep of No. 4 Maryland, No. 19 North Carolina and No. 9 Georgetown over a three-week stretch in March. You don't crush a solid Hoyas team, 12-3, by accident.

With a victory over visiting Ohio State on Saturday - and provided top-ranked, undefeated Johns Hopkins avoids an upset against North Carolina or Albany in the next five days - Duke will try to prevent the Blue Jays from winning their school-record 32nd straight home game on April 8.

"The key for us is the next one. We remain very well-grounded. We know what it's like to be in the outhouse," said Mike Pressler, Duke's coach for 15 years. "We talk about 5-8 once in a while. Certainly, that's a motivating factor. We've gone about our business from day one. We've been very professional."

Pressler said the Blue Devils' resurgence is a product of experience catching up with young talent. Only two seniors get measurable playing time, including fifth-year goalie Aaron Fenton. Six Blue Devils - Greer, who played for Canada, and five who played for the United States - were in the 2003 under-19 International Lacrosse Federation championship game at Towson University.

Offensively, Duke has owned the six-on-six game with the sport's most imposing attack, a unit that is marked equally by its complementary skills and its unselfishness.

Greer is the lefty finisher who, as of Sunday, ranked second in the NCAA with 3.22 goals per game. Junior Dan Flannery is the consummate feeder. Sophomore Matt Danowski is the best dodger. The trio has combined for 59 goals and 39 assists.

"Our middies [led by juniors Matt Zash and Kyle Dowd and sophomore Peter Lamade] are doing a great job of dodging up top and taking good shots and making them," said Greer, who has a team-high 32 goals. "Everyone does everything well on attack. The chemistry was there right away. We take our time. We're going to work the ball. We're not taking bad shots."

And the Blue Devils are not surrendering many good shots, despite winning only 48 percent of their faceoffs. Opposing teams are shooting just 18.8 percent against them. Fenton (5.9 goals-allowed average, .649 save percentage) is having an All-America year.

"I've never had a better attack unit. There's no magic formula," Pressler said. "It's basically the same team we had a year ago. We were playing 17 freshmen and sophomores by the end of last year. What we're seeing now is the dividends of all of that experience."

Hope in Catonsville

UMBC is 2-4 and looking to restart its NCAA tournament hopes as it prepares for the heart of its America East Conference schedule. The Retrievers are looking pretty good at the offensive end. Through Sunday, junior attackman Brendan Mundorf (Mount St. Joseph) and sophomore attackman Drew Westervelt (John Carroll) were the nation's second-ranked scoring duo, averaging nine points per game.

Only Greer and Danowski from Duke (9.7 ppg) had been a more productive pair.

Navy clamps down

Defense figured to be fifth-ranked Navy's foundation once again. The Midshipmen have not disappointed. They have permitted 4.73 goals per game, tops in the NCAA. Senior defenseman Mike Felber earned the Patriot League's Defensive Player of the Week honor after shutting out Lehigh attackman Andrew Lucas, the nation's second-leading scorer, in Navy's 11-5 rout on March 25.

"We can get better," Felber said. "We're still giving up one or two junk goals a game."

The week ahead

No. 1 Johns Hopkins (5-0)

Schedule: at No. 19 North Carolina, Saturday, 1 p.m.

Skinny: Former Hopkins coach John Haus is slipping backward with the 2-5 Tar Heels, a major disappointment thus far. Although three of their past four meetings have been decided by one goal, Hopkins has beaten Carolina 11 straight times.

No. 4 Maryland (5-2)

Schedule: at No. 2 Virginia, Saturday, 3 p.m.

Skinny: Sophomore goalie Harry Alford has produced 20 or more saves twice for the Terps. He might need a third such showing against Virginia, which is coming off a poor shooting game against Hopkins. Maryland is shooting just 27.1 percent in 2005.

No. 5 Navy (7-1)

Schedule: at No. 9 Georgetown, Saturday, 1 p.m.

Skinny: The Mids' offense isn't exactly tearing up the Patriot League. The defense, giving up an average of 4.7 goals, is as good as advertised. Chris Pieczonka and William Wallace have combined to win 83 of 124 faceoffs (67 percent).

No. 16 Towson (4-3)

Schedule: at Drexel, Saturday, 1 p.m.; vs. UMBC, Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.

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