For Hofstra's coach, best, worst of seasons

On the Ravens

College Lacrosse

May 19, 2006|By MIKE PRESTON | MIKE PRESTON,SUN COLUMNIST

Even with his team setting a record for wins, a No. 2 national ranking and on the verge of going to the final four for the first time, Hofstra lacrosse coach John Danowski has been slow to find joy this season.

Even though Hofstra's campus is on Long Island, N.Y., Danowski's mind has often drifted to Durham, N.C., where his son, Matt, is a standout attackman on Duke's lacrosse team. Three Duke players have been charged since their season was canceled after rape allegations stemming from a team party in March.

Danowski's son was not one of those charged, but the negative publicity surrounding the case has been overwhelming at times, overshadowing his own achievement at Hofstra (17-1).

"The ying and the yang of life has never been more evident," said Danowski, in his 21st season at Hofstra. "Coaching is your professional life, but you're a family man first. Being a husband and father is above your professional life. In this situation, you're not just being conciliatory for your own son, but you get to know other kids and their parents as well.

"My job here is a job, so it's just been hard to enjoy the success."

The Pride has become lacrosse's top success story. People expected Hofstra to be good, but not have one of the best offenses in the country, or flirt with final four success. Danowski is aware of the program's publicity, but hasn't noticed the national exposure other than various polls.

"There was a time for about a month when I didn't listen to sports talk, or look at TV because so much was leaking out," he said. "The only time I turned on the TV was to look at a movie. I didn't read newspapers. Only now has some of the joy started to come back. Matt is home, there is less news even though it appears to be for the better. I guess it takes some time."

Danowski also had a nice talk with Princeton coach Bill Tierney. It was part pep talk, part lecture, but with a clear message: Wake up and smell the tournament.

Tierney got a firsthand look at Hofstra's talent level early in the season as part of a three-game, eight-day stretch in mid-March when the Pride defeated Johns Hopkins, North Carolina and Princeton.

"We beat Hopkins and you thought Hopkins had a bad day, that they're young, and they're going to get better," Danowski said. "We played Carolina tough and had to come from behind. You say, well, Carolina isn't what they used to be. But once we beat Princeton, I think our guys said, hey, maybe we can be pretty good."

The Pride has won 17 straight since losing, 11-7, to Massachusetts, in the season opener. Junior attackman Athan Iannucci (62 goals, 18 assists) and linemate Chris Unterstein (41, 36) get most of the recognition because they are the top producers in the nation's No. 2-ranked offense. But what has made Hofstra so successful is that the players buy into Danowski's philosophy. Hofstra isn't loaded with a lot of blue-chip players, but blue-collar workers like defensemen John Orsen, Brett Moyer, Julian Watts and midfielder John Keysor.

Their motto in 2006 has been "Relentless."

Despite Hofstra being in one of the nation's lacrosse hotbeds, most of the local high school players opt for scholarships at Virginia, Hopkins or North Carolina. Maybe the new success will change some opinions.

"Some coaches emphasize that they want to be great at clearing the ball, or great at riding," Danowski said. "I don't tell our kids we need to be great at one thing, but good at everything, that the one ground ball they pick up could make a major impact on the game.

"With the success, maybe now, kids will give us that second look when they're picking a school, those kids in Texas or California. Maybe I won't have to say, that's Hofstra, spelled H-O-F-S-T-R-A anymore."

Danowski laughs.

These should be good times for him. He has had good success in previous seasons at Hofstra, but nothing like this. He is smart enough to change his schemes to fit his personnel, and steal pages from Duke's offensive playbook. The Pride has been to the NCAA tournament six of the past nine years, and seven of the past 12. But the Pride has never been ranked No. 2. It has never beaten so many national powers or won so many games in one season.

Hofstra's quarterfinal opponent tomorrow is Massachusetts at noon at Stony Brook.

"I'm thankful we're playing UMass because they beat us, and we know it's going to be a tough game," Danowski said. "It's finals week here, so we're fighting through it. If you were playing a team you had already beaten, the focus would be on how tough it is to beat a team twice in a season. ... It might become a distraction."

Danowski doesn't need another distraction. He had the Duke incident this year. He seems at peace now, ready to move on with his son and his team.

"These things happen, and sometimes it [the exposure] is part of the life of a Division I athlete," Danowski said. "It was great last year when he was playing in the championship game, great when he was playing in front of those big crowds and scoring goals. It was exciting just when he was accepted at the school. Things happen. There are low points. But if he stayed in the local store, or never left the house, he would never experience the highs of life, either."

mike.preston@baltsun.com

NCAA MEN'S QUARTERFINAL Tomorrow, at Stony Brook

Hofstra (17-1) vs. Massachusetts (11-4), noon

Syracuse (9-4) vs. Johns Hopkins (9-4), 3 p.m. Sunday, at Towson

Princeton (11-4) vs. Maryland (11-4), noon

Virginia (14-0) vs. Georgetown (11-2), 3 p.m.

TV: All games on Comcast SportsNet and CN8

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