March 30, 2010

Duke Looks Like Its Old Running, Gunning Self

by Patrick Stevens | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

CJ Costabile, always a threat to go to goal, is one of several long poles who have helped reignite Duke's transition game.

© John Strohsacker/

Schoeffel, Payton Spark Comeback Victory

A mid-March practice came and went for the Duke men's lacrosse team, normal by most measures.

Afterward, though, coach John Danowski made a crucial observation about his highly regarded team, which dropped three of its first five games.

“He just pointed out ‘You guys got up and down today. That’s how we used to look. That was really good,’” junior Tom Montelli said. “It’s almost as if we were a little tight, but certainly the past few weeks we’ve started to look more like ourselves in the past.”

It’s been that way ever since.

With transition driving the Blue Devils’ turnaround, Duke (6-3) won four straight and returned to its typically potent offensive ways.

There were 20 goals against Penn State, 15 more against Dartmouth. Then came an even better test -- a 15-goal outburst Saturday at Georgetown fueled by unsettled opportunities.

“We practice it from day one,” Danowski said. “I can’t say why it wasn’t happening early in the year. But it’s something that has been really important. We have athletes, and it’s a style guys like to play. It’s fun. The combination of those two things make it easy to practice. With all that being said, it wasn’t happening in the beginning of the season.”

And that was puzzling. The Blue Devils, after all, had the look of a national title contender. At the very least, the presence of attackmen Ned Crotty and Max Quinzani and plenty of veteran defensemen suggested a fourth straight final four trip was nearly certain.

Then came the struggles -- uneven losses to Notre Dame and North Carolina, and a split of overtime games with Bucknell and Maryland. Throughout the opening stretch, the typically run-and-gun Blue Devils were muted.

Perhaps some of it was breaking in freshman goalie Dan Wigrizer, who needed to adapt to stopping college shots before worrying too much about igniting unsettled scoring chances with swift outlet passes.

Defenseman Michael Manley, pole C.J. Costabile and faceoff specialist Sam Payton all had nagging injuries.

Regardless the reason, the problem seems solved. Senior defenseman Parker McKee scored three goals against Penn State on March 20, and Manley is capable of starting a break as well. Costabile is a constant threat. And Montelli doubled his career output with a pair of goals against the Hoyas, including a transition goal in the final second of the third quarter to give Duke the lead for good.

The keys to it all might be Costabile and Montelli, who seem to look for every opportunity available to run. One of the two is on the field virtually every time Duke is on defense, ensuring a threat of a
quick goal even when the Blue Devils don’t have the ball.

“There really isn’t another team that has two poles like that in the nation,” Georgetown goalie Jack Davis said.

Yet Duke’s options don’t end there, thanks to copious and enviable depth. The Blue Devils played 14 midfielders on Saturday, including five defensive middies and two poles. Not only will that spur
transition now, but also later in the season when the weather grows warmer and fatigue and injuries play a larger role in the outcomes of games.

“We’re able to sub and there’s no drop-off,” Montelli said. “Our depth is a great asset for us. We’re able to go 100 percent and have another wave of guys come in. It’s constant pressure and what we pride ourselves in, to play that way for four quarters.”

There’s little doubt the Blue Devils have rediscovered themselves in the last few weeks. The 15-10 defeat of Georgetown hinted at some possible outcomes later in the season -- and just how Duke will go about achieving them.

“They’re an impressive group of athletes,” Georgetown coach Dave Urick said. “They stay in it. They’ll push it down the field with anybody.”

Just like they always have.

ACC Notes

With Lafayette’s loss to Drexel, the only two unbeaten teams in Division I are in the ACC. North Carolina and Virginia -- both 9-0 -- will meet April 10 in East Rutherford, N.J… North Carolina got four goals from freshman Marcus Holman, who played in place of the injured Billy Bitter, in Saturday’s defeat of Maryland... Tar Heels head coach Joe Breschi said Monday that Bitter (leg) is "day to day" and that midfielder Sean DeLaney, who left Saturday's game in the third quarter with a shoulder injury, would be evaluated by team physicians this week. Breschi did not rule out either player for Saturday's game at Johns Hopkins, but added that UNC is preparing this week as such. "We're trying to get some young guys a lot of reps," he said.

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