March 2, 2011

Penn, Duke Downplay Significance of Upset

by Chris R. Vaccaro |

Freshman goalie Brian Feeney makes a save Saturday during the Quakers' 7-3 upset of Duke. Feeney shut out the Blue Devils in the first half for Penn, which has not been to the NCAA tournament since 1989.

© Jim O'Connor

Two things happened after last weekend's Duke-Penn men's lacrosse game: people wondered if Duke will ever return to its dominant form, and others are now curious if Penn really is a contender.

Both teams' head coaches batted each of those ideas down as soon as the pitch was tossed.

"I don't think the win changes anything dramatically at all," said Penn coach Mike Murphy. "We've been talking about building a program that can compete at the championship level and worked hard to clean some things up in the offseason."

The Quakers vaulted from the ranks of unranked to No. 14 in this week's USILA Division I poll. They avoided a letdown Tuesday by rallying to beat Bucknell.

As for Duke, which actually led in many statistical categories of the game and held Penn to just 24 offensive possessions, it's operating with a loss of 16 players from last year's NCAA championship group. The term "defending champion" doesn't hold much conviction for Duke head coach John Danowski.

"It's overused," he said. "It's irrelevant to this team. You are what your record says you are, and we're 1-2 at the end of February."

So what gives?

"There's nothing to change," Danowski said. "The kids need to get experience."

With sophomore Josh Offit at attack, transfer Jesse Fehr from Harvard new to the high-power ACC mix and juniors Rob Rotanz and Justin Turri moving from their supporting roles into key positions, things look different on offense for the Blue Devils. Add sophomore David Lawson and freshmen Jordan Wolf and Christian Walsh into the equation at attack, and it's a little early to suggest Duke will be any different than normal.

"It takes time and patience to see what it is we can become," Danowski said. "The ups and downs of coaching are why we do what we do. It makes coaching a fascinating business."

On the other side of the token, Penn is just happy to be in talks after beating a program like Duke.

Murphy said his scout team prepared well for a week prior to the 7-3 win, but he couldn't have guessed holding Duke to three goals in the season opener.

"I feel like we could do a lot of things," he said. "We've shown we could be a good team."

Brian Feeney, a freshman goalie at Penn, held Duke scoreless in the first half, making his collegiate debut a memorable one.

Penn hasn't received a bid to the NCAA tournament since 1989, and this was the first time the schools have played each other since 1971, with the Quakers winning both previous matches.

At no point did Murphy suggest to his team that beating Duke was a major season goal. It was like any other regular season contest, especially this early in the year, he said.

"They were excited, ran down and celebrated near our goalie," he said. "We enjoyed it for two hours and started focusing on the next game."

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