April 1, 2011

Throwback Kid Jordan Wolf Knows No Fear

by Joel Censer | LaxMagazine.com

Duke's Jordan Wolf tumbles to the turf after getting hit by a Georgetown defender near the goal in the Blue Devils' 14-12 victory last Saturday. Wolf has emerged as Duke's top threat to goal and will likely face coverage by Syracuse All-American John Lade in the Big City Classic on Sunday.

© Peyton Williams

Jordan Wolf first caught the eye of John Christmas five years ago during a middle school indoor game in suburban Philadelphia.

Christmas, then a Lower Merion coach, had heard rumblings about an eighth grader with serious potential and turbo jets. When he saw Wolf play indoors, it didn't take long to understand all the stop-and-go hoopla. Sure, the kid was small, no more than 5 feet tall and 115 pounds soaking wet. But what he lacked in size he more than made up with fearlessness around the crease and an ability to blow by defensemen like they were standing still.

"He was running around like a little Mikey Powell," Christmas said.

Not surprisingly, the former Cavalier took interest. There's a pervasive private school influence on Philadelphia's Main Line, meaning much of the youth talent ends up at places like Malvern Prep or the Haverford School. Christmas knew he wanted Wolf at Lower Merion, the same public school he had graduated from in 2001.

Moreover, Christmas, who had become a household name at Virginia by carving up even the most fleet-footed defensemen, figured he might have a trick or two to teach the kid.

"At the end of the game, I went up to Jordan's mom and told her if he came to Lower Merion I would personally coach him," Christmas said.

Christmas got his wish, and Wolf lived up to his early reputation. By the end of four years at Lower Merion, he had broken all of Christmas's scoring records. Now a freshman attackman at Duke, Wolf has been a catalyst for the Blue Devils. Since being inserted into the starting lineup against Maryland, the phenom has averaged four points a game (if you don't count a Mercer blowout in which he played little), and Duke has won seven straight.

It's not just that Wolf is putting up points; it's how he's doing it. Against Maryland in overtime, the freshman picked up the ball at the endline, exploded past All-American defenseman Brett Schmidt and then took on the slide to net the game-winner. Twelve days later against Carolina, Wolf scored a couple goals on Charlie McComas, forcing the Tar Heels to bump reigning NCAA Defenseman of the Year Ryan Flanagan over to cover him. Wolf, who finished the day with four goals, got topside and scored on him, too.

In an era in which attackmen are generally relegated to finishing and distributive roles, Wolf is a visual reminder that attackers who can dodge and consistently turn the corner aren't relics just yet. For what it's worth, Wolf's not just plodding to the five-and-five; he's getting right in front of the cage.

Playing at Lower Merion helped develop Wolf's one-on-one-prowess. Unlike other high schools, where he probably would have had to grow into the role of lead attackman, Wolf was immediately needed to initiate offense. So instead of having to learn to get comfortable working from "X," Wolf was getting constant repetitions dodging from nearly every part of the field.

Not to mention plenty of individual attention and advice from Christmas.

"He was really influential," Wolf said.

Of course, Wolf is the first to admit that he's not a finished product, and there's room for improvement. Being an attackman is about more than getting topside, and according to Duke assistant coach Ron Caputo, the freshman has shown a real interest in learning the subtleties of the position.

"He wants to be great," Caputo said.

Wolf must also adjust to quicker slides and opponents getting more physical with him sooner rather than later. In what has been a bit of a disturbing trend, attackmen who are willing to push to the goal often aren't as productive as they get older. Christmas, Kyle Barrie, Ian Dingman, Ben Rubeor and now Billy Bitter all had to deal with serious injuries and/or extensive game planning that curtailed their production by the end of their careers.

"If you're willing to embarrass guys by getting to the middle of the field, sooner or later you're going to pay the price," Christmas said.

This weekend, the No. 3 Blue Devils, who will take on No. 1 Syracuse at the Konica-Minolta Big City Classic, face their toughest challenge yet. For Wolf, he'll be matched up against Syracuse's first team All-American John Lade. A rock solid slab of a defenseman, Lade has been goose-egging capable attackmen all season.

"To be honest with you if Jordan gets after him," Caputo said, "he'll be the first."

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