February 16, 2012

Season Preview (MD1): No. 2 Duke

by Corey McLaughlin | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Duke heads into the season with an experienced defense and a talented all-sophomore attack unit.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com 

Redshirt senior midfielder Justin Turri has been with the Duke program for five years, long enough to understand the trend outsiders talk about when they think of the Blue Devils and coach John Danowski. How in the world do his teams get so much better by the end of the year?

Going back to his final season at Hofstra, a Danowski-coached team has finished in the top five every year since 2006. Yet the last three seasons, the Blue Devils have lost as many games in February as they have won.

"Sometimes we start out the season a little disappointing, but we do a really good job of seeing what our flaws are," Turri said. "Every day, we go to practice and we get better at something. That comes directly from our coaches."

Danowski said that players must master fundamentals before coaches can introduce complex schemes. When Duke scrimmaged the U.S. national team in October, the Blue Devils lost, 21-9.

Danowski wasn't as upset with the score as he was that the team failed to accomplish three main goals: 1) square up correctly in one-on-one defense; 2) have clean exchanges in transition and 3) compete for and pick up ground balls.

The approach is the same in the regular season.

"We aren't placing an emphasis so much on winning early in the season," Danowski said. "We don't try to put in things that we're not ready for. We don't really have as much in as we do later on, because we need to get better at the little things first. Then we add more detail each game out."

Danowski and his staff will oversee the growth of an attack unit that will start three sophomores, but has the potential to be highly productive. Jordan Wolf, the top returning scorer, and Christian Walsh, the second-highest returning scorer (34 points), each started their freshman seasons in the midfield but eventually moved to attack alongside Zach Howell, who has graduated. Another sophomore, Josh Dionne, will assume the third starting spot.

The obvious feeder-finisher dynamic past Duke teams have had isn't there yet. Wolf is a terrific dodger who has worked to round out other aspects of his game. If you had to pick a quarterback, it's Walsh, but he will also need to get to the cage and score. Dionne is a lefty finisher with great hands.

"How can we get them to play together, and make each other a great group, as opposed to three good individuals?" Danowski said.

The midfield should be strong with Turri and senior Rob Rotanz starting with freshman Will Haus.

Defensively, Duke lost Tom Montelli, but starting close defensemen Chris Hipps and Billy Conners return. Mike Manley, one of the top cover defenders in the nation, is healthy after redshirting last season because of torn ligaments in his left knee.

Long-stick midfielder and leading faceoff specialist C.J. Costabile returns for a fourth year, as do Duke's second and third faceoff options, Brendan Fowler and Greg DeLuca, defensive middies who spent the fall on the Blue Devils' football team.

The question mark is in goal.

Junior Dan Wigrizer (.550 save percentage in 2011) is the returning starter, but fifth-year senior Mike Rock will push him and freshman U.S. U19 team goalie Kyle Turri, Justin's brother, is lurking.

"Perhaps we can win with a whole bunch of different guys," Danowski said.

In any case, Danowski expects "tremendous growth" as the season transpires. It is, after all, about how you finish.

A version of this article appears in the February issue of Lacrosse Magazine, the flagship publication of US Lacrosse. Join US Lacrosse and its 400,000-plus members today to start your subscription to LM. Follow LaxMagazine.com all season long, and check out the Blue Devils' team page.

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