May 23, 2013

Danowski, Pannell Talk NCAA Record Chase

by Corey McLaughlin | | Twitter

Duke first-year assistant coach Matt Danowski will watch from the sideline Saturday as Rob Pannell approaches Danowski's NCAA career points record.
© Kevin P. Tucker

PHILADELPHIA — The man Rob Pannell is chasing for the NCAA's all-time points lead will be on the sideline at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday, as part of the coaching staff that has game-planned all week to beat Pannell and the Big Red.

Matt Danowski, the 2007 Tewaaraton Award winner and now a first-year assistant coach at Duke, walked into the home of the NFL's Eagles on Thursday afternoon for media day and surveyed the scene. This is where Danowski, as a Duke sophomore in 2005, notched six points in the Blue Devils' one-goal loss to Johns Hopkins in the national title game.

It's where, now as a Duke offensive assistant coach, Danowski will watch as Pannell on Saturday begins a potential two-game pursuit of Danowski's all-time NCAA record of 353 points. Pannell enters the Big Red's semifinal game against Duke six points away from tying the mark. With the fifth-year senior attackman averaging 5.86 points per game, it's entirely possible he reaches it this weekend — potentially against the Blue Devils.

"I try to keep my mind off it, but it is what it is," Pannell said of the record chase. "It is close by. It's a pretty big record. It's a pretty big deal.

"I'd by lying if I said I wasn't thinking about it, but come game day, once the game starts, it will be the last thing on my mind. If we're playing well and if we're in a good position to win, most likely I'll be playing well as well."

Danowski said he's more focused on helping Duke's offense score goals against Cornell rather than protecting his record. Danowski works with veteran assistant coach Ron Caputo on Duke's offensive end, assisting head coach John Danowski, Matt's father.

"At the end of the day, I'm not too worried about it," Danowski said. "I'm more worried about how we're going to score goals on them offensively. But it makes for some good conversation. We'll see what happens."

Maybe Duke's defense will help Danowski keep his part of NCAA history as well?

"Brendan Fowler will probably be the biggest help with that," Danowski said of Duke's prolific faceoff man, who has won 64.9 percent of his draws and is within range of setting the Division I records for faceoffs won and taken in a year. "He's had an unbelievable year."

Pannell said Duke's play between the lines in general, faceoffs included, is an important key for Saturday's matchup. ("Duke does a great job of pressuring you not only on the faceoffs but on the ride, staying on and double-teaming," he said.) He also evaluated the Blue Devils' defense when asked.

"They don't like to slide much," Pannell said. "They step out, pressure, throw checks. They trust their individuals a lot, which is understandable. They're great athletes. If we play our six versus their six and share the ball, and create scoring opportunities and make easy passes, and hit singles, as we like to call it, we'll be able to generate some great scoring opportunities."

Danowski hopes there's just not enough scoring chances to break his record — or for Cornell to win.

Pannell Welcomes Chance to Avenge the Foxborough Flip

"I would rather play no one else but Syracuse in the championship, to be able to get one back for Cornell," Rob Pannell said, alluding to the Big Red's 2009 loss to the Orange in the Foxborough Flip championship game.
© Kevin P. Tucker

Chasing Danowski is not the only major storyline involving Pannell and the Big Red entering this weekend. How about avenging the Foxborough Flip?

Cornell needs to beat Duke and Syracuse must get by Denver, but if both of those happen, Monday's national title game would pit the central New York rivals against each other in a rematch of the 2009 championship meeting. That game, of course, went to overtime on Kenny Nims' unlikely goal with 4.5 seconds left in regulation. The Orange won on a Cody Jamieson goal in the extra period. And after leading the game 9-6 with four minutes left, Cornell's national title drought — its last win coming in 1975 — was extended another year in what's remembered as the Foxborough Flip game.

Pannell was a freshman on the 2009 Cornell team, and welcomes a potential Syracuse-Cornell rematch with open arms.

"I would love a Syracuse-Cornell matchup on Monday," Pannell said. "We both have to take care of business on Saturday, but I would rather play no one else but Syracuse in the championship, to be able to get one back for Cornell. It would be a fitting for the end of the story for my career at Cornell, and certainly this year for us. We'll see."

Berg in Range of Lusby's Record

Another NCAA record is in danger of being broken, and this one was set just last year. Denver sophomore Wes Berg, who has averaged six goals per game in the first two rounds of the tournament, is in position to break the NCAA tournament record of 17 goals set by Loyola attackman Eric Lusby in the 2012. Berg has 12 goals entering Saturday's semifinal against Syracuse. He scored eight in Denver's first-round game against Albany, one shy of tying the tournament single-game record.

But Denver coach Bill Tierney said that Berg's most impressive accomplishment this postseason may have come not on the field, but in the Denver locker room at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis last Sunday, with the Pioneers trailing North Carolina 9-4 at halftime of the quarterfinal games.

Berg, normally steady and reserved, delivered a halftime address that left Tierney and the Pioneers coaching staff without anything to add when they walked in the locker room after briefly discussing what they wanted to tell the team outside.

"I walked in at halftime, and here's 19-year-old Wesley Berg telling everybody what we're doing, and what's wrong, and what's right," Tierney said. "And not to give up. We can score five goals. We're winning faceoffs. We're hitting pipes. We can beat this team. I was taken aback. He said everything that I wanted to say."

Berg has played in big games before, in Canadian Minto Cups, and the Federation of International Lacrosse U19 World Championships in Finland last summer, which Tierney suspects is a reason why Berg felt comfortable speaking up, although he hadn't in similar situations before in his career.

"Never. That's the amazing thing," Tierney said. "He never says a word. I go in there and he's talking. It was like, 'Woah.'" will have complete coverage of championship weekend with features, live blogs, post-game reaction and more. Be sure to follow @LacrosseMag on Twitter for instant updates as well.

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