Penn's first test: new-look champions
Defending national champion Duke visits Franklin Field in Quakers’ first contest of 2011
February 25, 2011, 3:36 am · Updated February 25, 2011, 12:00 am·
Duke lacrosse is reborn in 2011.
It lost three All-Americans and Tewaaraton Trophy winner Ned Crotty.
But it won the 2010 NCAA Championship — a fitting end to a four-year stretch of Final Four appearances.
Coach John Danowski joined the Blue Devils before the 2007 season, guiding his team to a 17-3 record as national runner-up.
Now, a championship and the graduation of the last class affected by the 2006 false allegations of rape give this season a new feel and mark a turning point in the program.
“It’s just so different than the first four years,” Danowski said. “My first year was so amazingly intense, and it had nothing to do with lacrosse … This is going to be normal and it’s going to be great.”
No. 10 Duke (1-1) visits Penn Saturday for the Quakers’ season opener, although anyone expecting Franklin Field to be filled with the pomp and circumstance fit for a reigning national champion will be severely disappointed.
New year. New players. New goals.
“We just don’t talk about it, and we don’t reference it,” Danowski said of last year’s title run. “We have ten freshmen and a transfer, and they couldn’t care less because they weren’t here — so that’s, what, 25 percent of your team?”
As much as Danowski may downplay it, “defending champs” is a moniker his club will carry until at least the season’s end, and the rest of the country won’t easily forget.
Take last week’s title game rematch between the Blue Devils and Notre Dame.
The Sunshine Classic pitted the two schools together at EverBank Field, where the Fighting Irish avenged last year’s defeat by stifling the Duke offense, 12-7.
With a new-look team, Danowski used the experience as a teaching point for his underclassmen.
“We said to all the younger guys, ‘Listen, you made a lot of mistakes in practices, and now you’re going to make mistakes on national TV,” Danowski said. “We know that this team is extremely young and extremely inexperienced, so expectations are minimal.”
Penn coach Mike Murphy — captain of the Duke team in 1991 — noted his opponent’s youth as well, but steered clear of any extra hype around hosting last year’s champs.
“I don’t think the term ‘national championship’ has been mentioned once in regard to this game,” Murphy said.
Danowski, Murphy’s friend, seems to prefer it that way.
Given its journey from embroilment in controversy in 2006 to the pinnacle of the sport last year, Duke lacrosse may never be as “normal” as Danowski hopes. However, 2011 certainly begins a new era for the Blue Devils.
Opening day in Durham this season, he and his assistant were stopped by security and forced to show ID for trying to enter their own locker room.
In a humorous — albeit welcome — realization, Danowski found that, apparently, not everyone recognized the defending champs.
That’s just fine with him.
“At Duke, nobody knows who I am or who we are or what we do,” Danowski said. “It keeps us humble, and it keeps us hungry and edgy and eager to compete.”
Coach told the same story to his players as a lesson in starting fresh.
“What happened last year doesn’t matter,” Danowski said. “It’s time for this team to create its own path in the world, and whatever path that’s going to be, we’re all in it together — let’s go.”