It was early in the morning, but the Blue Devils were just happy to be there.
"The bottom line is this is a game," new head coach John Danowski said. "This is something you do after school. It's fun."
Though the team is actually practicing before school this fall, Danowski's statement rung clear. After months of uncertainty, the team members were finally able to do what they had not done together for five months--play lacrosse.
In some ways, the scene looked similar to the one at practices in late March and early April before the team was temporarily suspended--with news trucks parked outside the fence and a gaggle of reporters and cameramen eagerly waiting to ask questions.
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But with Danowski, who was hired July 21, running the practice instead of Mike Pressler, some things were different. For the Blue Devil players and coaches, the fall practices will serve as a period of adjustment during which they will get used to one another.
"I'll be honest, I'm embarrassed to say this, but I didn't know everyone's first name out there," Danowski said. "With the numbers and the helmets on, I couldn't see their faces."
Danowski scheduled practice a week earlier than usual this fall so that he could get used to his new players. With his son, Matt, now playing his fourth season for Duke, John Danowski said he knew the older players well but was still learning about the younger ones.
In addition to the 35 returning players, 12 walk-ons showed up to try out for the team, and Danowski said 10 are still with the squad.
"From what I'm told, we have the biggest number of walk-ons that they've had here in a long time," Danowski said. "I respect them and admire them for coming out. There is a talented group of returnees so to come out and to take a chance like that takes a lot of courage."
Danowski said he is trying hard to learn about the team as quickly as possible since the fall recruiting period is underway. Duke, which lost four of its seven incoming freshmen recruits while the program was suspended in the spring, will likely need a larger class for the upcoming year.
At this time of the season, the coaching staff is already sending e-mails to high school juniors who might be interested in playing for Duke.
"My experience recruiting so far, very limited, has been unbelievable," Danowski said. "People want to send their children to Duke University.... We have seven commitments for next year, and I actually want to slow that process down."
Danowski said he is also busy preparing the spring schedule, which is a game or two away from completion. Danowski said he hopes to finish the schedule by the end of this week.
"It's great to get back to that routine," senior captain Ed Douglas said. "Everyone is motivated for this season."
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