Duke returns to the field with 2 victories

As the Blue Devils walked off the field following their season opener Saturday, not a single player failed to flash a grin.

After 10 months of controversy, it was the first time in a long time Duke has had something to smile about.

"The longer you're away, the sweeter it is coming back," midfielder Bo Carrington said.

A 17-11 victory over Dartmouth made it even sweeter, as the No. 6 Blue Devils overcame the emotion and excitement of a game they have highly anticipated since their 2006 season was cancelled April 5.

"It is a relief for this to be over," head coach John Danowski said of Saturday's season opener. "I could feel it in my body.... The amount of energy that's been carried forward by everyone has been tremendous."

The feelings that have lingered since March were evident before the game, as the Blue Devils ran through their pregame drills wearing the numbers 6, 13 and 45-a strong, silent tribute to indicted former teammates Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and David Evans.

The emotion peaked as Duke took the field for the game-the players running through a smoke-filled tunnel before congregating at the midline in a huddle that was a celebration in and of itself.

With the second largest crowd in Duke lacrosse history in attendance Saturday, the matchup had the feel of a playoff game for Danowski and his players as the 6,485 fans welcomed the Blue Devils back to Koskinen Stadium.

"It was amazing," Carrington said. "It was one of those times where in athletics you only get a couple of those."

The emotion carried over into the game, as the Blue Devils struggled to settle down in the first quarter. After Brad Ross scored Duke's first goal of the season to put the Blue Devils up 1-0, the Big Green answered with three straight scores for a 3-1 lead with 3:07 left in the opening period.

Danowski said he expected his team to be overzealous at the start of the game considering the circumstances and hype surrounding the contest.

"[My emotions] kind of got the best of me in the first quarter," said captain Matt Danowski, who scored three goals on 13 shots in the game. "I think I was just so wound up because I was finally back out there again."

The Blue Devils gained their composure quickly and fought back to take a 4-3 lead with 12:59 to go in the second quarter when forward Zack Greer scored his first of six goals in the game off an assist from midfielder Peter Lamade.

Even though Duke maintained the lead for the rest of the game, Matt Danowski said the Blue Devils did not really settle down completely until senior Dan Oppedisano put Duke up 10-6 with a goal on the first shot of his career with 7:09 left in the third quarter.

After that, the Blue Devils cruised to victory, but even the completion of the game itself seemed to hold a greater significance for Duke than merely starting the season off with a win. The fact that the Blue Devils gave up 11 goals or went 0-for-3 on man-up advantages did not even seem to phase John Danowski, who responded to a reporter's question over whether anything went wrong for Duke Saturday by saying, "Probably not."

"We could have lost today, we could have lost by a lot, it would have been fine," John Danowski said. "Not really, but you know what I mean. We could have lost by a little, we could have won by a little-we were going to handle whatever was going to be thrown our way, because I had no idea what to expect."

Duke followed up its win Saturday with a rain-soaked 13-9 victory over No. 12 Denver, which never led, but stayed close throughout the contest. Greer had two more goals in the game, bringing his weekend total to eight.

Danowski said that the Blue Devils played with much more composure and consistency in their win over Denver and that he was impressed with the team's performance over the tough two-day stretch.

"That's probably the toughest weekend in Duke lacrosse history," senior Nick O'Hara said. "Now we can get back into our usual routine, and we're looking forward to that."


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