With the pressure of last year's season-long suspension still weighing heavily on Duke, the Blue Devils feel they have something to prove. And nothing would prove more than winning the National Championship.
But the players constantly remind themselves to play one game at a time. Despite this outside pressure, compounded by two one-goal losses in its last three games, No. 5 Duke (5-2) hopes to remain focused when it travels to No. 7 Georgetown (4-1) Saturday in Washington, D.C.
"They feel pressure that they have to prove everybody wrong-anybody who said anything negative about them," head coach John Danowski said. "I think they carry it around like a freaking weight on their necks. I think it's a very difficult way to enjoy playing lacrosse."
Infusing a more relaxed mentality into his team, John Danowski has already begun to alleviate some of the stress felt by his players. But his positive attitude still cannot compensate for the team's lack of experience resulting from Duke's shortened 2006 campaign.
And it's starting to show.
"The big thing is game experience," senior goalie Dan Loftus said. "We have a lot of guys who have never played before. This is their first year making an immediate impact."
The Blue Devils have been forced to learn as this season has progressed, and their 7-6 loss to No. 1 Cornell Tuesday was their most recent lesson. John Danowski said the game produced many coaching opportunities that the team can learn and improve from heading into the weekend's contest against the Hoyas.
Specifically, Duke will attempt to shoot more accurately at Georgetown. Against the Big Red, the Blue Devils managed to shoot on target just more than 50 percent-well below their season average of 62 percent.
Despite having the necessary skills to shoot accurately, the players have to stay after practice and work on their own in order to further improve that area of their game, captain Matt Danowski said.
"It's not like [Cornell was] better than us or stopped us," the team's leading scorer said. "We did what we wanted to do. We just didn't fully execute."
At times, the players seem so eager to win games-since so many were taken from them last year-that they struggle to stay loose on the field. Even in the face of its own mistakes, Duke must maintain the more relaxed attitude John Danowski has tried to imbue.
"The more serious we are in lacrosse and the more uptight we are, the tighter your hands are the more turnovers it causes," Matt Danowski said. "Playing relaxed-that means you're confident in yourself and in your teammates, and you believe in what each other's doing."
Under the leadership of their coach, the Blue Devils are trying to focus only on Saturday's game and not on the expectations and pressures surrounding them. Although winning the National Championship in May might be Duke's ultimate goal, the players know that to win they cannot afford to look past the games in March and April.
"If we just come out and play the right way, play relaxed and confident and play like we know we can, then we won't have to worry about a losing streak," Matt Danowski said.
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