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PICTURE PERFECT: DUKE WINS ACC CROWN

Trailing 4-3 at halftime after a scoreless second period, the Blue Devils looked like a team in trouble.

But nearing the end of a season filled with pressure and drama, Duke remained unphased.

"Although we were down by a goal, we were pretty calm," head coach John Danowski said. "I just said, 'Listen, it's going to happen.'"

And it did.

An offense that has struggled and appeared stagnant at times this season came to life as the Blue Devils scored five unanswered goals to start the second half.

Duke tallied seven in the third period-its second largest scoring explosion in a quarter all year-and the No. 2 Blue Devils captured a 12-9 victory over No. 3 Virginia and their fourth ACC Championship.

"We try and pride ourselves on being good at every aspect of the game," Danowski said. "We are able to generate offense in a lot of different ways, but that's not unusual, that's by design."

The Duke midfield and attack were the catalysts for much of the Blue Devils' scoring, as an agressive ride helped force 18 Virginia turnovers. Duke also picked up five more ground balls and cleared all of its opportunities in the decisive third period.

"Our failure to clear at times is a product of [Duke's] athleticism and their effort on their attack riding," Cavalier head coach Dom Starsia said. "It's a chore getting the ball up and out sometimes and they're especially dangerous when they do create those turnovers in the middle of the field-turning those into great offensive opportunities."

In addition, goalie Dan Loftus frustrated the Virginia offense with an array of acrobatic saves that held the Cavaliers to their fourth lowest scoring output of the season. The senior tallied 16 saves, many of which were in one-on-one situations with the Virginia attack.

"When our goalie's playing hot like that, it makes the whole team relaxed and makes us play better," co-captain Matt Danowski said. "I thought the D played well in front of him, but he made a couple saves that were just pretty ridiculous."

Danowski, the 2007 ACC Player of the Year, and fellow All-ACC attackman Zack Greer continued their prolific scoring as each member of the offesive duo tallied three goals. Danowski, who was named tournament Most Valuable Player, scored two of Duke's three first-quarter goals before the Virginia defense shut down the senior with an aggressive double-team.

But as has been the case all season, the opposition's focus on Danowski freed up other Blue Devils. Greer and midfielders Max Quinzani and Mike Catalino tallied two goals apiece.

John Danowski said that the added production of Duke's midfield, which consists heavily of underclassmen, has played a major part in Duke's recent success.

"We said from the beginning that they're fabulous athletes, but losing last year, especially the sophomores, they're really not sophomores," Danowski said. "We've gone through some growing pains with some of those guys, but we believe in their athleticism, we believe in their character and we believe in who they are, it's just going to take time. Patience sometimes is the hardest thing to have...but I think some of that patience is starting to pay off."

The Blue Devils' victory over the Cavaliers was their eighth straight. In addition to Sunday's win over Virginia, Duke defeated No. 9 North Carolina (9-5) 13-9 in the semifinals after jumping out to a 6-3 first quarter lead. Greer and Danowski led the way in that game as well, scoring three and two goals, respectively.

With the May 6 matchup against Air Force the last remaining regular season game on Duke's schedule, the Blue Devils' ACC tournament victory marks the first step toward their ultimate goal: an NCAA title.

"For us as seniors, we talk about leaving a legacy here and this is the first thing we can leave with our name on it is an ACC Championship," Matt Danowski said. "It's just another testament to the character of the guys on this team, to their families and the way we just stuck through things and kept going with it. Today is one of those payoffs."

NOTES

The Blue Devils' ACC tournament victory was their first since 2002 when they defeated Virginia 14-13.... Five Blue Devils-Danowski, Greer, Loftus, Casey Carroll, and Bo Carrington-were named to the ACC All-tournament team.

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