Fifth-year seniors get another shot at title run

After falling to Johns Hopkins 12-11 in last year's national championship game, Duke's seniors believed they had missed out on what was likely their last chance to win a title.

As they trudged into the locker room, many of the seniors lamented the fact that they would no longer be playing together and would never again share the same locker room.

"I can't even describe in words how much these guys mean to me," captain Matt Danowski said after the loss. "I'm going to miss it."

Although the school had submitted a request to the NCAA for an extra year of eligibility for the lacrosse players early in May, the players and the coaching staff did not know if the request would be accepted. Just two days later, however, the team got a pleasantly surprising answer.

Riding in a taxi cab in Washington D.C., head coach John Danowski received a call informing him that the NCAA had granted 33 of his players one more year of eligibility. The decision had the most immediate impact on the seniors, who had to decide whether to enroll in graduate school to play for Duke or to pursue other opportunities away from the school.

A little less than two months later, Danowski, defenders Nick O'Hara and Tony McDevitt and goalie Dan Loftus announced they would return to the lacrosse team for one more season.

Each of those four players had a significant role in leading the team to the title game last year. Danowski received first-team all-American honors and won the Tewaaraton Trophy as the national player of the year. Additionally, O'Hara received first-team honors while McDevitt and Loftus placed third-team. Danowski also established Duke and ACC scoring records with 96 points.

Last Saturday, the offensive fireworks ignited by Danowski and senior attackman Zack Greer last season continued, as they combined for six goals and seven assists in a 16-4 season-opening victory over No. 15 Bucknell. Greer, who led the nation in goals in 2007, had three of his four scores come off assists from Danowski.

"We've got a lot of guys we feel comfortable with back from last year," Matt Danowski said. "We're picking up right where we left off."

Picked No. 1 in the ACC and No. 2 in the nation by Inside Lacrosse and with eight preseason All-Americans returning, the Blue Devils have all the ingredients necessary to build on their success from last year, which included a perfect record in the ACC and the conference championship. That team also played the toughest schedule in the nation en route to a 17-3 record, with each loss coming by just one goal.

Once again, the team faces a brutal schedule, as it takes on five preseason top-10 teams, including a rematch with No. 1 Johns Hopkins at Koskinen Stadium April 5.

Regardless of the schedule's difficulty, the players-and especially the seniors-know that the extra year of eligibility was an unexpected gift. With a second chance, the fifth-year seniors can only hope that they don't miss out on what actually is their final shot at a national championship.


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