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sports editor's note

(07/25/07 4:00am)

On May 28, I sat in the front row of the press room at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Md. after Duke's heartbreaking 12-11 title-game loss to Johns Hopkins. Watching senior Matt Danowski try to fight back his tears on the dais was one of the most difficult moments of my brief journalistic career. Sometimes when you're watching Duke athletes on a field, it's easy to forget that they are your peers. But then they share their stories--they get up in front of a room of reporters after a devastating loss-and the student part of the student- athlete takes the stage.

Déjà Blue: Hopkins keeps Duke from goal

(05/31/07 4:00am)

BALTIMORE - At practice before Monday's national championship game, Johns Hopkins head coach Dave Pietramala was at a loss for answers. "What do you do with one day to prepare for Matt Danowski and Zack Greer?" he said. "I looked at our guys when we were walking through... and literally said, 'Guys, I'm not sure what the hell we should do.'" His players-despite an 11-9 loss to the Blue Devils April 7 in which Greer had six goals and Danowski four assists-knew the answer. "Coach, let's do what we do," they said. "We'll do a better job." And they did. Danowski, Duke's all-time leading points scorer, and Greer, who entered Saturday's game having tied the single-tournament goals record with 16, were held to a collective 1-for-14 shooting on the afternoon. "They did not want to run with us," Danowski said. "They did not want to let us play transition, and they did a good job of sticking to the game plan and taking us out of that. They controlled the tempo of the game." Although Blue Devils head coach John Danowski said his team's offense had never been a "Matt-and-Zack show," Duke has looked to its two offensive stars to win games time and again this season. Monday, however, they were being covered by Blue Jay defenders Michael Evans and Eric Zerrlaut, and the Blue Devils were unable to pull off a final comeback, falling 12-11 at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. "Michael and Eric really took it personally this week that last time we played, Zack-who is a wonderful player-had six goals and Matt Danowski had a goal and four assists," Pietramala said. "They both felt very responsible." Zerrlaut, a senior, embodied the 2007 Blue Jays-a team that started 4-4 and was in the midst of a three-game losing streak before rattling off nine straight en route to its ninth title in program history. In October, Zerrlaut tore his anterior cruciate ligament. By February, the defenseman was back on the field for the team's first game against Albany and played in all 16 games this season. "What do you say about a kid who comes back from an ACL surgery five months later?" Pietramala asked. "What do you say [about] a kid, who the day after Christmas, is in the training room rehabbing his knee?" Now you can say he contained the nation's most powerful scorer so his team could win its ninth national championship. The Blue Jays said they entered the title game with a chip on their shoulders because every other team in the final four seemed to have a storyline. "There was a Cinderella story in Delaware. There was the nation's team in Duke. And there was the undefeated No. 1 team in the country in Cornell," said Blue Jay senior attackman Jake Byrne. "We were just kind of there." Byrne-who followed up his 2005 title game-winning goal over Duke with four scores in the 2007 rematch-knew otherwise. The most storied program in lacrosse had a story-and now it has another title, too. The comeback tale for Danowski and Greer,-which included stellar performances in come-from-behind wins in the ACC Championship and in the NCAA quaterfinals over Tobacco Road rival North Carolina-ended imperfectly. "We had looks, it just seemed like we were either a step slow or an inch off," Danowski said. "It was the story of the game for us. We were hitting the pipe or a step slow or going to the top of the stick." Johns Hopkins, a team whose head coach even admitted began its season surrounded by doubt and the danger of missing the NCAA field, got the finish it wanted, in part because it did defensively what so many other teams had failed to do. "We talked about how no one has been able to control those two guys," Pietramala said of Greer and Danowski. "Today, because of [Evans and Zerrlaut's] play, our team's play, and the play of our goalie, we were able to control those two guys."