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Nightmare over, Duke players still can't forget

Lacrosse team struggles to focus on game in wake of assault case

By Jeff Barker

sun Reporter

April 13, 2007

DURHAM, N.C.

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For a year, members of the Duke men's lacrosse team have been restrained in talking about their infamous party and their feelings toward the woman who said she was raped there.

On the day after sexual assault and kidnapping charges were dismissed against three former teammates, some were willing, even eager, to open up a little more.

On a cloudless day after their afternoon practice, several players sat on a bleacher and talked about their complicated emotions toward the accuser and District Attorney Michael B. Nifong - who apologized yesterday - and their regrets about holding the party in which two strippers were hired to perform.

"We knew it was an irresponsible party," said Tony McDevitt, a senior from Philadelphia. "We probably shouldn't have decided to hold a party of that nature."

One of the strippers told police she was pulled into a bathroom and raped by three players. But North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper dismissed the charges Wednesday against David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann, saying the stripper contradicted herself and that "we believe these three individuals are innocent."

Senior co-captain Matt Danowski, the coach's son, said he grapples with competing feelings about the woman and those responsible for bringing the case.

"You have a sense of bitterness and anger," Danowski said. "But she's obviously a troubled young woman."

Danowski said he agreed with Cooper's decision not to bring charges against her. The player said he wouldn't want her to face the same dread that he and his teammates endured last year when they believed that any of them might soon be indicted.

Danowski and other players said they'll never forget Easter weekend of 2006. Nifong was about to indict somebody based on the woman's rape claim, but neither the players nor their lawyers knew whom.

Danowski spent the weekend at his Long Island home. "It was one of the weirdest times ever. You're wondering if the next phone call is going to come and you'll find out that it's you. You didn't want to look at your cell phone and see that 919 [area code] from your lawyer in Durham with the news," he said.

Ed Douglas, a co-captain from Baltimore, recalls the feeling in his stomach when he saw Seligmann on television appearing at the county courthouse after being arrested.

"I remember feeling physically nauseated watching Reade get out of a squad car," Douglas said.

Said Danowski: "It was like watching a movie through somebody else's eyes. You're thinking, 'That's my friend in the back of a squad car.' "

Danowski's father, John - who took over as coach this season - said he always believed that someone on the team would have come forward had a rape occurred. "At least one or two guys would have dissented. These guys have worked too hard to be champions to let something like that go unreported."

The players were instructed by their attorneys last year not to talk publicly about the party.

While they have spoken to varying degrees about other subjects, Matt Danowski said it has felt unnatural to be reticent.

"Your reaction as a human being is that when you're attacked, you defend yourself. It's tough for a bunch of 19-year-olds and 20-year-olds, who are so used to busting each others' chops, not to talk," he said.

John Danowski said his players, who host defending national champion Virginia tomorrow as part of alumni reunion weekend, lacked focus at practice. He ordered them off the field at one point, then summoned them back.

He said he didn't know if their sloppy play resulted from the distractions of the court drama, which continued yesterday when Nifong apologized to the three men he had accused.

"To the extent that I made judgments that ultimately proved to be incorrect, I apologize to the three students that were wrongly accused," he said, according to a statement he released to the Associated Press.

"It is my sincere desire that the actions of Attorney General Cooper will serve to remedy any remaining injury that has resulted from these cases. '"

jeff.barker@baltsun.com