Reigning national champion Duke made a break from tradition – in a positive way.
Sunday's 14-6 victory over Stony Brook guaranteed that the top-ranked Blue Devils will finish February with a 4-0 record. It's the first time since 2008 that the program did not suffer a loss in the first month of the season.
But if coach John Danowski is supposed to be doing cartwheels over the achievement, he sounded remarkably composed from his campus office on Tuesday morning.
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“It’s February, and it’s February lacrosse,” Danowski said by phone as he prepares Duke for an Atlantic Coast Conference showdown with No. 3 Maryland at Byrd Stadium on Saturday at noon. “You know that you’re headed somewhere, but you don’t know. It’s only February. I think we just take it one day at a time and just try to figure out who we’re going to become.”
Last year’s run to the NCAA title got off to a rocky start as Duke dropped three of its first five games. Add a 16-7 setback to the Terps on March 2, and the Blue Devils were 2-4 and considered in serious danger of missing the NCAA tournament.Danowski pointed to last season as a reminder of how an early record doesn’t necessarily seal a team’s fate.
“Maryland last year, they whacked us,” he recalled. “They were a better team than we were on that day. And then you take a look at what you have and you continue to work. Notre Dame beat us, Denver beat us. They were the better teams. A lot of times, I think you learn more about yourself when you lose than when you win. Last year for example, we were practicing great. Kids were giving us everything they had. We just weren’t playing well in games. Maybe that’s also due to your opponents and due to circumstances in which you’re playing your opponents. Last year was Notre Dame’s first game, it was Penn’s first game. Teams are fired up, and they’re focused on you only and no one else while you’re playing other people. There are all sorts of different circumstances, and that really never got us too down and being 4-0 doesn’t get us too excited. It’s February.”
The Blue Devils have now won nine straight contests dating back to an 18-17 loss to North Carolina in an ACC tournament semifinal on April 26. They seem to have picked up where they left off, but Danowski downplayed any notion of carrying over momentum from last year’s championship run.
“Whatever happened last year is unimportant this year,” he insisted. “It doesn’t matter to anyone here and I mean that very humbly. That team is gone. That team disbanded on Memorial Day. You can say that the program is the defending national champion, but not this team. We’ve never made a big deal out of wins and losses in a sense that when you’re 2-4, you’re like, ‘OK, where are we at and what do we have to do to get better?’ If you’re 4-0, it’s, ‘OK, where are we at and what do we have to do to get better?’ It’s February. You just want to continue to work and get better and play your best lacrosse in April and – if they give you a chance – hopefully, you can continue your play in May.”