To hear John Danowski explain it, he had no idea what he was getting in Brendan Fowler. In fact, the Duke coach had not met Fowler until August of his freshman year.
That is because Fowler had not contacted the Blue Devils coaching staff during the recruiting process. The faceoff specialist had simply applied and been accepted to the university on his own, and Danowski confirmed Fowler’s matriculation only when he had contacted the coach of Chaminade (N.Y.) High School – Fowler’s alma mater – in May of the athlete’s senior year.
“We had nothing to do with recruiting Brendan, getting him into the school,” Danowski said. “Everything was on his own. Those stories don’t happen too often, but that’s a true story. We take no credit for the recruitment of Brendan Fowler.”
Fowler may have quietly joined the program, but he made the loudest noise in seventh-seeded Duke’s 16-10 demolition of top-seeded Syracuse in Monday’s NCAA tournament final at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
The junior won 20-of-28 faceoffs and scooped up a game-high 14 ground balls. Fowler, who won 36-of-59 faceoffs and collected 26 ground balls this weekend, was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
At one point, Fowler won 13 draws in a row, keying the team’s 10-3 run in the second and third quarters against the Orange.
“Obviously winning face-offs and getting the ball back makes it a lot easier to score goals,” he said. “But early, I violated a few times, kind of let it get to my head a little bit. Once I cooled down a little and stuck to what I do every day, got into a groove there and just felt pretty good going out there every time.”
Junior attackman Jordan Wolf recorded four goals and two assists, senior midfielder Josh Offit three goals and two assists and senior midfielder Jake Tripucka two goals and two assists. But Syracuse coach John Desko said Fowler’s ability to help the Blue Devils play make-it, take-it was too much to overcome.
“He has more than one technique, although we saw the one where he kind of pinch clamped it and got the ball in the back of his stick, allowing him to pick it up,” Desko said. “But then he adjusted pretty well to what we did. If we came in behind him, he was good at trying to get the ball out to the front, turning his body, knowing that he had the ball in a spot. Great awareness of where his wings are. A couple times, it looked like we came with doubles, and he just kind of flipped the ball off to an area where his wings could pick it up. I guess there’s a reason he’s a first-team All American.”
And Duke is taking home its second national championship in four years courtesy of Fowler, who was the team’s steadiest weapon in a vast arsenal.
“I think that we would say every week, maybe this is the week that Brendan doesn’t win 65 percent of his face-offs,” Danowski said. “Maybe this is the week that we have to be ready for that, and we still have to be able to compete and figure out how to win if he doesn’t. But the day almost never came.”
* The Blue Devils (16-5) entered Final Four weekend ranked third in scoring (13.8 goals per game), third in points per game (21.8) and ninth in shooting percentage (32.2). Junior attackman Josh Dionne, who registered four of his seven hat tricks this season in the team’s final six contests, said a key was the players participating in what he called “shooting camp.” “It’s just getting up a little bit earlier after breakfast and then just going out and doing shooting that we would do, that we would run in our offense,” Dionne explained. “We’d run a couple different sets, and you can’t just go out there during the game and just expect to hit shots. We’ve got to practice, and that’s what we did. We got reps at that, and whatever that may be, whatever setup that may be, we just wanted to go through the motions and just keep doing it and doing it and doing it until, like I said, you don’t think about it.”
* Kyle Turri may have been the most unheralded goalkeepers among the four semifinalists, but the sophomore withstood the criticism to backstop the defense. Turri, who made a career-best 16 saves in the 16-14 win against Cornell on Saturday, finished with 10 on Monday. Duke’s 14-1 season-ending run coincided with Turri replacing senior Dan Wigrizer as the starter. “Kyle is a winner,” Danowski said. “He makes plays, intercepts passes, picks up ground balls, has got great touch in the clearing game, and he does more than just stop the ball. One of the toughest things to do, I think, in college athletics now is to be a goalie. I’m not sure why anybody would want to be a goalie, and I’m sure most parents would agree with me, to put their son in the goal. But he’s just a winner and got better as the weekend went on.”
* The Orange (16-4) had relied on senior midfielder JoJo Marasco as he led the team with 10 points on four goals and six assists. Marasco, one of five Tewaaraton Award finalists, was heavily marked by junior long-stick midfielder Luke Duprey. “[W]e were just going to play him heavy to his right hand and be prepared for the roll-back,” Danowski said. “I thought he put in a highlight shot against Luke Duprey as he was driving up field righty, he kind of shot it cross-handed – which is not easy – and he’s a great athlete and a great player. But I thought our guys were very disciplined just staying on his right hand and making him be a righty.”