Brendan Fowler won more than 55 percent of his faceoffs and scooped up at least 34 ground balls in each of his first two seasons at Duke, but still was not making much of a dent in terms of playing time.
Then again, considering that C.J. Costabile – who won 53 percent of his draws and collected 376 ground balls en route to being named Division I’s top midfielder – was atop the depth chart, Fowler was not fretting about his opportunities.
“C.J. just brought a different dynamic as a faceoff guy,” Fowler recalled Wednesday afternoon. “He could chase guys and take the ball away. His stats may not have shown that angle, and he was an upperclassmen. It was his team in a way. Of course I would have liked to have taken every faceoff, but being behind him, I think I learned a lot more, which has made me more successful this year than I would have been if I didn’t have him ahead of me the last two years.”
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Fowler appears to be making up for lost time. The junior has won 64.9 percent (303 of 467) of his draws and grabbed 190 ground balls for the seventh-seeded Blue Devils (14-5), who will meet Cornell (14-3) in a NCAA tournament semifinal this Saturday.
Junior attackman Jordan Wolf (49 goals and 25 assists) may be the team’s best playmaker, and Duke has five other players with at least 40 points, but Fowler may be the team’s most dependable weapon.
Fowler’s emergence may be surprising to some, but not to coach John Danowski.
“Brendan had played for two years and had taken 150 draws in both his freshman and sophomore years,” Danowski said Tuesday morning. “So it wasn’t like he didn’t have any experience. He was 60 percent both years, but C.J. was the personality and everybody kind of geared up because he was a long pole facing off as well, which was somewhat unique. But Brendan had a lot of experience and was prepared to step up as a junior.”
Fowler said he understood how important it was for someone to fill the void created by Costabile’s graduation last May.
“I knew I was going to have to take on a bigger role with C.J. leaving,” Fowler said. “He and I split time, and he took the majority of the faceoffs. He was big ground ball guy, and I learned a lot from him. That’s something that we preach here a lot. So I knew coming into the season that if our team was going to be successful, I was going to have to win a lot of faceoffs and pick up a lot of ground balls. This is the year I was hoping for, and it’s worked out pretty well for me so far.”
Fowler, who ranks third in the country in faceoff percentage, is bracing for a tough challenge from Big Red junior Doug Tesoriero, who ranks ninth with a 59.2 percentage (226 of 382).
“He’s a great draw guy, and they’ve got great wings,” Fowler said of Tesoriero and the rest of his Cornell teammates. “It’s definitely going to be a battle. Anytime you make it this far in a season, whoever you play at the faceoff X is definitely going to be a battle. He’s really good, and their wings are awesome. It’s going to be a scrap all game.”
Fowler is quick to credit his teammates on the wings – guys like long-stick midfielders Luke Duprey and Brian Dailey and short-stick defensive midfielders Will Haus and Greg DeLuca – for their part in his success.
Fowler needs just nine faceoff wins to eclipse the Division I record of 311 set by Delaware’s Alex Smith in 2007 and 14 draws to pass the mark of 380 established by Albany junior Kevin Glueckert earlier in the season. But that is not his first priority.
“The only thing I’m looking at is trying to get two wins this weekend,” Fowler said. “I’m just trying to win Saturday and then Monday. If that happens in the process, that will be a really cool accolade, but for now, I just want to win this game this weekend.”