Duke’s 2015 campaign came to a sudden end via a 16-11 home loss to Ohio State in the first round of the NCAA tournament that stunned many observers. But count Blue Devils coach John Danowski as one who was not surprised by the outcome.
“Last year, losing to Ohio State, Ohio State was the better team,” Danowski said. “I think we were disappointed with how we responded during the game. We didn’t respond the way we’re used to seeing. Not that we rolled over and died, but we didn’t seem to have a lot of fight to us, and we didn’t seem to really grab the competitiveness of the opportunity. But I think part of that was due to being young and looking around and [realizing] that there was no Jordan Wolf, there was no Ned Crotty, there was no Matt Danowski. There was no one guy on the field that can help settle everybody, a Casey Carroll or a Brendan Fowler.”
Whether Duke has found that type of leader will play out this spring, but the program – which captured national championships in 2010, 2013 and 2014 – appears primed to rebound quickly.
The team returns all 10 starters from last year’s squad that went 12-6 and had earned the No. 5 seed in the NCAA postseason. The Blue Devils did graduate their primary faceoff specialist in Jack Rowe (54.4 percent, 112 ground balls) and top long-stick midfielder in Brian Dailey (46 GB and 18 caused turnovers). But they already have viable successors in junior faceoff specialist Kyle Rowe (Jack’s brother) and a plethora of long-stick midfielders, including senior Jamie Ikeda and sophomore Greg Pelton.
With weapons like senior midfielder and Tewaaraton Award candidate Myles Jones (40 goals and 37 assists), sophomore attackman Justin Guterding (52 G, 18 A) and junior attackman Jack Bruckner (47 G, 13 A), Duke shouldn’t lack for firepower. And with 15 seniors and 10 juniors on the 46-member squad, the team is brimming with experience.
But Danowski is acutely aware of the pitfalls awaiting the team if it simply relies on the veterans to carry the load.
“Here’s the good news: everybody’s back. Here’s the bad news: everybody’s back,” he said. “Sometimes the door swings both ways. But I do think that it’s not just that everybody’s back, but when you watch guys play this year, you realize that we were incredibly young and inexperienced last year. I think the first few days of spring practice, my first impression is that guys are just ahead of the curve from where we were a year ago.”