On the biggest stage in lacrosse, the Duke Blue Devils established themselves as a cut above the rest of the field, and set the standard for excellence as they won their second consecutive championship, and third since 2010.
The game was marked by nerves and fatigue, as both teams showed uncharacteristic sloppiness early, and both high-scoring offenses were stifled. At the end of the first quarter, Duke held a slim 2-0 lead, and by the end of the first half, with the Duke margin up to four at 5-1, Notre Dame already had 11 turnovers.
Things would settle down in the second half as the Irish made a game of it, pulling to within one point near the end of the game. Duke senior Jordan Wolf, the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament, and Tewaaraton finalist, scored the final goal of the game with an empty net strike with just 23 seconds left to secure the win, and with it, Duke’s reputation as the dominant program in lacrosse over the last five years.
Duke coach John Danowski joins an elite rank of college lacrosse coaches with three or more national championships. The last coach to win back-to-back championships was John Desko for Syracuse (2008-2009). Danowski will try to join an even more elite rank as winner of three championships in a row. The last coach to do that was Bill Tierney, currently the coach of Denver, when he was at Princeton. Duke displaced Denver on Saturday 15-12, to get to the title game.
Danowski’s tenure began in the wake of the Duke lacrosse scandal that saw then-coach Mike Pressler’s scalp delivered to the PC gods. Since then, Duke’s success in the postseason is unrivaled. In Danowski’s first year Duke made it to the finals where they lost to Johns Hopkins by one goal. Under Danowski’s reign, they have been to the championship game five times, winning three, and have appeared in the final four for the last eight seasons.
This year Duke’s top scorers Wolf and Josh Dionne will graduate, along with their outstanding FOGO middie Brendan Fowler, but they have some talent to build around next year, particularly at midfield.
The maturation of sophomore Myles Jones, who has had an incredible run during the second half of the season, and Deemer Class, also a sophomore, had two goals against Notre Dame. Junior Kyle Keenan, who had six goals and an assist over the weekend, came in for Dionne after he tore his knee in the quarterfinals, showed he has what it takes to perform at this elite level, and help ensure that Duke will be in the mix come Memorial Day next year.
John Danowski will see to it.