- The Washington Times - Monday, May 21, 2007

ANNAPOLIS - North Carolina midfielder David Ryan gazed with a mix of awe and anger at the box score summarizing the carnage Duke’s Matt Danowski and Zack Greer wrought on his team.

“They both had 10 points, which is absurd,” Ryan muttered.

Absurd, yet fitting.

The Blue Devils’ two offensive stars ensured their team would return to college lacrosse’s biggest stage a year after they never received the chance, sending Duke to a 19-11 victory in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals before 10,438 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

Greer had seven goals and three assists, while Danowski had four goals and six assists for the top-seeded Blue Devils (16-2).

“I hate to use this term, but it’s kind of old school,” Duke coach John Danowski said. “This is the lacrosse I remember and grew up with where guys like the Frank Ursos and Eamon McEneaneys they played together and tried to find the open man. This is the kind of lacrosse I grew up with, where you show guys how to play and trust them to make plays.”

Duke pulled within two victories of a national title one season after the program was suspended and lodged under a cloud of suspicion after an exotic dancer leveled rape accusations against three players.

Although all remaining charges were dropped against David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann last month, the experience was a sobering one for Duke. It also made this march to the semifinals where the Blue Devils will meet No. 4 Cornell (15-0) in Baltimore on Saturday much different than the school’s trip to the title game in 2005.

“I feel like the last time we made the final four was five years ago,” Matt Danowski said. “So much has gone on, and so much has happened. At this point last year I was driving home from Stony Brook after my dad’s UMass. It’s a completely different deal.”

There’s a new coach, John Danowski, who left Hofstra to take over his son’s team last summer. And there are some talented new players, notably freshman Max Quinzani, who scored three goals yesterday.

But the core of the team is still the resilient group that weathered last year’s frenzy, a nerve-wracking spring fraught with greater peril than the 6-1 deficit the Blue Devils faced early in the second quarter yesterday.

The No. 8 Tar Heels (10-6) maintained an 8-5 lead at the break, even as Greer rolled up four goals (all on Matt Danowski feeds) to keep it close. Even still, there was little doubt especially in the Blue Devils’ locker room that Duke’s explosive offense eventually would erupt.

“Nobody was freaking out. Nobody was yelling and screaming,” Matt Danowski said. “Everyone was sitting there calm and saying, ‘When we get back out there, it’s going to happen for us.’”

Sure enough, Duke tied it in less than six minutes and took a 10-9 lead on Ned Crotty’s extra-man shot. By the time Carolina goalie Grant Zimmerman made a save on a Matt Danowski shot only to toss the ball into the goal to make it 12-9, it was clear which Research Triangle school would be booking hotel reservations for Memorial Day weekend.

The only lingering unknown remained how authoritatively Matt Danowski would finish things. He answered that with a behind-the-back goal from eight yards out early in the fourth quarter and marked his departure moments later with an embrace of his father and a fist pump.

“Quite frankly, in the second half they blew us up,” North Carolina coach John Haus said.

Of course, it’s unlikely anyone could have withstood an onslaught from such a determined, talented team. Duke ruthlessly completed its march to the final four, a meaningful accomplishment but not an entirely satisfying one.

“I have an appreciation for that, but at the same time we had goals and expectations at the beginning of the year, and that’s to win a national championship,” Greer said. “We’re not there yet.”

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