- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 29, 2007

BALTIMORE — Matt Danowski’s career at Duke ended with an emotional embrace of Johns Hopkins long pole Brendan Skakandi, an almost predictable conclusion for the two stellar high school teammates matched against each other in the NCAA final.

The only thing Danowski probably would change would be the Blue Devils’ 12-11 deficit, a result that denied Duke a title a year after rape accusations short-circuited its season.

The end also unleashed a torrent of emotions for a team that banded together in the face of the suspension of their program last spring.

“It’s just a real sense of emptiness right at the end there,” senior midfielder Ed Douglas said. “Coach [John Danowski] reminded us what a great season it was and that we should be proud of ourselves, but it certainly hurts.”

The top-seeded Blue Devils (17-3) were irrevocably changed by the accusations of an exotic dancer hired by team members to perform at a March 2006 team party. Coach Mike Pressler was forced to resign the next month, and the season was canceled after eight games.

David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann — none of whom played at Duke this season — were later charged with forcible rape, sexual offense and kidnapping.

The charges all were later dropped, and the program was reinstated last summer. John Danowski, the father of star attackman Matt Danowski, was hired away from Hofstra to take over the team.

The Blue Devils thrived in the face of constant attention and scrutiny, reaching their second national title game in three years. And when it was over, Pressler, now the coach at Division II Bryant in Rhode Island, inconspicuously stood in the back of the locker room and consoled his former players.

“It’s tough for probably you guys to understand,” Matt Danowski said. “You haven’t been through what we’ve been through. Nobody else has. To know the bond we share with these guys is something only we will ever understand. I can’t describe in words how much these guys mean to me. I’m going to miss it.”

Duke overcame a 10-4 halftime hole and its early faceoff struggles with an impressive third-quarter surge. But Danowski and Zack Greer, the stars who powered the Blue Devils throughout the season, were limited to an unsettled goal and two assists.

They shot a combined 1-for-14, and Johns Hopkins defensemen Eric Zerrlaut (on Greer) and Michael Evans (on Danowski) were primarily responsible. Still, the Blue Devils had two chances to tie it in the final 10 seconds before Johns Hopkins flooded the field in celebration.

“It all came crashing down today,” senior long pole Nick O’Hara said. “It’s a little bit of a release that it’s finally over, but at the same time for 13 seniors, it’s their last day together. The rest of these guys get to come back to practice next year, and we don’t.”

So much had gone the Blue Devils’ way this season, from an energetic sense of renewal in February to a flourish of fan support this weekend at M&T; Bank Stadium. It was an agonizing end for the 34 players who came back from last year’s trials to provide the core of a team that fell a goal short of the program’s first title this spring.

“Like in life, sometimes the ball hits the pipe, and sometimes it doesn’t. I told our guys that if this is the worst thing that’s going to happen in your life, you’ve lived a good life,” John Danowski said. “I’m extremely proud of them. As you could imagine, it was unbelievably emotional afterward. It was a heck of a ride.”

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