PHILADELPHIA — For the Duke lacrosse team’s offense to function as efficiently as possible this year, the Blue Devils knew they needed Jordan Wolf to make a jump as a junior.
Calling on Matt Danowski, one of the best players the sport has seen in the past decade – andthe son of Duke’s coach and a former Blue Devil star – proved a prudent decision.
Duke hired Matt Danowski as an assistant coach last summer and Wolf was an apt pupil.
“He just brought me in and said ‘We’re going to help change your game and evolve a little more,’” said Wolf, who also credits the help of assistant Ron Caputo for his development this season. “I think he’s been helping me do that every single practice. He’s made me try new things in practice. I can’t say enough about how helpful he’s been.”
The seventh-seeded Blue Devils (15-5) face top-seeded Syracuse (16-3) in Monday’s national championship at Lincoln Financial Field, and Wolf is one of Duke’s most explosive forces. A year after functioning evenly as a scorer and feeder, Wolf enters the title game with 53 goals and 26 assists.
A second-team All-America selection, Wolf can join recent stars Zack Greer and Max Quinzani as the only Blue Devils to score 55 goals in a season. That he’s jumped up from 31 goals in 2011 and 32 goals last year is a reflection of developing into a two-handed player over the past year.
“We knew he was more one-dimensional as a freshman and a sophomore,” said Duke coach John Danowski. “We challenged him all the time: ‘You get 60 points and that’s great, but you should be an 80-point guy with your athleticism. You need to embrace the details of the game and the nuances of the position.’”
There are few people who understood the sport’s subtleties as a player better than Matt Danowski, who ranks second in Division I history with 353 career points. Danowski could (and still does in the outdoor pro league) dissect opponents either by directing an offense or simply working his way to the goal.
He can teach, too, with Wolf eagerly acting as a sponge to soak up as much knowledge as he could this season.
“I think Matt’s attention to detail with footwork, hands, vision of the game (helped Wolf),” John Danowski said. “Matt had this vision that was tremendous and I think Jordan has grown there. Because Matt’s younger, it’s more of a big-brother relationship. Matt gets on him pretty quick, but it’s a big-brother kind of thing.”
Much like the younger Danowski, Wolf demonstrates an ability to play whatever role is needed. He scored five goals in consecutive games in late April, and then had four assists in Duke’s quarterfinal defeat of Notre Dame.
In Saturday’s semifinal against Cornell, Wolf torched first team All-America defenseman Jason Noble for three goals before scoring for a fourth time with the goalie yanked in the final minute to seal a 16-14 victory.
“His growth has been our team’s growth,” midfielder Jake Tripucka said. “I think we all kind of piggy-back off him. He’s our leader on offense, so I think as far as he’ll take us is as far as we’ll go as a team.”
Ultimately, Wolf took the Blue Devils home. He grew up in the Philadelphia suburb of Wynnewood, Pa., and along with a balanced roster has helped Duke come within a game of its second title in four years.
“There are no words,” Wolf said of potentially capturing a title near his hometown. “It would be amazing, but I’d (like to) win it anywhere: Baltimore, Boston, it doesn’t matter. I’m just looking for a win.”