Duke, UNC titles make Triangle a top spot for lacrosse

CorrespondentMay 28, 2013 

— After watching the Duke men’s lacrosse team beat Syracuse 16-10 for the NCAA title on Monday afternoon, Jenny Levy, North Carolina’s women’s lacrosse coach, couldn’t help do a little good-natured boasting.

Fresh off an NCAA championship herself, Levy texted Ronnie Caputo, an assistant coach for the Blue Devils’ men’s team, to congratulate him on the win. UNC reached the pinnacle by winning one of the most dramatic games in NCAA championship history; Duke, on the other hand, won a rather pedestrian game with a dominant second half.

“I said, ‘Ronnie, no offense, but your game didn’t even hold a flame for the drama that went on in ours,’” Levy said. “But congratulations on a clean win.”

While the state of North Carolina may not be mistaken for lacrosse-obsessed locales such as Maryland and Long Island, this past weekend reinforced the idea that the Triangle is one of the premier locations in the country for college lacrosse.

The Duke men won their second NCAA championship since 2010, outscoring the Orange 11-4 in the second half of the title game to win by six. In the seven seasons since John Danowski took over as the Blue Devils’ coach, Duke has reached the national semifinals every year.

The UNC women are enjoying a similar stellar stretch, appearing in the Final Four in 2010 and 2011 while playing for the NCAA championship in 2009. After coming so close in years past, the Tar Heels took the final step Sunday, outlasting Maryland 13-12 in triple overtime in the longest title game in NCAA history.

“It was epic,” Levy said. “It was an epic game; I’ve never been a part or watched a game that just had so many emotional ups and downs for the fans.”

While their local brethren stole the show last weekend, both the UNC men and the Duke women have distinguished histories, as well.

The Blue Devils’ women’s program has competed for national titles for the better part of a decade, reaching the NCAA semifinals in 2011, 2008, 2007, 2006 and 2005.

The UNC men, meanwhile, won the ACC championship this season and missed out on the Final Four after a one-goal loss to Denver.

The four programs have posted a combined record of 286-100 over the past five seasons.

“The ACC as a conference is the top conference in the country in lacrosse,” Levy said, explaining the programs’ success. “When you go out to recruit, it’s like, ‘Look you’ve got a chance to compete for an ACC and NCAA title, and you get a great education; you’re at these unbelievable schools that a lot of the kids probably – they’re good academic kids, but they’re not maybe the type of kid who would get into Carolina on their own from out of state, which is really hard to do.

“So they have an opportunity to be part of something that’s not just a lacrosse program, but great universities to get a great education. I think a lot of these guys choose either a Duke or a Carolina because not only the quality of the experience they’ll get as a student athlete but how that education will serve them later in life.”

That might explain why all four programs have been able to succeed despite not having a natural recruiting base.

Neither the Duke men nor the UNC women had a North Carolina native on their roster this season; in fact, of the four local programs, only the Tar Heels’ men team had any North Carolinians listed on their roster (UNC had five). Instead, the state most represented for the Duke men was New York (eight) and Maryland (nine) for the UNC women.

But having to compete against local powers such as Maryland or Syracuse on their home turf obviously hasn’t impaired any of the programs.

“They’re both great institutions,” Danowski said. “Who wouldn’t want to go to Chapel Hill, North Carolina? It’s a beautiful place, Franklin Street, great lacrosse tradition, football, basketball, weather, climate, academic.

“Duke, by any standard, whatever your motivation is – academically, socially, athletically – everyone here – and you feel it the first day you walk on this campus – wants to excel at whatever they’re doing: theater, arts, graduate school, professional school, entrepreneurship.”

Danowski said he thinks it’s a matter of time before North Carolina athletes begin populating the rosters of the local schools more frequently.

Duke actually played against a Durham native late in the season, when it traveled to Marquette; the Golden Eagles feature Sam Lindsey, a freshman who played in high school for Jordan.

The Blue Devils also host a monthly coaching clinic in the fall that has strong attendance. Danowski said that North Carolina lacrosse players are also playing at many Division II and Division III schools.

“Still, some of the better athletes in the state are gravitating toward football, basketball, baseball, which is normal,” Danowski said. “But it’s not going to take long before kids get really excited about our sport.”

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