Duke lacrosse team relies on next man up

lkeeley@newsobserver.comMay 23, 2014 

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Duke's Kyle Keenan (16) races to catch a pass as Air Foece's Kyle Cassady trails on the play in the first quarter of play Sunday, May 11, 2014 in the First Round of the NCAA Lacrosse Tournament at Koskinen Stadium in Durham, N.C. Duke won the game 20-9 and will advance.

CHUCK LIDDY — cliddy@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

— Clichés. Most every coach uses them.

This weekend, Duke’s John Danowski and his Blue Devils are going to need one of the more common ones to hold water.

“Every coach, every team sings the coaching cliche of ‘the next man steps up,’ ” Danowski said. “That will have to be true for this team.”

Duke, the top seed in the NCAA lacrosse tournament, is headed to Baltimore for its eighth straight Final Four, but the Blue Devils will take on No. 5 Denver Saturday at 1 p.m. minus an honorable mention all-American attackman, Josh Dionne.

In his place steps Moose – otherwise known as junior Kyle Keenan. The Moose moniker was given to him by Danowski in his freshman year (there are two Kyles), and it has stuck ever since – despite the fact that Keenan is 5-foot-11, 173 pounds, from Long Island and absent any type of antler.

“From his really impressive large stature,” Danowski said of the origin of the nickname. “A way of building self-esteem. So we took something that we thought would help him.”

Keenan had been running with Duke’s second midfield line, but he stepped into the attack role in both the Air Force and Johns Hopkins games when Dionne was hurt. After Dionne went down with his season-ending knee injury in last weekend’s quarterfinal game, Keenan recorded two goals and one assist.

Playing attack is a back to the future move for Keenan – he was an attackman in high school and for the U.S. Under-19 national team squad that won a gold medal in 2012. Dionne has spent the week helping coach up his replacement and has given Keenan the key to success.

“The biggest thing is being himself,” Dionne said. “Everyone is going to put the thing like he has to replace me, and he doesn’t, because he does things that I’m not as good at. He has his own game. I had to find that when I was trying to replace Max Quinzani. I realized that I wasn’t Max, I was Josh, and that was OK. Just like he needs to realize that he’s Keenan, and that’s great.”

ESPN analyst Paul Carcaterra estimated that Dionne’s absence would cost Duke a couple of goals, especially in transition (Carcaterra also said he would be shocked if both teams were held to single digits, so goals should be plentiful). Dionne was great at patrolling the middle of the field, playing off the ball, and he and fellow senior attackman Jordan Wolf had played together long enough that they knew just where to get each other the ball, which more often than not ended up buried in the back of the net.

Keenan said that he tends to be more feeding-oriented as an attackman, but if he is defended by a Denver player with a short stick, his teammates are confident he can use his speed and dodge to the net, finishing with either hand.

It’s not like Keenan will have to provide offense alone. He will be surrounded by five capable scoring threats: all-Americans Myles Jones, Deemer Class, Christian Walsh and Wolf, along with Case Matheis.

“We don’t rely on one person. We never have,” Danowski said. “One person can become a great scorer in our system, starting with Matt Danowski, Zack Greer, Max Quinzani, (Ned) Crotty, but we still believe that the system is greater than the player.”

Moose has been in the Duke system three years, so he knows what he has to do. It’s quite simple. Cliché, really.

“Now I have to step up.”

Twitter: @laurakeeley

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