As temperatures crept to unseasonal highs this week in Durham, there was at least one Duke lacrosse player who didn’t mind: redshirt freshman goalie Danny Fowler.
“I don’t have to run around too much,” he joked.
Fowler might get an easy out in that respect, but his job is certainly challenging. As the last line of defense, he is all that stands in between a shot fired at around 80-90 mph and the back of the net.
“Everybody can shoot the ball really hard now, the way the sticks are manufactured,” Duke coach John Danowski said. “Having a good goalie at this time of year is tantamount to really helping your climb for sure.”
The Blue Devils are the No. 5 seed for this year’s NCAA tournament and host Ohio State at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. In Danowski’s eight-year tenure, Duke has advanced to eight consecutive final fours and won the past two NCAA championships. The majority of the contributors to the recent run have graduated, leaving behind a team short on experience, particularly on defense.
And that includes Fowler, who wasn’t exactly seasoned when Duke turned to him at the season’s low point.
Fowler had logged 58 minutes, 16 seconds of reserve time (with 8:06 coming against ranked opponents) when the Blue Devils put him in goal March 22 at then-No. 1 Syracuse. The game had been an unmitigated disaster for Duke – the Blue Devils trailed 13-1 at the half – but Fowler played the fourth quarter in the Carrier Dome, recording a save and yielding three goals.
Fowler continued to improve, but it took a few weeks for the results to appear in the win-loss column. The Blue Devils lost their next two games to North Carolina (15-14) and Notre Dame (15-10), with Fowler playing all but two minutes.
Fowler continued to study film during the week, trying to learn opponents’ shooting tendencies, and he worked with injured goalie Kyle Turri, who was in net for Duke’s 2013 title win. The two lefties worked through drills together, with Turri firing tennis balls from close range at Fowler, who tried to stop them while using a weighted stick (another reflex-improvement drill involves trying to stop cards thrown at him with his hands).
“You can go one way or another,” Danowski said of the season after the Syracuse loss. “You can tug tail and hide and feel bad for yourself, or you can just get back to work on Monday. And the guys got back to work. While we lost to Carolina the next week by a goal, you could see there was some progress. We lost the next week to Notre Dame, and yet there was still some progress. We were playing the top teams in the country, and the kids were learning how to fight and battle and play through not being successful.”
Fowler turned in arguably his best game April 12 against then-No. 7 Virginia, recording a career-high 18 saves and a .692 save percentage in the 15-8 win.
The other highlight for Fowler and the defense in front of him (two sophomores and a freshman) came in the second game against the No. 1 Fighting Irish, a 13-8 win. He had 12 saves and a .600 save percentage (for comparison’s sake, the NCAA season leader has a .614 save percentage).
“The first time we came out versus Notre Dame, we were very flat,” Fowler said. “Our coaches really challenged us after that one to be more competitive and have a little more fire, and I think we started to show that. We definitely showed it in that next game when we played them.”
Although Fowler is new to the lineup, he is plenty familiar around the lacrosse program. His older brother, Brendan, was an All-American face-off specialist who graduated last year. Danny watched plenty of his older brother’s games while still in high school, where he was an All-American goalie at Chaminade High on Long Island.
Fowler followed his older brother’s lead in one other way: After Brendan played football and lacrosse for three years (and spent a postgrad year on the wrestling team) at Duke, Danny decided to try the two-sport track, contributing to the football team on special teams last fall.
“The competitive edge you get from competing in football every day, just the toughness that comes from it, I try to carry that over into my game as much as I can,” said Fowler, who is 5-foo-11, 190 pounds
A case of mononucleosis kept Danny sidelined for most of the fall during his freshman year, so he redshirted last season while Brendan finished his lacrosse career with the 2014 national title. But this year, with his older brother and all but two starters gone, it has been a new cast of characters for Duke.
For the Blue Devils’ postseason success to continue, Fowler knows he and the rest of the defense will need to play as they did in the second game against Notre Dame. The attack will score its goals (Duke averages 14.47 per game) – it’s just a matter of getting enough stops.
Jones a finalist
Duke junior midfielder Myles Jones was named one of the five finalists for the 2015 Tewaaraton Award, which goes to nation’s top men’s and women’s lacrosse players. Jones is the nation’s top-scoring midfielder, pacing the Duke attack with a career-best 75 points (39 goals, 36 assists). He is the first Blue Devils midfielder and eighth player overall to reach 70 points in a season.
Wesley Berg (Denver), Matt Kavanagh (Notre Dame), Kevin Rice (Syracuse) and Lyle Thompson (Albany) are the other finalists.