Danny Fowler, Duke's fifth-year senior goalie, redshirted in 2014 when the Blue Devils won their third NCAA lacrosse title.
But he was on the field Saturday, making 12 saves in Duke's 13-8 semifinal defeat of Maryland, and will look to wrap up his college career with another national title when the fourth-seeded Blue Devils (16-3) meet third-seeded Yale (16-3) on Monday at Gillette Stadium.
“It’s probably the most consistent I’ve ever been,” Fowler said. “If I’m a little bit below 50 [percent], it’s not that far below. If I’m a little bit above, it’s not that far above. I’m happy where we are now. Obviously, I wish I saved every shot that came at me, but it’s been good. We just have one more game to take care of now.”
The Fowler name was a known commodity when he arrived on campus in the fall of 2013. His brother Brendan was a faceoff specialist who was named the NCAA tournament’s most outstanding player the previous spring.
Like his older brother, Danny Fowler played football growing up on Long Island and even got into two games on special teams for Duke’s football team in 2014.
“I think he fights with that,” coach John Danowski said. “He’s an athlete. He’s a Fowler. He’s a linebacker in football. He’s a wrestler. He’s aggressive. It’s ‘Make the first move.’ It’s ‘Get after people.’ Goalies aren’t that way. A goalie is ‘Take a deep breath, relax, respond.’ It’s contrarian to who he is as a person.”
He’s etched out his lacrosse career based not on aggressive play but on stability and methodical improvement. He started for half of his redshirt freshman season in 2015 and has started every game over the last three years.
“My opinion of myself is always pretty steady,” Fowler said. “I think I saw it pretty well [in the semifinals], but I know when I’m seeing it and when I’m not. [Saturday] felt like one of the days when I was seeing it, and to do it on a big stage makes it a bigger deal. If it is my best game, I’m happy to be playing at the right time and looking to make Monday better.”
His save percentage has gradually inched up over the years and sits at .542 this season. His goals-against average has steadily shrunk, including an 8.38 mark entering Monday.
To the surprise of teammates, Fowler was not among the eight goalies nationally who earned at least honorable mention All-America honors last week.
“Danny is the most underrated goalie in the country, and I don’t even think it’s close,” attackman Justin Guterding said.
This year, Fowler has provided a reassuring voice for the rest of the Blue Devils’ defense, offering guidance after early-season hiccups against Penn and Syracuse. He’s done so while juggling a one-year graduate school program that left him with an especially crammed schedule of classes and practice this spring.
Meanwhile, his on-field contribution has helped bring him within a game of becoming the fourth different starting goalie to help Duke win a national title this decade.
“You want to be able to screw up in a game and a goalie makes a save so you can go ‘Phew, you got me this time. Thank you,’” Danowski said. “Danny’s provided that.”
A victory Monday would allow Fowler to bookend his career with national titles.
“Right now I’m trying to do my best to stay in the moment and look back at everything that’s going on afterward, but it’s cool,” Fowler said. “This is the stage you grow up dreaming of playing on.”