NBA Hall of Famer Bill Walton once said of college basketball, "I'll always take talent over experience." If the same is true in college lacrosse, it will be good news for Duke. The 2010 NCAA champions have plenty of talent but not much experience.
Sophomore Dan Wigrizer started in goal in a 20-6 victory over Siena on Saturday. The likely starting goalie, Sean Brady, was dismissed from the team last week. He remains enrolled at Duke but coach John Danowski says Brady will not be back this season.
Brady had started in the first preseason scrimmage against Navy, according to eyewitness accounts.
Wigrizer started 16 games in 2010 and is ahead of senior MIke Rock, who played almost the entire second half against Siena, and senior walk-on Christopher Shannon. Shannon spent four years as an offensive lineman and long snapper for the football team.
The close defense has three new starters. Senior Tom Montelli moves from d-middie and is the No. 1 defender. On Saturday, he started with freshmen Luke Duprey (Andover, Mass.) and Chris Hipps (HIghland Park, Tex.).
Montelli "is making the transition," Danowski says. "It's a little different. He has a little less freedom, and he has to rely a little more on communication."
Danowski thinks Hipps has "a very good upside" as an athlete. The third starting spot was manned by Duprey on Saturday but he is expected to play more longstick middie, Danowski says, as the season progresses.
Duke had considered rotating the third defender among sophomores Jimmy O'Neill and Bill Conners, junior Ben Belmont and senior Jason Orlando. All four played against Siena.
Whether at close or longstick middie, Duprey has clearly impressed the coaches. "He is a big, strong kid who is eager to learn," Danowski says. "We are very impressed with his instincts. He accepts he doesn't know a lot [about the college game] and he is working to learn it and not just rely on his athleticism."
One area where Duke may thrive is at shortstick d-middie. Senior Terrence Molinari and sophomore Greg DeLuca man the position. Each is among the strongest players physically on the team, Danowski says. DeLuca spent the fall as a special teams player and reserve defensive back on the football team; he is one of four Duke football players on the lacrosse roster.
Molinari impressed the coaches with his work in the weight room.
"You couldn't ask for two brighter, stronger kids," Danowski says. "Terrence, pound for pound, is one of our top two strongest guys."
Senior Zach Howell scored seven goals in the season opener. He scored 51 goals last year and will draw the opposing team's No. 1 defender this season. Sophomore Josh Offit scored twice against Siena. He is an impressive finisher, according to several D1 assistant coaches, though one coach wonders if his game might be too similar to Howell's.
The third starter, on Saturday at least, was Jesse Fehr, a transfer from Harvard. On a young team, Fehr adds maturity, Danowski says. He is playing his fifth year at Duke after he graduated from Harvard. Fehr is a lefty and a good passer.
The starting midfield on Saturday was a little different from what Danowski thought in the preseason it would be. Junior Justin Turri (20 goals last year) and sophomore David Lawson ran on Saturday with freshman Jordan Wolf (Lower Merion, Pa.). There was a chance that freshman Christian Walsh (Boys' Latin, Md.) would run on the first midfield and Wolf on the second.
The second unit includes junior Rob Rotanz (9 goals, 4 assists) and Jake Tripuka, though Tripuka did not play in the opener.
As always, the defensemen will get into the action on offense too. Montelli scored a goal against Siena, and Duprey and junior C.J. Costabile added assists. Costabile scored the memorable goal in sudden-death overtime to win the NCAA title game last year.
With the fifth-year players gone, there is a feeling that things are back to normal at Duke. Danowski wasn't necessarily reflecting that when he says he calls his team "Team Vanilla."
"We're nothing splashy, no first-team All-Americans or first-round [MLL] draft picks," Danowski says. "We're just a bunch of guys. I want us to be a group that brings its lunchpail to work, gets to work, takes a break for lunch, then finishes the job."
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