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Duke's Philly guys answer the call at NCAA lacrosse title game

Duke’s Philadelphia players vowed to turn off their cell phones and focus on the job at hand, and they were rewarded with the NCAA men’s lacrosse championship.

Duke's Jordan Wolf celebrates his goal. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)
Duke's Jordan Wolf celebrates his goal. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)Read more

THEY MADE a deal among themselves. The sacrifice would be great. No tweeting. No texting. No cell phones. No sneaking out to see girlfriends. No family dinners. The local players on the Duke lacrosse team were going to treat this Memorial Day weekend like monks in a monastery.

The reward was pretty gratifying.

After some early tension and a five-goal hole, Duke battled back to win its second NCAA men's lacrosse national championship with a sterling, 16-10 victory over perennial powerhouse Syracuse in front of 28,224 at Lincoln Financial Field.

The Blue Devils did it thanks to local players like Jordan Wolf, a Lower Merion graduate who scored a game-high four goals and jump-started the dormant Duke offense. Duke also relied heavily on the Malvern Prep tandem of Henry Lobb and Billy Conners, two defensive pillars who had the thankless job all weekend of stopping the best offensive players in the country.

Lobb probably had the most difficult task, marking Cornell's Rob Pannell, arguably the nation's best player, in Duke's 16-14 semifinal victory on Saturday. Then he had to man up on a variety of Syracuse players, including JoJo Marasco, one of the nation's top offensive players.

"Both games were completely different, on Saturday, we were more matchup-oriented, and today we were playing a team defense where everyone packed it in," said Lobb, who did yeoman's work on Pannell for 3 1/2 quarters. "I kind of ended up everywhere against Syracuse. I'll be honest against Syracuse, though: We were all a little nervous. Coach asked us at halftime who was nervous, and we all raised our hands. That relieved some tension.

"For us Philly guys, though, coach asked us to shut everything down. The night before, I told my girlfriend, and she wasn't real happy, but we all bought in and we had to concentrate on business. That's the way we looked at this whole weekend, like a business trip. I can turn my cell phone on now. I got 37 text messages the last time I looked. It's definitely going to be a fun night."

Wolf proved to be the go-to guy for the Blue Devils (16-5) during championship weekend. He was named to the all-tournament team after finishing with a Final Four-high eight goals and three assists, for a weekend-best 11 points.

It was Wolf's goal with 12:54 left in the first half that ignited the offense for the Blue Devils, who began the game missing their first 11 shots and trailing 5-0.

"We weren't shooting great, but we kept shooting and kept shooting," Wolf said. "I just wanted to help my guys and we needed that first goal to get things going. This is a dream come true to be here. I grew up imagining playing in this game. But I didn't feel any pressure at all playing in front of a lot of people I know. My biggest concern was getting us over the hump. It's why I shut everything out this weekend. But I can turn my cell phone on now."

Conners played a huge role in the victory. He completely shut down Derek Maltz, Syracuse's fourth-leading scorer, in the final. That came after another tough assignment curtailing Cornell's dangerous Steve Mock in the semifinal, holding him to one goal and one assist.

"All of the Philly-area kids played a big, big part in this," said Duke coach John Danowski, whose team began the season 2-4, including a 14-9 loss to Penn at Franklin Field on Feb. 22.

"I give all the area kids a lot of credit. They had family and friends that I'm sure they wanted to see, and they kept their focus on what we needed to do to win this. We've come a long way from that cold night in February at Franklin Field."

And now, a season that began with so much doubt has ended with Duke's second national championship - with a big push from Philadelphia.