NCAA COACHES CALL
Prior to the 2009 Championship Weekend, the NCAA hosted a conference call for the media to pick the brains of the coaches leading their teams into play at Foxboro. Here are selected quotes from that conference call.
Coach John Danowski has Duke University in the Final Four for the third-straight year. A little slow out of the gate, the Blue Devils have turned it on down the stretch, winning the ACC Tournament, steamrolling UVa twice, and toppling a talented UNC team three times. Though they won’t see their usual roadblock, Johns Hopkins, Duke has a formidable opponent in Syracuse.
Below are selected quotes from Danowski’s pre-tournament conference call with the media.
General statement about the season:
We’re delighted to still be practicing at this time of year. We feel it’s such an honor that you can have another week with your players. You develop such strong relationships together over the course of a year, and you just don’t want to let it go. So maybe just as important as competing in the tournament, it’s just another week’s opportunity to spend time with these young men.
Duke and Syracuse seem very similar in a lot of ways. They play similar styles of offense and defense, both are very athletic, and both can handle the transition and half-field games well. How will that match-up play out? Is it good to face a team that seems similar?
I think one of the exciting things about playing Syracuse is that we’re paying somebody that we haven’t seen before, and I think number one, it gets your players’ attention. Two, at this time of year, there’s not a lot to change in what you do , so no matter who you’re playing against, your guys are still going to line up and play and kind of do, hopefully follow the plan of what you’ve been teaching all year. So regardless of who you’re playing against, I think I’ve kind of grown to learn, you just have to really focus on what you do. Certainly I love how Syracuse plays. They’re so talented, so athletic.
You guys are the only team to beat Virginia, and you did it twice. What has been the key to your success against them?
Like every opponent, our guys are excited to play Virginia because they stand for excellence, and they are the, you know Johns Hopkins, Virginia, Syracuse, those programs are really, they’ve been the flag bearers of our sport for so many years, Princeton, and there’s just a natural challenge for kids. When I was at Hofstra it was the same thing, when you have the chance to step up and play those people, you always bring you’re A-game. And maybe we got lucky or things just fell into place for us, or maybe we caught them at the right time of the year as well.
When you look at Duke and Syracuse back in the Final Four, each lost so much after postseason runs last year. Syracuse was predicted to get back, but Duke necessarily wasn’t. What has been the key to the success you’ve had this year, especially after some early losses?
I think hard work, work ethic, and that gets established in September when you have to get up at six four days a week to lift and to practice. Then you just have to play the games. You’ve got to prepare yourself for the season, and then once you play sometimes you have to lose first to figure out what your roles are going to be, what roles you’re going to accept as a player…One of the nice things about our team has been, knock on wood, we’ve been injury free for the most part, and everybody’s practiced everyday….Fighting through it, being mentality tough, and taking the hits, and you got to do that some years, I think that’s been a big part of our development for this particular team.
Ned Crotty has moved from a solid, contributing middie, to potentially the best attackman in the country, and the leader of your offense. Elaborate on his develop, and what that has meant to the team?
I think one of the things, it was a bit of a leap of faith to move Ned from midfield to attack, in that you had a proven commodity in that Ned was an All-American midfielder. There were no guarantees Ned was going to make the transition from midfield to attack as well as he has, so we’ve been obviously delighted with his emergence and his play throughout the course of the season. But we’ve never tried, to run the offense through Matt [Danowski[ or through Zack Greer, or through Christ Unterstein the year before or Athan Iannucci, [both at Hofstra] but what happens is good players will thrive in any system….Ned makes the plays that are available to him. He doesn’t force the ball a lot. He makes great decisions and his skills, his passing skills especially, he can feed right- and left-handed and put the ball on people’s sticks, so as the game comes to him he just makes the plays. In some ways he’s just a good ol’fashion attackman.
He was an attackman [in high school] so it wasn’t such a huge leap of faith as we may have let on, but still you’re taking a proven commodity and that’s always sometimes dangerous, because now your saying to yourself, ‘well your weakening yourself at midfield with the hope of being better at attack but still not knowing.’
The midfield has stepped up in the absence of Ned. How have those players matured?
It took time for Will McKee, who was a transfer from Division III to Division I, and he was an attackman and now moving to midfield, so right away he wasn’t going to get it. Rob Rotanz is a freshman whose really stepped up and made a lot of plays here over the last month. Justin Turri is a red-shirt freshman running on the first midfield, and hadn’t played because he had surgery last year in the spring. So that’s three new people in your top six, so that takes time.
Max Quinzani blew up for big numbers last year. How has his production been this year, and what kind of defensive scrutiny does he face now?
Well Max doesn’t draw the third defenseman anymore, like he did last year, and people have also watched film and saw how opportunistic Max is around the cage. He just kind of knows where to stand, how to back up shots, pick up ground balls, and throw in rebounds. So in many ways, Max is probably scored less…garbage goals if you will, and scored more in the traditional fashion, so in many ways he’s had a much better year, and his numbers are better.…In many ways he just plays so hard all the time, goes after groundballs like a mad man, and plays so hard, that although the numbers are pretty close to being the same, the amount of attention he’s gotten has been much greater this year.
Since 1998, no team has repeated as champions. Why is it so difficult to do?
We thought that North Carolina was just terrific and maybe in a different bracket they might have been in the Final Four, and so you’ve got five or six or maybe eight teams, it’s such a battle each week to survive, and then when you advance you can play your heart out on Saturday, and be in a great game, and then basically 36 hours later you’ve got to turn it around and play great again, and that’s not easy. I just think there are so many great coaches out there, programs, so many great athletes, it’s not about your star players when you get to this level, it’s about the role guys. It’s about all those guys who do all the dirty work and all the little things in between the lines that the fans really don’t notice, or the guys that maybe get you over the top, and there’s so many teams that have a lot of those guys that play so hard and play great roles for their programs.
So when you play a defending national champion in Syracuse, do you approach the game differently or have some different message for your team?
I think so, and I think it takes a little bit of the pressure off. It basically says, ‘hey listen, these guys are the best, and this is what you want to measure yourself up against.’ I think probably at some level it might allow your team to relax a little bit because you are the hunter now as opposed to the hunted.
Syracuse University returns to its familiar spot in the Final Four hoping to defend their title and earn the programs eleventh national championship. Coach John Desko will need his team firing on all cylinders to get by Duke. Though these two teams have little history, they seem poised to deliver an even-handed, potentially epic game.
Below are selected quotes from Desko’s pre-tournament conference call with the media.
General statement about the season:
We’re certainly very happy to be back in Foxboro. I think the team has had a very good year. I think we’ve been pretty balanced. I think the defense has been playing well lately, along with John Galloway. We’re certainly happy for Alex Cavalieri. What a lift he gave to our team against Maryland, coming in after logging very few minutes on the field in a game situation, and for him to come up with 13, 14 saves, against a team like Maryland in that kind of game was certainly big for him. So we’re happy with the way we are playing for the most part, and again, we’re excited to get back to Foxboro, looking forward to our match-up with Duke.
Max Quinzani is a dangerous, quick guy. How do you defend him?
They have a great one two punch with Crotty and Quinzani, and certainly the two of them compliment each other pretty well, and you have to figure out who to put on who. Max is obviously very quick, he has the ability to go either hand, he hurts you off the ball also. He’s a pretty well rounded player.
How is John Galloway feeling heading into the weekend after being too sick to play in the quarterfinals?
I think unfortunately it hit him kind of peak before the [Maryland] game and he was on some [intravenous therapy]. Had something happened to Alex thought the course of the game, we probably could have snuck him in there; he was just pretty weak, I think Sunday he was eating again, taking on fluids, He was fine in practice [Monday].
How much of a confidence boost is it to the team when Al Cavalieri can step in and play as well as he did in a playoff game?
He’s done a very good job this year, especially being in a back-up role, it’s difficult for these guys to come in every day and work as hard as the starters…I think like I said after the game, every coach in the country pretty much at every level, they always talk to their group, it’s one thing to be a starting goalie, but they always talk about how important the role is of a back up goaltender, and it’s one thing to kind of hear it every day, and sometimes a back-up goalie might be there for four years and never get a shot on the field like Alex had, but it just kind of validates what coaches say about their back-up goaltenders, how important a role they play, and that they have to be ready at anytime. It was great that Alex rose to the occasion.
You have been mixing in Cody Jamieson on the offensive end more. How does that add to your offensive approach?
We’d actually used two guys in that spot. We’re still kind of learning with it….When he wasn’t eligible, we didn’t have him out there with the first group a lot knowing that he couldn’t play. We adjust for every game. We have our basic sets, then we’ll throw a little wrinkle in or maybe a set play that he hasn’t been involved in…We’re still getting him out there. He does a good job out there, gives us another person the other team has to worry about, and we can throw some different combinations out at that end of the field with him up there.
Duke and Syracuse seem very similar in many ways, most notably in style of play and in athleticism. How do you think that will play out and affect the game Saturday?
From what I understand of Duke, I think it’s more the attitude of the two teams. I think their both confident in their abilities. I think both teams like to get up and down the field maybe a little bit more than some of the teams they play against, so I would think neither team is going to back down. I don’t think Duke is going to change what they do. Some opponents that we play, like some opponents that play them, might take the strategy of, this is a running group, and we don’t want to get into that kind of game with them. Where I think both of us, if they’re going to be aggressive, we’re going to try to run by them, and vice versa. On paper, it looks like it should be a great game for spectators and a great game for players to play in.
With the task of playing, and hopefully winning, two games in three days, how is preparation different than in a typical week?
I don’t think there is anything we can do this week to get in better shape. I think like most of the teams in the Final Four, one of the reasons we’ve got here is our depth and using as many players as we have… I think in the back of your mind you’re playing to win the game, but if you have an opportunity to use other players you do, knowing that if you’re fortunate enough to get by your first opponent, then you might have a little more gas in the tank come Monday.
It’s been so long since anyone has repeated as champion. How big of a challenge is it coming into this weekend knowing that is what you are trying to do?
We really haven’t talked about that as a group. I think in doing this for 30 years now, and being in a bunch of these kinds of games, I think if you start to talk about those kinds of things, then you lose focus of the task at hand. We approach it more as, this is Duke, this is an excellent lacrosse team, and we’re going to have to roll up our sleeves and get out there and play one of our best games to win. We’ve got to get rid of mistakes and turnovers because they will cost you against a group like this. I think we have to focus on ourselves and Duke and what they do, and how to try to stop what they do. If we start talking about repeats and our eleventh national title, it’s a different meeting, it’s not focusing on what it’s going to take to beat Duke.
Last year it was all about redemption and getting Syracuse back to the top. This year you come in as defending champions. Of the two, which mentality is better suited for this team?
I think the core strength of our team is our seniors. You look at the Abbotts, the Perritts, the Hardys, the Nims's, Scott Kahoe’s a senior even though he’s a transfer, so you look at the core, at the seniors, they’ve experienced all that, so I think they have the combination of being 5-8 and not making the playoffs, and then coming back the following year and understanding that it was going to take a lot of dedication, hard work, being good citizens off the field, so I think they just brought that back this year, along with the confidence of winning a championship the year before, so I think they bring a lot of great experiences to the table, and have done a great job of relaying that down to the underclassmen. I think that our leadership is there on and off the field with the seniors in this group. I think they’ll draw on both types of experiences and what it took to win a national championship.
Duke and Syracuse start the festivities Saturday at noon. Cornell and Virginia will follow about a half-hour afterwards. Both games will be aired on ESPN2.