Gone, but not forgotten
Duke LAX players honor former coach amid title chase
Posted: Saturday May 26, 2007 7:57PM; Updated: Saturday May 26, 2007 7:57PM
BALTIMORE -- "That's for Pressler! That's for Pressler!"
Less than 10 seconds after junior Zack Greer netted the goal that propelled the Duke men's lacrosse team in to Monday afternoon's championship game with a 12-11 win, that cheer emanated from the front rows of the alumni section behind the team bench.
In the stands were Reade Seligmann and David Evans, two-thirds of the trio accused of rape last year before being declared innocent last month. But their names were not the forgotten ones the former players were cheering for. Not to be lost in the on-field celebrations that erupted once time ran out, the ode to Mike Pressler, the former Duke coach who was fired last July 13, only grew louder.
"I couldn't hear it because of the celebrating that was done on the field," said Duke assistant coach Kevin Cassese, who was an All-American player under Pressler at Duke. "I'm sure his eyes would be welling up if he heard that today."
Pressler was not in attendance on Saturday, but he told SI.com, via phone, on Friday that he would go to the championship game, if Duke made it. Even without being there in the physical form, Pressler's presence was felt throughout the game. There on the last play was Greer, a scoring machine who Pressler recruited from the Canadian city of Whitby, Ontario, positioning himself in front of the net for an easy dump-in. "I just hope coach Pressler was able to celebrate with us and understands that we're thinking of him," Greer said. "My father passed away when I was a freshman just weeks before the season and coach Pressler, along with the other coaches who aren't here anymore, really helped to get us through that time."
On the sidelines, John Danowski, the coach who replaced Pressler last summer, just stood on the sideline after the final play, watching Pressler's recruits celebrate a return to the championship level that Pressler had them at in 2005. "This is his team," said Danowksi, who coached Hofstra to the quarterfinals last year. "I know it must be tough for him, but the situation is really like he is the General Manager and I'm the coach. He brought these kids in, he made them into what they are; and we're here to finish the job."
Now the head coach at Division II Bryant in Rhode Island, the man who had hateful signs and endured more than his fair share of criticism in Durham, N.C., has been watching his players from afar. "There was a meshing of the players who came here and each one of them, whether it was before, during or after the time Mike was here, wanted to win the national title as their main goal," said Danowski.
Having coached at the school for 15 years before being dismissed, the thought of him not being a part of the Final Four charge is still difficult to swallow. "All that the last couple of weeks and months have shown is that Coach Pressler was right. He was the one who came out right away in support of the guys, and he said these are 41 good guys who are being treated unjustly," said Matt Danowski, the new coach's son. "He went out and found all these great players, and this was all for us being put together now."
With the players all making their way to the team bus and back to their hotel afterward, Cassese was left to tell what he would say to Pressler when he gets in contact with him. "I'll tell him 'congratulations on making the title game,'" said Cassese, who earlier in the year grew a beard in honor of the shaggy Pressler. "But we have 36 hours to get ready for Johns Hopkins now. A true coach's mentality he would appreciate."