Long Island's dynamic duo
Time was running out on the Long Island Lizards at Hofstra's Shuart Stadium, down by a goal to Boston with about a minute left in regulation, when Matt Danowski and Zack Greer teamed to turn back the clock. Suddenly, it was as if they were back again in Durham, N.C., working as that dynamic Duke duo.
Great pass by Danowski, great shot by Greer and a goal. The game was tied at 13-13 with 57 seconds to go, and the Lizards pulled it out in overtime.
"It was awesome," Greer said about that connection June 5. "It kind of brought back memories."
There are a lot of them. These attackmen are the greatest points producers in the history of NCAA Division I lacrosse. They share the record with 353 points. Greer holds the record for most goals with 248. And now they're on the same side again as pros in Major League Lacrosse. Well, sort of.
The 24-year-old Danowski came to his native Long Island in the offseason from New Jersey in the dispersal draft. Greer, 23, showed up in May after two games, when he became the third overall pick in the college draft. The reunion tour was going well until their fifth game when Greer took an Independence Day check from Washington that broke his thumb, resulting in surgery.
The Lizards have struggled without him, and Greer missed out on playing in the All-Star Game with Danowski. But Greer hopes to return for the playoffs after the team managed to secure the fourth and final playoff spot last weekend by topping Chicago. The possibilities for the postseason and seasons to come for a team featuring Danowski and Greer are rather enticing.
"It's going to mean a lot of goals," coach Jimmy Mule said. "It's going to help our offense if we can have the two of them out there together, and hopefully make things easier for everybody else out there."
Starting when he was a pint-sized kid, Danowski would come from his home in Farmingdale, sit in the stands at Hofstra's stadium and soak up the game. His father, John, coached Hofstra's team from 1986-2006.
So John kind of figured to have the inside track at recruiting time, but he actually wanted Matt to go to Princeton for the education. Matt decided on Duke for the education, big-time athletic atmosphere and the chance to go away to school, beginning in 2003.
Greer, on the other hand, grew up playing hockey and lacrosse in Whitby, Ontario. He said his late dad, Dan, "taught me everything I knew." Zack gave up on his pro hockey dreams before his senior year in high school and arrived at Duke for the fall semester of 2004. He clicked with Danowski from their first intrasquad scrimmage that fall.
But something happened in their second year together that would reverberate around the country. Duke's season was canceled after eight games and coach Mike Pressler was fired after a 28-year-old woman claimed she was sexually assaulted at a lacrosse team party on March 13, 2006.
Danowski soon found himself in the middle of the firestorm, because the woman originally said someone named Matt was one of the attackers. But none of the three players eventually charged turned out to be named Matt.
"There were a lot of Matts on the team," Danowski said. "We knew that it didn't really matter when she said that. The truth would come out in our favor."
As it turned out, all the charges were dropped. The North Carolina attorney general, Roy Cooper, said in April 2007 that there was no credible evidence that an assault took place, that the players had been wrongfully accused by Durham County's district attorney at the time, Mike Nifong.
"The fact of the matter is you grow up quick and you learn a lot," Danowski said. "You learn about the media. You learn a lot about who your friends are and who the people you can really trust are. And you learn about people in power who can do some really bad things and make some really quick decisions without seeing things through.
"It definitely changed the people we are, hopefully for the good. I think people are better people because of it. But it's something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy to put not us through that, but our families. Our mothers and our sisters were probably hit the most."
It did result in a familiar face taking over as coach for Danowski's final two seasons: his dad.
As they did in 2005, the Blue Devils went to the national championship game in 2007 and then lost in the 2008 semifinals, Matt's fifth and final season; 33 players were granted an extra year of eligibility because the 2006 season was cut short.
Danowski and Greer were at their best together in 2007. Danowski won the Tewaaraton Trophy as the nation's most outstanding player. He combined with Greer for 190 points, the second-most in NCAA history. They also combined for an NCAA tournament record of 44 points.
"It was natural," Danowski said. "It was organic. It just happened. It was eye contact. It was knowing each other. It wasn't anything we practiced."
"One of the nice things about it was we had a great relationship off the field, too," Greer said. "We're real good friends. That makes it easier to share in success on the field. It was just something that happened after playing together forever. And we had great guys playing around us."
While Danowski, a four-time first-team USILA All-American, moved on to New Jersey after being the second overall pick in the draft and then to the National Lacrosse League with Colorado, Greer spent this last school year at Bryant University in Rhode Island, pursuing his MBA and playing lacrosse for Pressler again. He became a fatherly figure to Greer after Greer's dad died during his freshman year.
"When he had to leave, it hit me pretty hard as well because of the relationship that we had," Greer said about Pressler's exit at Duke.
After Greer earned his fourth All-American award, the Lizards jumped at the chance to draft him and again pair the elite finisher with the elite feeder in Danowski.
"It was a huge factor," general manager Casey Hilpert said. "From local reasons, everyone was kind of saying we should go with [Max] Seibald. But it's just really hard to pass up when people have that kind of chemistry."
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Danowski, who last month was traded in the NLL to New York (which has since made a move to Orlando), has been the leading scorer for his 6-6 MLL team with 31 points, including 16 goals (one 2-pointer). The 6-2, 190-pound Greer won rookie of the week in each of his first two weeks after delivering four goals and an assist in each of his first two games. He has 12 goals and 14 points in five games. Danowski and Greer combined on four goals as Long Island won three of four.
But including the loss in which Greer was injured, the Lizards went on a 1-4 skid before sneaking into the playoffs over the Washington Bayhawks, who also finished the regular season with a 6-6 record but lost the tiebreaker.
"We certainly miss him very much," midfielder Stephen Peyser said. "We tried to adapt to not having him in the lineup, but it's tough not having one of the better lefties in the game on your squad."
Despite frustration because of the injury, the two attackmen are thrilled to be on the same side again and have one goal in mind.
"We just want to win a championship together," Danowski said. "We've come close a bunch of times. We want to win our last game."
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