Hard to believe it was just two years ago that Johns Hopkins beat Duke for the national title.
That was before Duke had its season shut down while Johns Hopkins had some lose faith in its program last year. That was before the Blue Devils started over, in a way, with a new coach and a new attitude. That was before the Blue Jays, in a way, learned losing can sometimes lead to winning.
And that was before both the Blue Devils and Blue Jays learned to lean on each other to succeed.
Now, Duke and Johns Hopkins meet once again for the NCAA lacrosse national championship on Monday (ESPN, 1 p.m. EDT). The past is not forgotten. It can't and won't be anytime soon. But both teams have somehow become better because of it.
"You like to say [the past] doesn't matter, but it does. But it's not the off-the-field stuff that made this possible. It's the fact we stayed together like a team," said Duke junior Zack Greer, who scored four goals in Duke's 12-11 semifinal win over Cornell. "It's the 6 a.m. fall workouts. It's going out on the field with a new coach, new offensive schemes, a new defense. All the players went through it and we bonded.
"We're 41 brothers on the field."
Still, it was a family under fire for well over a year. There were constant stories, speculation and suspicion. Despite the Blue Devils' success on the field -- they went 17-2 fueled by a pair of the country's best players in Greer and Matt Danowski and play an aggressive style that managed to turn casual fans here into Blue Devils backers -- they are better known for what happened off the field.
But coach John Danowski says the success on the field coincides with what happened off the field.
"Can't do one without the other," he said. "The [past] is always there on a daily basis. Maybe it's in the paper one day or on TV the other, but it's always something. And we dealt with it and it's not an excuse one way or the other. We made slogans like 'Adjust, Adapt, Overcome' and 'Don't sweat the little stuff.' You try to deal with it as best you can.
"But we're not going to win because we went through something, no matter how horrific. We have to get up at 6 a.m. and work out, and we have to run end lines if we scoop with one hand. You have to do the work. It doesn't matter if we went through a heinous and difficult time, it's not going to make us a good lacrosse team."
So just how good is Duke? Good enough to send Johns Hopkins on the verge of a nervous breakdown. That was where the Blue Jays were in late March, fresh off two straight losses and a closed-door, self-help session. No coaches were invited and no suggestion was ignored.
"We talked about what to do, how to stop the bleeding and how to save the season. Then we lost to Duke by two," said senior Stephen Peyser, who scored three goals in JHU's 8-3 semifinal win over Delaware. "We played better, but … "
So they closed the door and opened up -- again. It was part counseling, part scared straight session.
One year after becoming the first Johns Hopkins team since 2002 to fail to reach the Final Four and the first team to lose a home game since 2001, the Blue Jays were suddenly looking like they would be the first Hopkins team to not reach the playoffs since 1972. Why, the three-game losing streak the Blue Jays were on was the first since 1990. Maybe they talked behind closed doors because no one else wanted to talk to them.