Duke Lacrosse Team Caps Year of Turmoil

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A year after the Duke lacrosse team was rocked by rape charges against three players — charges that were later dropped — the Blue Devils find themselves in the national finals. Fans and players find the whole trip somewhat surreal.

ALEX COHEN, host:

Back now with DAY TO DAY. Today in Baltimore the Duke Blue Devils are facing off against Johns Hopkins for the NCAA Men's Lacrosse Championship. The last time those two teams played each other was two years ago, when Hopkins beat Duke by one point.

That, of course, was before the rape allegations, before what was later called the tragic rush to accuse, and before a judge declared three Duke lacrosse players innocent of sexual assault.

NPR's Andrea Hsu was at the Duke lacrosse semifinal games over the weekend and found the past is still very much on everyone's minds.

ANDREA HSU: Before Saturday's game against Cornell, I roamed the stadium parking lot and come across Peter Scipiom(ph), who's playing beer pong. He's from upstate New York, but tells me he's rooting for Duke.

Mr. PETER SCIPIOM: Because of all the stuff they've been through last year, I got to give them credit. They've come so far. I just want them to win it all.

Mr. CHARLES GILFILLAN: I think it's wonderful. I think it gives them a chance to show the world the kind of kids they are.

HSU: That's Charles Gilfillan, class of '51, and one of the most storied lacrosse players in Duke's history. He's here with a half a dozen former teammates who are all upset with how the case was handled. Gilfillan says it made him sick, but he also thinks the whole ordeal has actually been good for lacrosse.

Mr. GILFILLAN: One of my good friends that coaches varsity collegian teams said, you know, five years ago, the whole thing was known as party-hardy - play hard, party hard. And now the party thing has taken a back seat and now it's more play hard.

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

HSU: There is still, of course, the tailgate party. The lot is packed with SUVs. I dodge kids swinging lacrosse sticks. Someone offers me some ribs, and here I find Sherri McFadyen.

Ms. SHERRI MCFADYEN: My son is a defenseman, number 41, Ryan McFadyen.

HSU: She's wearing a button with his photo.

Ms. MCFADYEN: And we are so proud, so proud and so excited to be here.

HSU: And yet under that excitement, McFadyen says, there is still anger.

Ms. MCFADYEN: There's a lot of pent-up emotions from everybody. To see and hear the constant lies that were put out there about our boys was very hard and very heart-wrenching for all of us to go through. And this is probably the closest we've become from any athletic team that I've ever been associated, and I love it. I (unintelligible) love these parents as much as I do all the boys.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

HSU: The game turns out to be just as much of a rollercoaster as the last year. Duke is ahead 10-3 at the half, but Cornell makes a stunning comeback and ties the game with 17 seconds to spare. Duke then gets the ball, and I'll let ESPN take it from here.

Unidentified Announcer: (Unintelligible) Duke shoots and scores. Zack Greer scores for Duke with 20 seconds left. The Blue Devils…

HSU: Final score: 12-11.

ESPN Announcer: The Duke Devils, the top seed in the NCAA tournament, survived - barely.

HSU: Back in the locker room, team captain Matt Danowski says the guys have come a long way since the start of the season, when it was hard to focus on the game.

Mr. MATT DANOWSKI (Captain, Duke Blue Devils Lacrosse): I (unintelligible) very well, but as it got going, as it got easier was when the case got thrown out and the guys were proven innocent, and now it's just about lacrosse. You know, we don't have to worry about anything else.

HSU: Ryan McFadyen, whose mom I spoke with earlier, tells me the players have grown in other ways, too.

Mr. RYAN MCFADYEN (Defense, Duke Blue Devils): It raised the awareness of the guys in our team that, you know, everything you do has a consequence, and it really helped a lot of us mature quicker than we would have otherwise.

HSU: He says his former teammates Collin, David, Reade, and the former coach Mike Pressler, who resigned last year, are always on his mind. He hopes they're watching and sharing in the team's success.

Andrea Hsu, NPR News.

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