Faith Rewarded: Duke Wins NCAA Lacrosse National Championship

Bryan SakakeenyCorrespondent IJune 1, 2010

BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 31:  The Duke Blue Devils celebrate winning the 2010 NCAA Division 1 Lacrosse Championship against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on May 31, 2010 at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

"Adversity" is a term used much too often in sports today.

If a team overcomes an injury to a key player or battles back from a few bad losses and triumphs, that's seen as "overcoming adversity."

You want a team that has overcome adversity? Meet the Duke University Men's Lacrosse team.

On May 31st 2010, the Duke Lacrosse team can proudly say that they are national champions. However, roughly four years ago, the Duke Lacrosse team wondered if they would ever be able to play lacrosse in a Blue Devil uniform again.

In March 2006, Crystal Gail Magnum, a black student at nearby North Carolina Central University who also worked as a stripper, accused three Duke lacrosse team members of raping her at a party held at a team captain's house.

Mike Nifong, the district attorney for Durham, North Carolina quickly and fiercely prosecuted lacrosse players Reade Seligmann, Colin Finnerty and David Evans, suggesting that the assault could be a hate crime.

The nation was appalled by the transgressions that had appeared to have taken place.  News outlets ran countless stories, questioning the morals and lifestyles of lacrosse players in general and racial tensions reached a boiling point in Durham. 

Duke head coach Mike Pressler was run out of town, the Blue Devils season was suspended indefinitely and the University gave serious thought to dropping the lacrosse program all together, given the severity of the accusations, and the bad name it was bringing to one of the most prestigious schools in the country.

Over a year later, all charges were dropped, the three players were declared innocent,  Mr. Nifong was relieved from his duties as Durham DA and was disbarred on account of "dishonesty, fraud, deceit and misrepresentation."

The case was closed, however the damage had already been done.

Seligmann, Finnerty and Evans' lives were changed forever, no matter what the University and community did to try and make amends with the three players.

They had been the victims of a "national firestorm of hysterical stereotyping and hatred." So was the same for the Duke team in general. Protestors venomously accused them of being "rapists" and some players reported professors giving them undeserved failing grades as means of retaliation. 

Even today, ask someone the first thing that comes to mind when they hear "Duke Lacrosse," undoubtedly the words "rape" or "scandal" will be spoken.

On the field, it was no walk in the park either.

Duke lost the 2005 National Championship game to Johns Hopkins by one goal the year before the scandal. One year after the suspended season in 2006, the Dukies made and inspired a run back to the final only to have their dreams of vindication and salvation through winning a national championship stomped out again by the Blue Jays, 12-11.

Consecutive Final Four losses to JHU (again) and Syracuse in 2008 and 2009 respectively quickly gave the Blue Devils a label as the team that simply couldn't win the big one.

Then came the 2010 season.

A slow and unimpressive start to the 2010 campaign had speculators and naysayers on Duke's back again. Many surmised that Duke, although they had never won a title, had a great run in the mid-to-late-2000s and their magic was simply running out.

Focusing on their own game and blocking out all external distractions, as the players had learned to do so well in the aftermath of the scandal, caught fire near the end of the season and marched into the NCAA tournament as the fifth seed.

The exorcism of past demons began with a relentless 18-5 cremation of their old pals the Johns Hopkins Blue Jays. 

Then Duke silenced hated ACC rivals UNC 17-9 in the quarterfinals, and it was onto Baltimore.

A highly anticipated clash with No. 1 Virginia was Duke's first test in the Final Four.  Virginia was in the midst of a tragedy and national news story comparable to Duke's four years ago. However, Duke dispatched the Cavs thanks to a late goal by senior Max Quinzani. 

The entire UVa student body's heads will hang heavy with mourning for their murdered peer Yeardley Love. Yet Duke's win didn't seem to be a twist of fate for the Cavs fans hoping for a national championship to ease the pain, rather a step on their path of destiny, as if to say to Virginia: We feel for you, but it is our time.

Monday's title game against Notre Dame provided Duke's prolific offense with a defensive challenge unlike any they had encountered before. The Fighting Irish slowed the tempo of the game down, making Duke grind out possessions and take good shots, a deviation from their run and gun style of play. 

However, Duke, who sported 17 seniors that were either freshman, or committed high school seniors at the time of the 2006 scandal, had learned to be patient over their careers. They waited a year to see if it was worth still going to Duke, or staying at Duke. They waited a year to see if they'd ever play lacrosse at Duke again. They waited a year to see their three teammates gain closure from an unspeakable persecution. 

They waited four years for a national championship. What was 60 more minutes of lacrosse to them?

Duke played Notre Dame's defensive-oriented game for all four quarters, playing the Irish to a 5-5 draw at the end of regulation.

They only had to wait five seconds into overtime to be crowned National Champions.

Sophomore LSM C.J. Costabile won a clean draw at the face-off X and barreled his way into the throat of the stingy Irish defense, sticking the game winner over the shoulder of the tournament's most outstanding player, goalie Scott Rodgers.

It was a sweet victory for the entire program, but an even sweeter triumph for those 17 seniors, and everyone involved in Duke Lacrosse that was rocked by the events of 2006. Now Duke Lacrosse is an institution that can walk with its head held high and truly say that they have "overcome adversity" in the truest sense of the phrase.

For those who have stuck by Duke Lacrosse through thick and thin, their faith was very much rewarded on Memorial Day Weekend 2010.


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