Justin Guterding has stood and cheered with Duke’s Cameron Crazies. “I’m a huge basketball fan and that’s quite an experience,” he said with a laugh. But that’s not why the former Garden City lacrosse star chose to attend the elite university in Durham, North Carolina.
“I came here to win a national championship” Guter ding said. “That’s the only thing I really care about.”
That’s no bull. Venerable coach John Danowski calls it “the white elephant in the room.” Guterding’s senior class is the first at Duke since 2004 not to have reached the sport’s Final Four on Memorial Day weekend at least once.
“I thought I might win a few national championships, but obviously now I only have a chance to win one,” Guterding said. “I’ll be quite upset if I don’t win any.”
The sharp-shooting senior attack, a second-team preseason All-American, is one of the primary reasons the Blue Devils were ranked No. 1 in the country in most preseason polls. He and his teammates are off to a blazing start. They defeated Air Force on Feb. 3, 18-4, with Guterding getting three goals and seven assists. Five days later, Guterding had five goals and three assists in an 18-6 trouncing of High Point. He capped his week Saturday with four goals and five assists in a 19-8 victory over Jacksonville.
Guterding, a scoring sensation since his freshman season, was fourth in the country last year with 97 points (51 goals, 46 assists) in 18 games. He had 71 points (43 goals) as a sophomore and made a stunning first impression with 52 goals and 70 points as a freshman.
“Consistent from day one,” is how Danowski described his team captain, who led Garden City to back-to-back state Class B boys lacrosse championships in 2012 and ’13. “He’s got a tremendous release. He moves the ball around and doesn’t shoot from the same spot twice. He’s very determined around the cage and is a fierce competitor.”
Guterding has also been flexible, adapting and deferring to the styles of star midfielders such as Myles Jones (Whitman), Deemer Class and Jack Bruckner (Ward Melville) during his career, but now is clearly the team’s offensive star.
“There’s definitely been a big change in my game,” Guterding said. “I took a back seat to Myles and Deemer my freshman and sophomore years, but they allowed me to make plays because everyone focused on them. Last year, I had Jack, who was a great finisher and I could throw him the ball pretty much anywhere and he would put it in the back of the net. So I got a bunch of assists. Basically, it’s how can I make the team better? If I have to score goals, pass the ball or do both, that’s what I’ll do. I’m excited about the playmakers we have this year.”
Guterding said he’s always had the skill set of a successful attack — dodger, finisher, feeder — since he teamed with linemates Devin Dwyer and Liam Kennedy on a Trojans team that earned not only a state title but also a No. 1 national ranking. “My approach hasn’t changed much,” he said. “I just have to play to the personnel around me.”
With 265 points, he ranks No. 4 on the all-time Duke scoring list and with a season similar to last year’s, could wind up No. 2 behind the coach’s son, Matt Danowski, who had 353 points. Guterding was the fastest Blue Devil to 100 career points, doing it in his 25th game.
His most memorable moment at Duke was a somber one. “My first overtime game-winner was the first game I played after the funeral of my good friend from Garden City, Ed Blatz.” he said of his goal that beat Notre Dame on April 29, 2016.
Blatz, a Trojans teammate in football and lacrosse, was a starting defenseman at Georgetown who died April 26, 2016. “I’ll never forget that goal or that game in my lifetime. It was special for me and special for the Garden City community,” Guterding said.
He said he has cherished his time at Duke, calling it “an absolutely incredible experience. Coach Danowski always preaches to us about being a Duke Man and pushes us to do the right thing and enjoy everything that goes on at Duke. It’s a really special place.”
Guterding is a sociology major who has earned a markets-and-management certificate and will graduate in May, hoping to leave with a degree, a national championship and a clear career path that will allow him to walk softly and carry a big lacrosse stick.
“I definitely want to play pro lacrosse in the outdoor league, and I might try the indoor league. That suits my game, too,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll do some stuff in the business world with lacrosse. It’s been a part of my life forever. I can’t just drop it.”
That would be crazy.
NEWSDAY’S TOP 10 TEAMS
OTHER LONG ISLANDERS
Colin Burke, Fairfield (Cold Spring Harbor), A, Jr.
Former CAA rookie of year led Stags in scoring with 26 goals and 15 assists.
Jack Concannon, Hofstra (Lindenhurst, St. Anthony’s), G, Sr.
Preseason second-team All-American. Allowed 8.8 goals per game with 57.1 save percentage.
Danny Fowler, Duke (Wantagh, Chaminade), G, Grad.
Started all 18 games last season. Career-best 8.81 goals-against average and a 51.9 save percentage.
Kieran Mullins, Rutgers (Islip), A, So.
Had breakout freshman season, leading the resurgent Scarlet Knights with 35 goals and 16 assists.
Mac O’Keefe, Penn State (Syosset), A, So.
Broke a 50-year-old school record for goals in a season, tallying 51 in his freshman season.
Justin Reh, Albany (Rocky Point), A, Sr.
Part of one of nation’s elite attack units. Talented inside shooter who netted 39 goals last season.
Tim Rotanz, Maryland (Wading River, Shoreham-WR), M, Sr.
Scored three goals in NCAA title-game victory capping breakout season (33 goals, 11 assists).
Will Sands, Bucknell (Locust Valley, Friends), A, Sr.
Four-year starter led Bisons with 20 goals and 42 assists, the latter was third-best in nation.
Ryan Tierney, Hofstra (Massapequa), A, So.
Coach’s son fit in well freshman year with 31 goals, 16 assists. Should be primary scoring option.