That was Zach Howell holding one corner of the national championship trophy on the field in Baltimore on Monday, mugging for the cameras. The Duke University junior attack was named to the NCAA All-Tournament team after a brilliant postseason capped off with his school crowned champs in men’s lacrosse.
It was a familiar scene. Howell did the same years earlier at Huntington High School. He helped lead another Blue Devils squad to a 63-1 mark and state Class B championships in 2005 and ’06 before losing as a senior in the 2007 state semifinals.
So he’d done this all before. But after scoring two goals and adding an assist as Duke beat Notre Dame in overtime, 6-5, Howell acknowledged this title was even more special.
“I’ll cherish this because I understand now how much hard work it took to get here,” Howell said by phone on Tuesday. “It’s been three years of hard work for me. It was probably the best moment of my life.”
Led by former Hofstra coach John Danowski, Duke knocked off ACC rival and top-ranked Virginia, 14-12, in a wild semifinal. Then the Blue Devils broke through to win their first national title in 14 NCAA Tournament appearances with the thriller over Notre Dame.
Howell was a key figure in each win. He laid the foundation growing up in Huntington. And he never forgot where he came from because he never could shake it. That Huntington squad also featured Rhamel and Shamel Bratton, who are each standouts at the University of Virginia. Stony Brook University senior goalie Charlie Paar helped guide the Seawolves to the NCAA quarterfinals.
In other words, the path to the 2010 NCAA title ran directly through Huntington. First the Brattons took down Stony Brook. Then Howell upset the Brattons in the semifinals.
The Bratton brothers led Huntington to a Suffolk title in basketball in 2006. And with Howell at quarterback, the threesome won a Long Island championship in football in 2005.
“It’s great to see all my buddies from Huntington doing well in college and I’m really proud of those guys,’’ said Howell, who has faced the Brattons seven times now. “We had great careers as high school players and were able to carry that forward.”
Against Notre Dame, no sooner had C.J. Costabile scored off the opening faceoff of OT than Howell dropped his stick and jumped on his Duke teammate. They were quickly bowled over by the entire bench, which rushed onto the field in a wave that crashed into the Notre Dame goal.
“It was really disbelief,” Howell said.
Now Howell, a history major, moves into a long off-season of celebration close to home. He will intern at HSBC Bank in New York City over the summer.
No doubt he’ll also get together with a few of his former high school teammates. They can reminisce about the glory days of years gone by. With each passing season, that Huntington lacrosse dynasty is looking more and more special. And they can take heart in the fact that the glory lives on.