Nick O'Hara won't have to settle for a near-miss after all.
The All-American long stick midfielder said Wednesday he has decided to take advantage of the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA and return to Duke for a fifth season of lacrosse.
"I'm definitely going back," said the 2003 Orchard Park High graduate, whose Blue Devils lost, 12-11, to Johns Hopkins in the national championship game at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium on Memorial Day. "Right now I'm just working on the process of acceptance into the liberal arts masters program. I just have to go and interview and should be accepted by the end of next week."
That should be just a formality, given that O'Hara carried a double major of economics and history, and graduated in May with a 3.3 grade-point average. He, along with 14 of his teammates, was named to the Atlantic Coast Conference's Academic men's lacrosse team earlier this month.
To be eligible for consideration, an athlete must have earned a 3.0 GPA for the previous semester and maintained a 3.0 cumulative average during his academic career.
O'Hara, a two-time all-NCAA Division I Tournament selection, and 32 other Duke players who were not seniors during the 2006 season, were granted the extra year of eligibility on May 30 -- just two days after the Blue Devils had lost the championship game. After getting word, O'Hara removed his name from consideration for the Major League Lacrosse entry draft for college seniors.
The extra eligibility was requested by Duke following rape allegations brought against three team members -- Reade Seligmann, David Evans and Collin Finnerty. The charges were later dropped, district attorney Mike Nifong was subsequently disbarred in North Carolina for ethics violations and the university, which canceled the 2006 season after just eight games, recently reached a financial settlement with the three accused players.
Seligmann has since decided to transfer to Brown, Finnerty to Loyola of Maryland and Evans graduated from Duke in 2006.
"The opportunity for the young men in our program to continue their education is of great benefit," said Duke head coach John Danowski, who took over after Mike Pressler and assistant coach Jon Lantzy (Sweet Home) resigned in the wake of the turmoil. "The guys will take an individual look at their options."
Last month, the Baltimore Sun reported five of the 12 Duke seniors, including national Player of the Year Matt Danowski and co-captain Ed Douglas, were seriously considering returning. O'Hara said starting goalie Dan Loftus may also return.
"All the guys have to do what's right for them," said O'Hara, who had five goals, two assists and scooped 84 loose balls this year to lead the Blue Devils in that category for the third straight season. "They have to decide if the [graduate] programs offered work for what they want to accomplish."
O'Hara is also facing surgery on his left shoulder at Duke University next week to repair a torn labrum. He may miss fall workouts because his rehabilitation is likely to take at least three months.
"I suffered a second-degree separation during the first week of preseason work last year," O'Hara said. "But I wasn't about to let anybody take my senior season away from me."