Johns Hopkins preview
Today’s entry is the last of a week-long series taking a look at each of the seven Division I programs in this state according to their order of finish from last season. The Sun’s lacrosse preview is slated to be published on Friday, Feb. 12. Today is Johns Hopkins’ turn.
Overview: The Blue Jays went 10-5 last season and reached the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals for the 19th consecutive time. But the superlatives masked some troubling trends, including the team going on a six-game, season-ending winning streak to earn the No. 8 seed and unusually spotty play by the usually stout defense. Johns Hopkins has the talent, recruits and coaches to resolve any issues, but will that be enough in a crowded field of legitimate contenders?
Reason for optimism: One of the bright spots last spring was the emergence of a potent attack. Powered by seniors Chris Boland (28 goals and 18 assists and a Boys’ Latin graduate) and Steven Boyle (21, 17) and junior Kyle Wharton (34, 11), the attack carried the team through some rough moments. Coach Dave Pietramala is leaning on the unit to do the same this season. "It’s a very experienced group," he said. "We feel like that’s a group that’s going to have to lead us on the offensive end. … It’s uncommon to us. Certainly, having these guys last year, you’ve got to hope you can lean on that group."
Reason for pessimism: The Blue Jays surrendered 10 goals or more in nine games last spring, and the blame can’t be entirely pinned on the defense. But the unit struggled with communication and at times looked confused against opposing offenses that sought to ramp up the tempo. Seniors Matt Drenan and Sam DeVore, two returning starters, are expected to fill those roles again, but Pietramala said he is not opposed to shaking things up and inserting guys sophomores Gavin Crisafulli and Andrew Cote, senior Greg Harrington and freshman Tucker Durkin. "We’ve made it clear that everything is effort- and performance-based," he said. "… We want to see performance in the guys that are going to get the job done – whether it’s a senior, a freshman, a sophomore, a walk-on. It’s created a much more competitive environment defensively. I don’t think we had that last year. I felt like everybody thought, ‘Well, this is the group and these are the guys that are going to play.’ Now, it’s, ‘I’ve got to earn my keep every day, and I’ve got to perform every day in practice.’"
Keep an eye on: Senior goalkeeper Michael Gvozden (Severna Park) is a two-year starter who powered the team to a national title game appearance in 2008, but like his defensive teammates, Gvozden is under scrutiny as well. Gvozden’s experience may give him the inside track to being the starter, but that may not be enough, according to Pietramala. "He’s certainly been more consistent through the early spring thus far," Pietramala said of Gvozden. "We have two sophomores in Steven Burke and Guy Van Syckle who both have performed well. And then we have a freshman who’s had a great spring so far in Pierce Bassett. So we’re going to play all four goalies through the scrimmages and come away with the guy who’s the most consistent. Based on the way our defense played last year, we’re not unwilling to look at what the right mix and what the right group is."
What he said: On re-tooling the defense, Pietramala said, "It’s very clear to the guys who have returned how we performed defensively last year. We have not hid from that. We have embraced the fact that we under-performed and that we under-achieved. We’ve embraced it from the head coach onto the players, and we’ve changed a few things. We’ve gone back to doing the things that we traditionally have believed are very important to producing a sound defensive unit. At this time of the year, we usually find that the defense is a little bit behind because it takes time to coordinate the slides and the different defense. But nonetheless, you’re going to have a couple news faces there, I can tell you that."