Different year, different atmosphere surrounding Johns Hopkins
The smiles hovering around Homewood Field are a drastic departure from last year’s glum expressions.
After barely qualifying for the NCAA tournament, getting bounced quickly by Duke in the first round, and compiling the program’s first losing record since 1971, Johns Hopkins is in the midst of a remarkable revival, winning seven of nine games this season and ranking fourth in The Sun’s rankings.
The reversal would seem to validate the offseason improvements that coach Dave Pietramala and his staff made, but that’s not necessarily the case.
“I think ultimately, it’s not about validation,” Pietramala said Wednesday. “It’s about us as a staff and our players doing what we’re here to do, and what we’re here to do is compete at the highest level of Division I lacrosse. Whenever you have a down year like we had, a disappointing year, your hope is that you can recognize the areas that need improvement and you’re able to do that. So I don’t think we feel validated. I think we feel that what we’re doing is what we’re supposed to be doing. We’re working hard, focused on specific areas, and we feel the areas we’re focused on are having an impact on our success.”
At this point last season, the Blue Jays were 4-5 and had dropped four straight to Hofstra, Syracuse, Virginia and North Carolina. Hofstra is no longer on the schedule, but Johns Hopkins edged both the Cavaliers and the Tar Heels and extended the Orange to double overtime before losing, 5-4.
The team has answered the doubters, but Pietramala said the players and coaches were more intent on satisfying a different group of analysts.
“The only critics we had to silence was ourselves,” he said. “We were the most critical of ourselves. You can’t imagine how long of a summer that was. I’m here to do a job, and our staff is here to do a job, and we take that job very seriously. When we don’t meet or achieve our goals, it’s very disappointing for our staff. And our kids care a lot. So I’m happy for our kids. I’m happy that the hard work they’re putting in is paying off. We still have a long way to go, and I’ll keep saying that because the season is not over. There’s still a lot of lacrosse left, and we still have a lot of developing and growing to do. So we’re certainly not satisfied, but we’re happy. It’s good for the kids to see that. It’s hard when you work hard and you don’t see the benefits of that.”
There are areas to address. Pietramala wants the team to collect more ground balls and do a better job of protecting leads. The Blue Jays jumped out to 4-0 advantages against both Virginia and North Carolina before prevailing by a goal in each contest.
“We’ve got to find a way to play with those leads better,” Pietramala said. “Part of that is we’ve played against some pretty talented teams. When you play against North Carolina, when you play against Virginia, you’re not going to hold them at bay that long. They’re going to get their opportunities. The issue is, we’ve got to do a better job as a group – both the coaches and players – that when we build that lead, we need to continue to build on that lead and not taking a breath and relaxing and saying we’re settled in and then letting in two or three goals and allowing a team to creep back into it.”