Review & preview: Johns Hopkins
Here is the sixth installment of a series that checks in with the seven Division I programs in the state to give a glimpse into the past and the future. Tuesday’s visit takes us to Johns Hopkins.
The good: After the compiling the program’s first losing record since 1971, the Blue Jays bounced back in convincing fashion, going 13-3 and earning the No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament. Coach Dave Pietramala, the subject of intense scrutiny during the offseason, said the seeds of reversal were planted in the fall. “Coming out of the fall, we felt like we had a good nucleus, we felt like we were getting good leadership, and it was just a matter of putting people in the right places,” Pietramala said. “So we weren’t surprised that we had a good year. We believed that the things we set forth to be better at, we were obviously much better at.” … One of the facets that Pietramala stressed was improving the team’s athleticism with regards to ground balls and faceoffs. After collecting 404 ground balls to opponents’ 448 last season, Johns Hopkins turned that around, scooping up 518 ground balls to opponents’ 433. And after winning only 47 percent (162-of-345) of their face-offs in 2010, the team won 64.9 percent (227-of-350) of draws this past spring. Those numbers resulted from the team being faster overall. “I think we did accomplish that,” Pietramala said. “We were better off the wings, we were better defensively, and we were better off the ground. All of that isn’t due to us just being bad ground ball players. Part of it is athleticism. So I think our athleticism helped us there.” … The Blue Jays returned to their traditional strength – defense. That unit surrendered 7.3 goals per game (sixth-lowest average in Division I) after allowing 9.6 goals last season. “This group was far more committed to the defensive end of the field,” Pietramala said. “They were far more committed to preparation, to film, to doing the little things, and that’s a credit to that young group. So were we surprised? We were hopeful that we would get back to playing the way we were capable.”
The bad: As much improved as the team was after 2010, Johns Hopkins’ season ended in a surprising 14-9 loss to No. 6 seed Denver in the NCAA quarterfinals. The Pioneers became the first school west of the Mississippi River to advance to the Final Four, but Pietramala knows the Blue Jays let an opportunity slip from their grasp. “We have to finish at the end of the year,” Pietramala said. “We have to take the next step. I do believe that this year, we took a lot of steps. We beat Virginia, we beat Carolina, we won on the road. We did a good job. We didn’t do a great job, we did a good job. The goal in the end is to finish the drill and to finish the season the right way.” … One factor in the loss to Denver was the Pioneers’ ability to keep Johns Hopkins’ midfielders – not short-stick defensive midfielder – on the field and attack those matchups. Pietramala said a good portion of workout in the fall will concentrate on improving every midfielder’s defensive play. “I think the play of our midfielders defensively – and I don’t just mean our defensive midfielders – has to improve,” he said. “So one of the things we’re going to do in the fall is we’re not going to run a defensive midfield. We’re just going to play midfields.” … Pietramala wants the players to take pride in what they accomplished this past spring, but he also wants them to refrain from being content with what they did. “I think the most critical thing is that we approach this offseason and this fall just like we did last year,” he said. “We don’t feel comfortable, we don’t look at it like, ‘Hey, we did this,’ or ‘We improved here.’ We have to stay hungry and keep improving those areas, and that was probably the best part about this team. As the year unfolded, it kept improving.”
Personnel changes: The Blue Jays graduate just one starter, but the team will miss the ridiculously fast and hard left-handed shot of attackman Kyle Wharton (34 goals and 8 assists). A pair of incoming freshmen in Wells Stanwick, a Baltimore native and Boys’ Latin graduate, and Mike Daniello are Under Armour All Americans, but freshman Brandon Benn (5, 1) might be poised to insert himself into the starting lineup. “Brandon is a guy that late in the year, kind of came on and got a couple of goals on the extra man,” Pietramala said. “He got two nice goals against Army and kind of started to find his comfort zone. So the hope is that he’ll continue to grow and develop over the summer and take the next step that the [John] Ranagans and [John] Greeleys took.” … Matt Dolente wasn’t a starter, but it could be argued that his graduation could have the most impact. He won 66.7 percent of faceoffs (194-of-291) and gave the offense multiple possessions and opposing offenses fewer opportunities. Junior Marshall Burkhart could return to faceoffs, and sophomore Grady Stevens, freshman Mike Faby and incoming freshman Drew Kenney could compete for time, but the leading candidate to take over is sophomore Mike Poppleton. “There’s no question that he can help us,” Pietramala said. “He’s a guy for whom this will be a very important summer. He and I have been in close contact with each other. We’ve been back and forth over the phone, and we had a meeting at the end of the year to explain where we are” … Burkhart might also join freshman Phil Castronova as the starting short-stick defensive midfielders, but as mentioned previously, Pietramala wants all of the midfielders to improve their defense. Freshman Tobias Armour is poised to start at long-stick midfielder for Ben Smith and Orry Michael, both of whom graduate. “We think Toby’s a talent,” Pietramala said. “We think that Toby just needs to get in a little bit better shape physically. At the end of the year, he came on, and we feel like he had the ability. And we bring in some freshmen who have a chance to compete for some playing time as well.”
Forecast for 2011: Sunny. The presence of just one senior in the starting lineup means the Blue Jays will return an experience and hungry crew. Attackman Chris Boland returning for his final season provides a steadying presence, and the first midfield of Ranagan, Greeley and freshman Rob Guida could further its chemistry. Faceoffs and defense will be the most pressing concerns. But with the entire starting close defense intact in sophomores Tucker Durkin and Chris Lightner (if his back injury doesn’t continue to be an issue) and freshman Jack Reilly and sophomore Pierce Bassett in the cage, Johns Hopkins should be poised to challenge the top teams next season.