Review & preview: Johns Hopkins

Here is the third 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. Teams are scheduled to appear according to the chronological order in which their seasons ended. Wednesday’s visit was with Mount St. Mary’s. Thursday’s visit is with Johns Hopkins.

REVIEW

The good: The Blue Jays’ concern about who would replace attackman Chris Boland as the offense’s primary dodger was answered by the emergence of sophomore attackman Wells Stanwick. The Baltimore native and Boys’ Latin graduate recorded career highs in both goals (24) and assists (23), and not coincidentally, he led the team in scoring. Coach Dave Pietramala said the honorable-mention All American’s impact could be even greater next season as the offense transitions from featuring big, downhill midfielders to smaller, quicker midfielders. “I think with what we have returning and coming in, I think the changes that  we’re discussing will only take more advantage of Wells’ skills and his abilities,” Pietramala said. “So we did hope that he would kind of take over that quarterback role. That’s why we recruited him, and he did it.” … The offense tied tournament finalist Syracuse for 14th in scoring at 11.5 goals per game, and a contributing factor was the play of senior faceoff specialist Mike Poppleton. The second-team All American finished second in Division I with a 68.5 faceoff percentage (161-of-235) and led the team with 89 ground balls. Pietramala said Poppleton’s success was equal parts talent and effort. “Mike was a guy that after practice every day, when everybody had left the field and they were done with their extra work, Mike Poppleton was at that faceoff X with his iPod and listening to whistles and working on his game,” Pietramala said. “The great part about Mike this year was not only how well he faced off and how productive he was, but also imparted that work ethic to [sophomore] Drew Kennedy and to [freshman] Craig Madarasz. As the year unfolded, you began to see Drew Kennedy out there doing extra running and working with his iPod. And then you saw the freshman Craig Madarasz. The fact that those guys got to face off every day against Mike was of really great benefit to us.” … This year’s squad was a senior-laden group, but Pietramala also got a glimpse of what the underclassmen could do. Freshman midfielder Ryan Brown recorded 17 goals and four assists, junior midfielder Rex Sanders scored 13 goals, and freshman midfielder notched six goals and three assists. Sophomore defensemen Robert Enright and John Kelly started in the regular-season finale against Army, and freshman midfielder Connor Reed also saw playing time in that 9-4 win. “The fact that we got other guys significant time was a major positive,” Pietramala said. “… [T]here were some other guys that – as the year progressed – got some significant minutes throughout the year, and I think that will help us next year.”

The bad: Despite a 9-5 record and victories over then-No. 4 Maryland and then-No. 13 Virginia, Johns Hopkins still did not have the resume to earn an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament. That absence snapped a 41-year streak of playing in the postseason, but as devastating as that outcome was, there was a lesson to be learned, according to Pietramala. “We learned that we’re not owed anything, that you can have a 9-5 record and beat Maryland and Virginia and we’re not guaranteed anything,” he said. “You have to finish games, and every game has a level of importance. That’s a hard lesson to learn, but it’s a lesson that’s going to be valuable to this program moving forward. And rather than make excuses and say, ‘We should have gotten in,’ we’ve done what I said we will do. We’ve looked within and we said that we had our opportunities. What I’m trying to tell you is that we’ve learned how valuable every opportunity is.” … From the time between an 11-8 loss to then-No. 14 Princeton to an 11-10 overtime loss to then-No. 4 North Carolina on March 30, the offense sparkled while the defense lagged. Then the script flipped, and it was the defense outplaying the offense between a 10-9 setback to then-No. 19 Albany on April 5 to an 8-4 loss to then-No. 7 Loyola on April 27. “We put it all together against Virginia and we put it all together against Maryland,” Pietramala said. “We didn’t put it all together against Carolina or Albany. We played well enough to win, and that’s frustrating. In the end, that’s a big part of what hurt us. We never really put it all together consistently. It was here, it was there, it was for a quarter, it was for a half, it was for this game or that, but not for one, two three, four, five games in a row.” … The ineffectiveness of the offense may have been embodied by the lack of production from the first midfield. The loss of junior Rob Guida to an unspecified injury for eight games seemed to disrupt the chemistry built between John Greeley and John Ranagan and the seniors slogged through sub-par campaigns. Pietramala refused to blame either midfielder. “I think what happened is, those guys really became a bit frustrated and anybody that cares would,” he said. “They’re practicing hard, they’re playing hard and yet it’s just not happening. It’s just not going their way and what happens is you start to press a little bit, and you start taking a worse shot because you want something to happen or – even worse – you try to be perfect. And I think in general, that impacted those guys.”

PREVIEW

Personnel changes: In addition to Greeley (three goals and 13 assists) and Ranagan (14, 9), the Blue Jays also bid farewell to starting attackman Zach Palmer (12, 13), second-line midfielder Lee Coppersmith (11, 7) and fourth attackman John Kaestner (9, 7). Brown could move from midfield to attack, and freshman attackman Mike Morris has potential. But Pietramala said the group that is returning could be versatile enough to play at both spots. “We think we have some guys in the program that can help us,” he said. “But I think the way we’re going to play offense is, they’re going to be more of interchangeable parts. I think we’ve got more of those guys now. We have not yet made a decision on what we’re going to do with Ryan or where we’re going to play guys. We have some sense, and we’ve discussed those. But we’re going to sit down as a staff and make some concrete decisions.” … The defense also takes a blow with the graduation of defensemen Tucker Durkin – the sport’s Outstanding Defensive Player for the second consecutive year – and Chris Lightner. Enright and Kelly could join junior Jack Reilly on close defense, but Pietramala is more concerned with the defense executing its schemes. “It’s not about Tucker and it’s not about Chris – although you don’t replace those guys,” Pietramala said. “It’s about the system, and it’s about the guys fitting into that system. We’ve always played that way, and we’ve always recruited that way.” … The program must also find a successor to goalkeeper Pierce Bassett, an honorable-mention All American who ranked fourth in the country in goals-against average (7.59) and third in save percentage (.604). Redshirt junior Eric Schneider is poised to fill the void, according to Pietramala. “We’re hoping [for] Eric Schneider, who is a terrific communicator and is a talented goalie, but just hasn’t had his opportunity,” Pietramala said. “I am comfortable with his abilities, and we’ve got other guys that will challenge him there. But in the end, it’s not about the who. It’s about the we. We don’t play defense with one guy.”

Forecast for 2014: Cloudy. After graduating just two starters in 2012, 2013 was supposed to be the year Johns Hopkins went further than the quarterfinal round in the previous two seasons. But the team fell short of the NCAA tournament, and the departure of six starters does not bode well for next year. With Stanwick, junior attackman Brandon Benn (34, 1) and Brown, the offense appears to be in capable hands. But the defense could be a work in progress well into the regular season. The anticipated return of junior short-stick defensive midfielder Phil Castronova from a torn left Achilles tendon could fortify that unit, but the pressure will be on Schneider to maintain the standard set by Bassett. The program will not be able to compete for an automatic qualifier as it will not be able to join a conference until the 2015 season at the earliest. So the Blue Jays will have to take aim at one of the eight at-large berths and with so many teams improving, that possibility is no longer a certainty as it once was for the program.