Jays' Kuczma works hard to define defense Johns Hopkins senior may be nation's best

March 01, 1997|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Ask Brian Kuczma's neighbors about the constant thud coming from next door.

No, it's not the stereo or the TV. And it's not a wild college party.

It's just Kuczma methodically bouncing the lacrosse ball off the wall to fine tune his stick skills and ball control. This is the focused routine for Kuczma, a returning first-team All-American for Johns Hopkins who is widely regarded as the best defenseman in the country.

He is the second Blue Jays defenseman to make the first team in the '90s and could be the first to repeat on the first team since Dave Pietramala in 1987, 1988 and 1989.

And he does it without any flash. Just consistency.

"Coaches realize what a great player he is at the end of every game," Hopkins coach Tony Seaman said of his senior. "They look at the stat sheet and say: Our first attackman didn't score a goal. Or he got a goal but it was in transition or an assist on an extra-man situation. And they find out why after watching films. It's that kid Kuczma. He never gets beat."

Kuczma forms the keystone of one of the most formidable defensive units in the sport with Aaron Van Horn and John Gagliardi. This group receives possibly its biggest test when the No. 5 Blue Jays open their season today at defending national champion Princeton, which averaged nearly 16 goals last season.

It's a customary work week for Kuczma. Starting every game for the past three seasons, he has learned to cope with being the marked defenseman and playing against an All-American attackman every other week.

With Hopkins' schedule, he'll face six of the seven highest-scoring teams last year, including the top four.

"It's a good feeling except for the pressure," said Kuczma of the notoriety. "There is the pressure from the press and the coaches. But the added pressure I put on myself is much more than anything from the coaches or my teammates. It's almost like you have to step outside your body to concentrate on your game."

Concentration is the least of Kuczma's worries. He spends endless time watching tapes, reading magazines and scouting each opponent. Not to mention the time playing "wall ball."

Kuczma absorbs as much as he can because he knows there are only 13 regular-season games left in his collegiate career.

"I spend 98 percent of my time thinking about lacrosse," said Kuczma, of Yorktown Heights, N.Y. "You have to do your schoolwork to keep playing, but I'm definitely a lacrosse fanatic.

"I have thought about it [his last season] ever since we lost to Virginia in the semis. This is my last season to play in front of 10,000 people at home or 30,000 in the semifinals. It gives you an extra drive, to work that much harder."

That nonstop work ethic has been in place since his freshman year. He has remained the same mild-mannered player who runs through practice drills harder than anyone on the squad.

It resulted in the best all-around game of any defenseman in the nation.

His scouting report could read: best man-to-man defender, tenacious on ground balls and expedient decision-making in clearing the ball. And his teammates react to Kuczma's every action and every word.

"Brian is a quiet, nice kid and very respectable off the field," said Van Horn, who has started with Kuczma all four years while rooming with him. "On the field, it's like watching Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It's automatic for him and he becomes this great vocal leader."

But Kuczma has a slight dark side. His nine penalties for eight minutes led the Blue Jays. And he can't wait until he puts a stick against all those attackmen whose photos dominate the magazines.

However, Kuczma only causes problems for opposing attackmen.

"I don't think anyone has ever yelled at Brian during practice or if I've ever called him into my office," Seaman said. "When he came here, he was taking the best or second-best attackmen. I have never realized an adjustment in his game. From the time he has shown up here, I genuflect every day and say thanks for letting me have Brian Kuczma on my team."

Pub Date: 3/01/97

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