Quick hits in JHU's attack

Lacrosse: Freshmen Bobby Benson and Adam Doneger have played a major part in the Blue Jays' resurgence from a 1-3 start.

May 23, 2000|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

They began their collegiate careers on the bench, where freshmen typically reside, but Johns Hopkins attackmen Bobby Benson and Adam Doneger are no longer anonymous.

When they take the field at the University of Maryland's Byrd Stadium as starters on Saturday in the NCAA men's lacrosse tournament semifinals against Syracuse, Benson and Doneger will be marked men on the main stage.

"It's all starting to make sense now," Doneger said. "We're freshmen, and we're starting in the Final Four. It's unbelievable."

During their eight-game winning streak that has erased a 1-3 start, the Blue Jays have made lineup changes at attack, midfield and close defense. But the earliest signs of a resurgence came after the freshmen with contrasting styles and physiques took over vital roles at the offensive end.

On the crease is Benson, the skinny kid from McDonogh with a shot so slow he cracks self-deprecating jokes about it. On the wing is Doneger, who is built like a linebacker and has a shot that tops 90 miles per hour.

Benson's forte is working his way open while on top of the opposing goalie. No player on the Hopkins team is more adept at grabbing rebounds around the cage and turning them into scores. Doneger can fire bullets past goalies from medium range, and is just as comfortable running around or through a defender to get a closer look at the net.

And the chemistry between the first-year pair and senior All-America attackman Dan Denihan-the leader and feeder of the group-has crystallized at an ideal time."All of the coaches envisioned [Benson and Doneger] helping us down the road," said Todd Cavallaro, the Blue Jays' offensive coordinator. "It was just a matter of when they were going to progress. Fortunately for us, it came during their freshman season."

Benson, 6 feet 4, 190 pounds, said he was seventh on the attack depth chart last fall. He moved into the starting lineup after a season-opening loss to Princeton and leads the team with 28 goals. That's more goals than any Hopkins attackman has scored since Dan Denihan recorded 26 in 1996.

Doneger, 6-1, 210, took a starting job after coming off the bench to score twice in a 16-8 loss at Virginia on March 25. In the eight games since then, he has scored 17 more goals. Along the way, he became only the second freshman since former Hopkins great Terry Riordan to string together five, multi-goal games.

Benson and Doneger are the only two Blue Jays shooting more than 40 percent. They don't look like freshmen anymore."I'm basically a lanky, goofy, crease guy," said Benson, who said only the backup goalie at McDonogh had a slower shot than his. "I try to play intelligently and get to a spot where I can get off a shot. Since I don't shoot that hard, I try to put it where the goalie is not going to get it, unlike this big, strong kid who shoots 100 miles an hour on the run."

Doneger laughs without buying Benson's act for a second."[Benson] is the best shooter I've ever seen. Even when our goalies know where his shot is going in practice, they don't save it," Doneger said. "Other teams underestimate him."

Doneger is the type who can't wait for the next shootaround, where he'll work on his shot velocity and placement well before practice. Benson often can be found at that time watching tape of an opposing defenseman or goalie, so as to pick up tendencies he can exploit on game day.

Doneger followed former Hopkins goalie Jonathan Marcus to Homewood. Marcus attended Lynbrook High in Hewlett, N.Y., where Doneger led his team to a state championship as a senior last year. Benson figured he would end up at Princeton, before he decided on Hopkins after his recruiting trip.

Now, the freshmen who have energized the Blue Jays' offense are landing together in College Park. At 19, they are heading toward the setting of their dreams.

"I did not envision starting in the Final Four. I don't think either one of us knows what we're in for, playing in front of 30,000 people," Benson said. "It's probably going to be a shock when we first walk out on that field. Hopefully, when the game gets started, we'll be ready to go."

Johns Hopkins at a glance

Location: Baltimore

Conference: Independent

Tournament history: The Blue Jays have won seven national championships, the last coming in 1987. They have been to the Final Four 22 times, including six times since 1992. Their 29 consecutive trips to the NCAAs represent the longest such streak in any Division I team sport.

How they got here: The Blue Jays dropped three of their first four games-against Princeton, Syracuse and Virginia, which make up the rest of the Final Four field. Then, they won seven straight games and earned a first-round tournament bye with a 16-12 victory over Loyola on May 6. Hopkins then beat Notre Dame, 15-11, in the quarterfinals.

Coach: John Haus (2nd year, 20-6 overall)

Best game: A 20-11 victory over Maryland on April 15.

Worst game: A 15-11 loss to Princeton at home in their opener.

Goal-scoring leader: Freshman attackman Bobby Benson (28 goals).

Assist leader: Senior attackman Dan Denihan (37 assists). Denihan leads the team with 61 points overall.

Faceoff specialist: Eric Wedin (153-for-245, .624 percentage)

Goalie: Brian Carcaterra (.571 percentage, 9.91 goals a game)

-- Gary Lambrecht

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