Loaded Princeton big job for Hopkins

Pietramala will try to stem tide in debut as Blue Jays' coach


March 02, 2001|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

Running several shifts at midfield is a given in lacrosse. There's so much talent up top at Princeton, however, the Tigers could platoon on attack.

The Dave Pietramala era at Johns Hopkins begins tomorrow, when the Blue Jays travel to Princeton. Tigers coach Bill Tierney was one of Pietramala's mentors when the latter starred at Hopkins in the late 1980s. One of the subplots in the 2001 opener for both will be the manner in which Pietramala counters Princeton's embarrassment of offensive riches.

Tierney has six players he could comfortably start on attack. Senior Matt Striebel is one of the college game's more underrated quarterbacks. Junior B.J. Prager was a third-team All-American last year. Before he went down in April with a season-ending knee injury, sophomore Sean Hartofolis split time with junior Brendan Tierney at the third spot. Both started in the NCAA championship-game loss to Syracuse.

Check out who arrived with the freshman class. Ryan Boyle guided Gilman to two of the past three Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association titles. He was the top attack prospect in the southern hemisphere of prep lacrosse, and Jason Doneger was the big catch up north. In 1999, Doneger scored 74 goals for Lynbrook (N.Y.).

"The two freshmen are phenomenal," Tierney said. "I've got to figure out a way to keep everyone happy. Some of those guys will play some midfield, but we've also got a bunch of midfielders back. In terms of numbers and experience, this is as deep as we've ever been. It's a good problem to have."

Look for Prager and Brendan Tierney to play exclusively on attack and the other four to branch out to the midfield. The Tigers are still looking for the right combinations on attack, and it's a stark contrast to their run of three straight NCAA titles in 1996 to '98. Jon Hess, Jesse Hubbard and Chris Massey were an inseparable combination as they combined for 618 career points.

"It's tough making the transition from a system in which three players get the time to one in which six or seven guys could be rotating in and out," said Striebel, who was a freshman in 1998, when the aforementioned trio were seniors. "Not being on the field all the time is tough, especially when you know that you're good enough, but the coaches are keeping the chemistry positive, and we can hit teams from a lot of different angles."

Position shifts come with the turf for Princeton recruits. Senior Ryan Mollett arrived from Boys' Latin as a midfielder, but was handed a long stick in 1998 and became a keystone on the Tigers' defense. Boyle said he is prepared for a similar shift in perspective.

"Princeton has made a conscious effort to recruit attackmen with the understanding that they can use them as midfielders, as well," Pietramala said. "One of the reasons they can pull that off is the way they play defense, with a lot of sliding and support. Nobody gets caught out on an island by himself. With that in mind, it's a little easier for an [converted] attackman to go back and defend."

If any defense should be able to adapt to Princeton's changing looks, it's Hopkins, even with a rookie starter in the goal.

Pietramala has decided on a starter, but he will not let outsiders know until tomorrow whether Nick Murtha or Rob Scherr, a sophomore from McDonogh, will replace Brian Carcaterra. Whoever gets the nod will be supported by a superior close defense. Shawn Nadelen, Brandon Testa and Brendan Shook are versatile seniors who are capable of handling any situation.

"A lot of times, you have to put a defenseman in one position, but we've forced them to play inside, and off the ball," Pietramala said. "We've put them in different matchups, so that they've gained a different understanding of the game."

NOTES: The Blue Jays' midfield is riddled with injuries. Rob Frattarola (stress fracture) and Tim Muir (broken hand) will not play tomorrow. Frank Potucek broke a hand in early February, but he might be available.

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