As Hopkins has grown, so too has Pietramala

May 20, 2002|By MIKE PRESTON

JOHNS HOPKINS had 16 freshmen on its 40-man preseason lacrosse roster, but the person who may have grown up the most this season is coach Dave Pietramala.

Pietramala, in his second year, has Hopkins in the Division I final four next weekend after the Blue Jays defeated Massachusetts, 13-12, yesterday in sudden- death overtime. In the NCAA quarterfinal at Homerwood Field, two Minutemen goals were nullified because of crease violations, and Hopkins was the recipient of a mysteriously called timeout despite not gaining control of the faceoff that set up the game-winning goal.

Strange things always seem to happen to visiting teams at Homerwood, but Pietramala's success is no freak accident. In five years, he has evolved into one of the nation's best coaches, and this season may have been his best year.

Pietramala has nursed this team from possible postseason contention into a possible national championship. Hopkins haters will point out that the Blue Jays should have the most talented players because of the school's tradition, but this team might not have one Division I All-American on it.

There is some talent, but most of it is still in Pampers.

"This group has taught me a lot," said Pietramala, a Hopkins alumnus who may have been the game's best defenseman. "We asked them to grow up quickly. A year ago, I may have lost it a bit more on occasion, but I needed to grow more as coach. I felt it was important for me to keep my cool this season, to keep my composure, and that would give this team confidence to take it one possession at a time."

It wasn't that Pietramala was so impatient, but he was just so darn emotional. He was that way as a player. He had the skills to match up with any offensive player, and his battles with Syracuse midfielder Gary Gait were some of the most epic in the game.

But what set Pietramala apart from other defensemen was his size and demeanor. The guy was nasty, an intimidating force. He coached with that edge for three years at Cornell and last year at Hopkins.

But the 2002 Baby Blue Jays needed a different approach.

Hopkins doesn't have a lot of depth. The Blue Jays regularly use about 16 players during a game. Of those, six are freshmen, including midfielders Vince Smith and Kyle Harrison, attackmen Kyle Barrie and Peter LeSueur and defensemen Chris Watson and Tom Garvey. Another four are sophomores, including defensemen Corey Harned, midfielders Kevin Boland and Joe McDermott and attackman Conor Ford.

"We got 16 freshmen, and I feel like a father to them," said junior midfielder Adam Doneger. "We've gotten a great year from the freshmen, and hopefully we can keep it going into the playoffs. Sometimes, the coach got a little too tough on the younger guys, but now he knows when to back off. But he is still the same coach, though, the toughest guy in Division I."

The softer approach was on full display yesterday. Hopkins twice had six-goal leads in the first half, and led 8-2 at the intermission. But the Minutemen scored five unanswered goals in the first 12 minutes of the third quarter, and then went ahead on a goal by midfielder Don Little with 14:22 left in the game to make it 9-8. The old Pietramala would have been putting a finger in some player's chest or running up and down the sideline screaming.

Instead, Pietramala was poised. He just kept making changes until Hopkins started climbing back into the game on Barrie's goal with 7:24 remaining to pull Hopkins within 10-9.

"I've been working on it," Pietramala said of remaining calm. "If they see me panic, they are going to panic. If I can hold my tongue a little bit, and that's a difficult thing to do, and just talk about the mistakes we're making, the guys will see that and appreciate it. As a coach, you try to pick and choose times, when to raise your voice and when to say, `Let's relax, take a break and go and get this thing.' "

But this team does have the characteristics of a Pietramala- coached team. Pietramala is a clone of Princeton coach Bill Tierney, his former mentor at Hopkins. The Blue Jays run that slowdown, deliberate offense.

They play great zone and rely on defensive positioning and slides instead of the more athletic, man-to-man approach. And Hopkins is a team that never, ever, ever quits. It's 60 minutes of lacrosse. It might not be great stuff because the Blue Jays are so young, but it's all effort.

Hopkins had a 12-10 lead with 4:08 left in the game, but the Minutemen sent the game into overtime with goals from Kevin Leveille and Chris Fiore in the last 25 seconds of regulation.

A lesser team might have folded after blowing the big second-quarter lead and then the two-goal lead late in the game, but Doneger responded with a 12-yard shot to win the game for Hopkins with 2:41 remaining in the four-minute sudden-death period.

Hopkins has won six one-goal games this season (four of them at Homerwood). Afterward, the old Pietramala surfaced, the one with the fiery spirit.

"The team we played was very, very good today," Pietramala said. "We had a lot of respect for them coming in, but I'm not so sure that respect was reciprocated the other way. Our team was pretty motivated. It got back to one of our assistant coaches in a story up there that they thought we were overrated, and of all the teams remaining in the tournament, they wanted to play us because we had won a lot of one-goal games. I guess it's pretty important to win one-goal games."

The new Pietramala, the old Pietramala, either way, you've got to love the guy.

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