Johns Hopkins' big stick

Leadership: For the youthful and less-than-intimidating Blue Jays, junior midfielder Adam Doneger creates a formidable presence by his hard work and example.

College Lacrosse

Ncaa Lacrosse Final Four

May 22, 2002|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

Adam Doneger is easy to spot on the Johns Hopkins lacrosse team, which is No. 1 in the rankings and the top seed in the NCAA tournament, but last in respect when it comes to the final four.

The Blue Jays are the only team in the bunch that doesn't have a title to show for the past three years, and there is the matter of their physical appearance. Oh, they're well-groomed and the uniforms evoke tradition, but Hopkins doesn't intimidate on sight.

Nine regulars are freshmen, and some are still maturing. Sophomore midfielder Kevin Boland looks ready - for a cross country race. At 5 feet 9, 170 pounds, defensive stopper P.J. DiConza isn't much bigger. The top point-getters recall two great 1970s nicknames. Bobby Benson is long and lean like Ted Hendricks, the linebacker who was known as "The Stork." Conor Ford resembles Ron Cey, a squat, pigeon-toed third baseman who went by "The Penguin."

The assessment holds water until you inspect Doneger, a junior midfielder who delivered the biggest goal of the season for the Blue Jays.

Doneger is 6-2, 215 pounds, down 20 from the days when he was voted the second-best high school linebacker in Nassau County, N.Y. His body fat has dropped from 12 to 8 percent in the past year, but he remains one of the strongest Blue Jays. With blue eyes that even movie model "Zoolander" would envy, the media guide's cover boy looks sharp when he takes off his helmet, too.

On a team that has prospered by doing the little things, Doneger's athleticism and experience helped Hopkins get over the hump in six one-goal wins. The most recent came in overtime against Massachusetts in the quarterfinals Sunday, when Doneger scored the Blue Jays' last three goals to secure a semifinal date with Princeton. A career-high five gave him 21 for the season.

"Adam showed his mettle," Princeton coach Bill Tierney said. "When the going gets tough, you give it to your stud. He came into this year as a marked man. Not only has he been patient by deferring to others, he's encouraged them by being a leader."

Doneger and Benson, the attacker out of McDonogh School who is a member of the U.S. men's team that will go to the world championships in Australia, constitute the star power at Hopkins, which might not have a first-team player when the All-America squad is announced.

They are the only Blue Jays who have started in a final four game; Doneger had two goals and two assists in the 2000 semifinal loss to eventual champion Syracuse. They started together on attack the past two seasons, but the addition of polished freshmen Kyle Barrie and Peter LeSueur moved Doneger to midfield.

"We left him at attack out of necessity last season, because we didn't have many options, but Adam's a natural midfielder," Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said. "He scores the majority of his goals on the wing or out front. He has a personality that's suited to play between the lines. If I asked him to play on our defense, he'd watch film and do a good job there, too."

Just as Juan Dixon spurred Maryland's NCAA basketball champions to devote more time to their games, Doneger has set an example for the Hopkins underclassmen by shooting and scouting film on days off.

"Over the winter, we have our players fill out a questionnaire," Pietramala said. "We ask who's the hardest worker. Adam got the most votes. You can't measure what he has brought to the table this year. When the coaches aren't around, he'll make phone calls to the guys. He's not afraid to give them a heads-up about a situation or tell them to get their tail in gear."

The Blue Jays and their junior captains, Doneger and Benson, developed an accelerated pace this spring.

"When Bobby and I were freshmen, Dan Denihan taught us the ropes," Doneger said. "We had guys like Dan and A.J. Haugen, first-team All-Americans. Now, we don't have any big names like that. A lot of kids come out of high school and don't understand what it takes to be successful. When the freshmen see Bobby, myself, Conor Ford and Kevin Boland shooting on our own, they see that you've got to do the little things."

Those counseled by Doneger include his brother Jason, but the two will not talk this week. A sophomore attackman at Princeton, Jason redshirted this season. While his brother chose the current dynasty, Adam came out of Lynbrook (N.Y.) High to revive the tradition at Hopkins.

"We've had an amazing year," Doneger said. "With the youth that was brought in and us not having any star players in the junior and senior classes, it's been special what we've accomplished. We're going to the final four to play the defending national champions, and it doesn't get much better than that."

Johns Hopkins at a glance

Record: 12-1.

Coach: Dave Pietramala, second season at Hopkins, 20-5; fifth season overall, 43-22.

How it got to Rutgers: The top-seeded Blue Jays drew a bye in the first round, and beat eighth-seeded Massachusetts, 13-12, in the quarterfinals on Adam Doneger's overtime goal.

NCAA history: Hopkins is 47-23 in 31 straight tournaments, a Division I record for all sports. The Blue Jays have appeared in 14 title games, most recently in 1989. Their last title came in 1987.

Goal leader: Bobby Benson, junior, 27.

Assist leader: Kevin Boland, sophomore, 19.

Faceoff specialist: Kyle Harrison, freshman, won 62.2 percent.

Goalie: Nick Murtha, senior, 8.21 goals allowed, saved 60.9 percent.

At a glance

When:Saturday and Monday

Where:Rutgers Stadium, Piscataway, N.J.

Saturday's semifinals: Princeton (9-4) vs. Johns Hopkins (12-1), 11:30 a.m; Virginia (11-3) vs. Syracuse (13-2), 2:30 p.m. approx.

Monday's title game:11:30 a.m.

TV:All games on ESPN2

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