Hopkins' seniors are steeled for a last shot

No. 1 except in tourney, 10-man group has one goal

College Lacrosse

March 05, 2005|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Three years ago, they were wide-eyed freshmen, playing their first collegiate game in the electric atmosphere surrounding a season opener at storied Homewood Field. They were just beginning to comprehend the weighty lacrosse tradition at Johns Hopkins University.

The youthful Blue Jays, with such first-year players as midfielder Kyle Harrison, defenseman Chris Watson and attackman Peter LeSueur in prominent roles, played like older men that day, and what a day it was. With an 8-5 victory, Hopkins humbled the more experienced, top-ranked Princeton Tigers, the defending NCAA champions.

Starting today, with their season-opening visit to No. 3 Princeton, the Blue Jays are the sport's top-ranked team, largely because those once-young kids have never let up, and now comprise an accomplished, imposing senior class.

It's a 10-man group that has been through so much, starting with three straight trips to the NCAA tournament final four. And three painful losses on the game's prime stage as the tournament's No. 1 seed, three errant stabs at the school's first national title since 1987.

It's a core of senior talent that features four preseason All-Americans, led by the athletic, versatile Harrison, who is equally effective shooting, dodging, passing and facing off. It's a class that has gone undefeated in 23 games at home, while posting an overall record of 39-6.

And with the exception of midfielder Matt Rewkowski, the Duke transfer who tore his anterior cruciate ligament in fall practice and is expected back next month, this is the first senior class recruited by fifth-year coach Dave Pietramala.

"My last four years, except for three days in May, have been awesome. Such a special ride," Watson said. "But we came here for one reason and we haven't accomplished that, so there's no reason for us to be satisfied. The hunger is still there."

Music to the ears of Pietramala, who needs this class to flex its maturity while bringing along the younger Blue Jays.

"What I like about our team is what I worry about. [The seniors] are so veteran and weathered. They know what to expect. They've played in lots of big games, lots of close games. They know defeat and they respect defeat," he said. "But when you have a group that's been through this much, you want to make sure they don't wait too long to turn it on. You want to make sure they stay hungry and keep that edge."

The rest of the class includes attackman Kyle Barrie (a two-time All-American), midfielders Lou Braun and Joseph Malo, defenseman Tom Garvey (second team All-American in 2004), defensive midfielder Benson Erwin, long-stick middie Greg Raymond and backup goalie James Maimone-Medwick.

Harrison, Watson and LeSueur, who are co-captains along with Rewkowski, each have started every game the previous three seasons. They have collected a treasure trove of fond memories at Hopkins.

LeSueur brought up the Blue Jays' manhandling of Maryland last year in the 100th anniversary of the rivalry. Harrison flashed back to his first career goal in that first Princeton game. Watson will never forget the sight and sound of some 30 members of the 1978 championship team, lined up and cheering the Blue Jays in the tunnel at M&T Bank Stadium, as they took the field for the second half of their title-game loss to Virginia in 2003.

All of them pointed to the 19-8 rout of Syracuse two days earlier, which put Hopkins in its first NCAA championship game since 1989.

And all of them looked at last year's 15-9 defeat by the Orange in the semifinals as a spark that will keep them bent on winning the coveted prize in 2005.

"I watched the tape [of the loss] for the first time [on Wednesday]. The sour taste is still there. Just freshening it up," said Harrison, who retreated the day after the loss to Ocean City, where he did not leave the house for three days. "To get on the largest stage and not perform to your capability is tough to deal with. I'm ready to go."

"It's been quite a pain for a year. It still burns," added LeSueur, who has watched the tape twice. "I've seen the last three senior classes go out after a devastating loss, and I've been able to say I'll be back next year. We all realize this year is the end. We're hungrier than ever."

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