Blue Jays built to last with superb underclass

Younger talent played role in securing title, expected to play bigger one in 2006

College Lacrosse

June 01, 2005|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

PHILADELPHIA -- The Johns Hopkins Blue Jays leaned heavily on a senior class to show them the way to a national championship. But as freshman midfielder Paul Rabil sees it, don't expect Hopkins to fall from title contention anytime soon, even with the departure of such invaluable players as midfielder Kyle Harrison and defensemen Tom Garvey and Chris Watson.

The Blue Jays probably could not have fashioned their first NCAA title since 1987 and first perfect season since 1984 without their younger talent. Take Rabil, for example. He concluded his first season with two goals in Monday's 9-8 victory over Duke.

Two days earlier, Rabil's three assists -- including on the game-winner in overtime -- helped the Blue Jays win a storybook, come-from-behind, 9-8 decision over Virginia in the national semifinals, a game Hopkins trailed 8-7 with 12.9 seconds left in regulation, before two other non-seniors saved the day.

Junior midfielder Greg Peyser won the most crucial faceoff of his career, then fed sophomore attackman Jake Byrne. He tied the score at 8 with 1.4 seconds left.

In the finale against Duke, Harrison was the only senior to score a goal. Byrne scored what proved to be the game-winner, one of seven goals scored by non-seniors.

"Next year will not be a rebuilding year. We're just going to keep moving on," said Rabil, who did not start until the season's fifth game, yet produced 37 points. That ranks second among Hopkins freshman midfielders. Del Dressel, the four-time first-team All-American, had 46 points in his first season in 1983.

"Whatever we face next year, we're going to have to overcome. That's what we did this year," Rabil added.

The faces will change, and so will the roles. But the Blue Jays have plenty with which to work. Peyser, a hero in both games at Lincoln Financial Field -- he won a combined 13 of 23 faceoffs, and scored the tying goal that preceded Byrne's game-winner against Duke -- will be among the team's prime leaders as a senior.

His brother, Stephen Peyser, could end up on the first midfield after a solid, 10-goal freshman year. Then there's Byrne (22 goals, 10 assists), who started 16 games and will bring back one of the most blistering shots in the game. And ex-Calvert Hall attackman Kevin Huntley (23 goals, six assists), who capped a fine freshman year by scoring twice against Duke. He also had game-winning goals against Duke and Virginia during the regular season.

On defense, Matt Pinto will be the senior leader, and goalie Jesse Schwartzman will take NCAA tournament Most Outstanding Player status into his junior year.

"A guy like Greg Peyser now has a greater role to assume. A lot of different guys do," Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said. "We lose a ton, but we also have some young men who are pretty talented with a lot of character and understand the way things are done. The cupboard is not bare."

The Blue Jays lose 11 seniors in all, and will reload their foundation with an 11-man recruiting class. It includes attackmen Josh Peck (Broadneck) and Brian Christopher of Springfield, Pa.; defensemen Matt Drenan of San Diego, Michael Evans (South River) and Will Jawish (Broadneck); and midfielders Andrew Miller of Mastic, N.Y., and Austin Walker of Dix Hills, N.Y. He is the brother of Army junior attackman and first-team All-American John Walker.

David Huntley, the father of Kevin and a former All-America midfielder who helped the Blue Jays win NCAA titles in 1978 and 1979, watched the Blue Jays end an 18-year wait, which included losses in the title games in 1989 and 2003 and eight other final four failures.

David said the young guys will keep improving, while smoothly assuming leadership roles.

"It was doubly special for me, and it meant more to me to watch [Kevin] do it than it did to me 25 years ago. I'm counting down [the final seconds], just sitting there thinking `Holy crow. It's over,' " said Huntley, who joined a tailgate party outside the stadium he estimated to include 2,000 Hopkins faithful.

"One thing I saw with this team is the younger guys seemed to have an edge to them, and the older guys were nurturing. They allowed the young guys to be who they wanted to be, and their swagger kind of rubbed off again on the older guys."

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