Senior shows impeccable timing in stepping to front of Jays' stage


On Johns Hopkins' Paul Rabil

May 14, 2008|By MIKE PRESTON

There is a theory that Johns Hopkins senior midfielder Paul Rabil is a slow starter, and that he warms up with the weather. When it gets hot in May, so the theory goes, Rabil also gets hot.

Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala shakes his head in disbelief, and Rabil just laughs.

It's not the weather, but more a change in style of play. Every season for four years, Rabil has had to make adjustments because his role changes.

It's been no different this season.

"As a freshman, he was just trying to fit in, and then as a sophomore, he was trying to get more involved in the offense, even though we had Kyle Harrison and Matt Rewkowski," Pietramala said. "Last year, he was truly the guy, but he became a distributor, getting those Gretzky-type of second assists.

"This year, we've asked him to become one of our leaders," Pietramala said. "He has had to demand that guys work harder. He had to become more vocal. He also had to learn how to make others great around him while playing on the field."

The transition is complete, and Rabil is on a roll again. He had four goals Sunday in the Blue Jays' 10-4, opening-round NCAA tournament win over Hofstra.

During the Blue Jays' current six-game winning streak, Rabil has scored 13 goals and had four assists. More importantly, he has gotten everyone involved in the offense.

What took so long?

Rabil struggled at the beginning of the season. He tried to force things and held the ball too long.

Pietramala has a theory. Rabil played in a summer league against defenses that had very little discipline, and even fewer slides. Rabil might have brought that playground game to Hopkins.

Pietramala also said he was playing Rabil too much. Rabil was on the wing on faceoffs, played on the extra-man offense and sometimes also stayed on the defensive end.

"You always want your best players on the field, but we were overusing him," Pietramala said. "We just started getting him more rest. Paul is not selfish, has great vision and now recognizes that he makes everybody around him better.

"And at the end of the game, you still want the ball in his stick when the game is on the line," he said.

Rabil leads the Blue Jays with 26 goals and 11 assists. It's very intimidating to opposing teams when Hopkins hands the ball over to a 6-foot-3, 225-pound midfielder in crunch time.

But great players make great plays in big games, and there aren't many better than Rabil. In the 32 games played throughout his career before April 10, Rabil has scored 51 goals and 25 assists for a 2.38-point average.

In 29 games played since April 10, he has 50 goals and 39 assists for a 3.07-point average. In 11 career playoff games, Rabil has scored 18 goals and had 20 assists, an average of 3.45 points.

"I wished I knew what was taking me so long to [adapt] so I could have changed it," Rabil said. "But you grow into your role as the season progresses, and my role has changed over the last two to three years.

"We play the toughest schedule in the country, and next thing you know, we're facing must-win games near the end of the season, and then it's time for everybody to step up."

Almost every team has tried a new way to stop Rabil. Some teams press him to start his runs near midfield. Other teams have played half-zone, half-man defenses against him. Some have tried to deny him the ball, which takes enormous energy from a defender.

Hofstra shut out Rabil earlier this season by using a short-pole midfielder against him, and the Pride had the audacity to try it again Sunday.

Poor Pride.

"I can't fault the strategy because it worked for them before, and it was successful," Pietramala said. "But Paul took it personally this time. It was like getting short-sticked and you're an attackman."

When he is on, Rabil is unstoppable. He can simply outrun you and downright maul you on his way to the goal. He has a great right-handed shot, but the one from the left is more deadly.

"Three things make Paul Rabil great," Pietramala said. "He wants to be great, that's a goal of his; he doesn't want to be average or adequate. The second thing is that he is willing to work at being great; here's a guy who does extra shooting every day, or puts in more time in the weight room than anyone. And third, he is one of the most competitive players I've ever coached.

"One of the people he admires most is Michael Jordan," Pietramala said, "and when you watch him play, it's easy to understand why."

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