Pressured 'D'

men's lacrosse

In Johns Hopkins' showdown with top-ranked Virginia, onus will be on inconsistent defense to show its stuff

March 21, 2009|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,

For a long time, the centerpiece of the Johns Hopkins men's lacrosse program has been a stingy, physical defense.

That unit will likely be in the spotlight when the Blue Jays welcome No. 1 Virginia and its vaunted offense to Homewood Field at 8 tonight. Virginia (9-0) is one of three undefeated teams in Division I (No. 4 Notre Dame and No. 17 Hobart are the others) and boasts the country's second-most prolific offense, which is averaging 14 goals this season.

If No. 6 Hopkins (3-2) is to end a three-game losing streak to the Cavaliers, handcuffing that offense should be priority No. 1.

"We look forward to the challenge," defenseman Michael Evans said. "We look forward to every game each week, and this is another challenge for us."

Considered the strength of a Blue Jays team that graduated 62 percent of last season's goal-scoring production, the defense has mixed flashes of brilliance with stretches of mediocrity. In the team's three victories, the defense kept then-No. 4 UMBC, then-No. 10 Hofstra and Siena off the scoreboard for at least 16 minutes each - highlighted by Siena's scoring drought of 45:50 in the season opener.

But in losses to No. 2 Syracuse and then-No. 19 Princeton, Hopkins surrendered significant runs that put the team in a deep hole. The Blue Jays opened the contest against the Tigers on Feb. 28 by allowing nine of the first 10 goals. Trailing by just three goals to the reigning national champion Orange last Saturday, Hopkins allowed a 5-1 burst that led to a 13-6 deficit.

Coach Dave Pietramala said the Blue Jays spent too much time on the defensive end, and defenseman Sam DeVore cited the team's 14 turnovers compared with Syracuse's six as a factor.

"Taking care of the ball is definitely a major key," DeVore said. "We're trying to limit our defensive turnovers. Getting a stop and then turning it back over is disappointing for us. So by limiting that, we limit their opportunities."

In the three wins, the Blue Jays are giving up an average of seven goals. In the two losses, the team has surrendered an average of 14. The alarming discrepancy is anathema to the players.

"We take it very personally as a defense here," defenseman Matt Drenan said. "We have taken personal accountability. Our offense is doing the job. Anytime our offense puts up more than 10 goals, we should be trying to help the team. When you're giving up 14 goals a game, it's hard to win, so we definitely take that personally."

All six of Virginia's starting attackmen and midfielders have scored at least 10 goals. Attackman Garrett Billings leads the Cavaliers in goals (22) and points (32), and fellow senior Danny Glading has a team-high 15 assists.

ESPN analyst Jack Emmer said Virginia's balanced scoring presents matchup problems for Hopkins.

"It would really help [Pietramala] if he didn't have to slide the team defensively to Glading and Billings," said Emmer, a former Army coach who ranks second in NCAA history with 326 career wins. "If he can defend those guys even-up, that's going to be a big factor. If he has to slide and cover them, then those middies are going to be able to take advantage. Out front, however, with those outstanding middies that Virginia has, he's probably going to have to help with his team defense and defend them with good, aggressive slides and double-team packages but at the same time condense it inside so that there's not a lot of room for those attackmen to get the ball when the middies give it up."

With games against No. 14 North Carolina, No. 20 Albany, No. 9 Maryland, No. 15 Navy and No. 16 Loyola in the next six weeks, the Blue Jays need their defense to solve its problems quickly.

"You hate to say that you have to patient because there's not a lot of time to be patient right now," Pietramala said. "We've just got to continue to work on these fundamental things to be successful, and we will do that. We're committed to that."

NO. 1 VIRGINIA (9-0) @ NO. 6 HOPKINS (3-2)

Tonight, 8

TV: Ch. 2, ESPNU

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