The question - How will Johns Hopkins replace midfielders Paul Rabil and Stephen Peyser when they graduate? - came up often as the pair played their final season, and really picked up after the Blue Jays lost to Syracuse in the 2008 national championship game.
And through it all, Brian Christopher and Michael Kimmel simmered - not with anger or frustration, but with motivation.
"When you lose two great players like them, obviously people are going to question who is going to replace them regardless of our talent," said Christopher, a senior. "So we really didn't let it bother us. More so, we took it as a challenge to fill those roles."
Kimmel, a junior, added: "We never talked about it or made a big deal or acted like we were upset, but we're both quietly competitive. I think we heard that, and it was motivation to do well this season."
As prolific as Rabil and Peyser were, Christopher and Kimmel have capably filled the void for No. 8 seed Johns Hopkins (9-4), which plays host to Brown (12-3) in a NCAA tournament first-round game on Saturday at noon at Homewood Field.
Through the first 13 games, Christopher and Kimmel have combined for 75 points on 43 goals and 32 assists. According to statistics compiled by the school's sports information office, that's the most points produced by a midfield duo over the same span since 2003, when Conor Ford and Kevin Boland totaled 75 points on 33 goals and 42 assists.
Christopher (25 goals and 11 assists) and Kimmel (18, 21) could become the first midfield tandem to each record 40 points in the same season since Ford and Boland both posted 46 points in 2003. Kimmel, who expressed shock at those numbers, deflected much of the credit to the play of his teammates and the philosophy of offensive coordinator Bobby Benson.
"We're really trying to be unselfish this year," Kimmel said. "Everyone's trying to make the next pass. Everyone's looking to get everyone involved this year. We're working for the best shot. No one's looking to get points, and I think that's why we're having a solid season."
Christopher and Kimmel have grown in different yet complementary ways.
Kimmel leads the Blue Jays in assists and has become the initiator from the top of the box. Meanwhile, Christopher has become the hard-dodging finisher who scored double-overtime game-winners against No. 18 Loyola and Towson in a span of three contests.
Their play influenced Albany coach Scott Marr enough to assign long-pole defensemen to shadow both Christopher and Kimmel in a 14-9 loss to Johns Hopkins on April 4.
"We were nervous about 15 [Kimmel] and 19 [Christopher]," Marr said. "I think they both have great speed and great quickness. So we tried to put poles on them and hope that would slow them down a bit."
Christopher scored two goals and Kimmel recorded a goal and an assist against the Great Danes, but junior attackman Chris Boland scored five goals against Albany. When Hofstra put long poles on Christopher and Kimmel, junior attackman Kyle Wharton scored five goals in the Blue Jays' 12-7 win March 7.
That recognition to find the player who has an advantageous matchup with a short-stick defender is critical, Blue Jays coach Dave Pietramala said.
"It's going to be critical for us that when teams do that, we make them pay," he said. "I think the greatest thing [Christopher and Kimmel] have done is not felt like, 'Hey, OK. Those guys have graduated, and now it's my turn. I'm going to be the guy who takes all the shots.' They've really bought into the offensive schemes."
brown (12-3) @ johns hopkins (9-4)
What: : NCAA tournament
Site: : Homewood Field
Date and time: : Saturday, noon
Outlook: : These two teams haven't met since 1980, so there's not much precedence to rely on. The Bears, who are making their first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 1997, will go as far as Jordan Burke takes them. The senior goalkeeper ranks fifth in the country in save percentage (.617) and 11th in goals-against average (7.74). Brown's starting attack of sophomore Andrew Feinberg (McDonogh), senior Kyle Hollingsworth and junior Thomas Muldoon has combined for 92 goals and 53 assists. The Blue Jays counter with five players who have scored at least 18 goals each. The key for Johns Hopkins could be the combined efforts of sophomore Matt Dolente and junior Michael Powers, who could take advantage of a Bears faceoff unit that has lost 58.7 percent of the time.
Mike Preston: Champion Syracuse in driver's seat PG 2