Hopkins looks to reverse trend against Virginia

Jays have lost 9 of 12 to Cavaliers, including past 5

March 26, 2010|By Edward Lee | edward.lee@baltsun.com

In addition to tangling with the No. 1 Virginia men's lacrosse team and a boisterous orange-and-blue-clad crowd Saturday, No. 8 Johns Hopkins has to deal with another opponent.

History.

Although the Blue Jays have won 53 of 80 meetings in the series, the Cavaliers have compiled a 17-9 record since 1990. Virginia has enjoyed an especially successful run since Hopkins hired Dave Pietramala as the coach before the 2001 season, winning nine of 12 meetings, including the past five.

Eight of the past 10 games have been decided by two goals or fewer, but the Cavaliers ended the Blue Jays' season last spring with a 19-8 rout in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals that was the largest margin of victory in the series since 1969, when Hopkins won, 15-4.

The memory of last year's loss continues to resonate with the Blue Jays (4-3).

"This is a team that embarrassed us a year ago," Pietramala said. "Obviously, that doesn't have a great impact on us this year, but it's certainly not forgotten. It's the No. 1 team in the country. What a great opportunity for us to go down and play the No. 1 team in the country."

Virginia and Hopkins appear to be taking different paths to the postseason. The Cavaliers are off to an 8-0 start for the third consecutive year and are one of four Division I teams with an unblemished record. (No. 3 North Carolina, No. 5 Maryland and No. 14 Lafayette are the others.)

The Blue Jays have dropped their past two games and three of their past four, and ESPN analyst Matt Ward said Hopkins' bid for its 39th consecutive NCAA tournament berth is at risk.

"Right now, I think they're on the outside looking in for the NCAA tournament," said Ward, a former attackman at Virginia who won the 2006 Tewaaraton Trophy. "They're going to need to win one of these games against a top-four program - whether it's Virginia or UNC or Maryland."

Here's a breakdown of the Blue Jays' struggles against Virginia:

The Cavaliers' offense has been one of the most explosive in the country, and the unit has thrived against Johns Hopkins.

In the past five meetings, Virginia has scored 21 more goals, taken 46 more shots and put 40 more shots on cage. This season, the Cavaliers have put 63.1 percent (234 of 371) of their shots on net, which ranks fifth among teams ranked in The Baltimore Sun's top 10.

"From my perspective, shots on goal are going to spell the difference of whether we're going to be the kind of offensive team that we want to be," Virginia coach Dom Starsia said. "We're a team and a program that gets up and down the field and always generates a lot of shots, but when we shoot with some discipline, that's when we're particularly dangerous."

To prepare for Virginia, the Blue Jays' defense has practiced against seven offensive players rather than the usual six.

One way to limit the Cavaliers' offensive possessions is to win faceoffs. That's usually an area of strength for Hopkins, but not against Virginia.

In the past five losses, the Blue Jays have won just 56 of 129 faceoffs, a .434 success rate. And they went just 6-for-20 in Saturday's 10-7 loss to No. 2 Syracuse.

"I don't blame anybody but ourselves," Pietramala said. "We've just got to be more disciplined and we've got to be more competitive and we've got to be sounder with our technique. And we've got to be better off the wings, too. A faceoff is three guys, not just one guy, and we've got to have our three guys do a better job there - in particular, this weekend."

A note of concern: The Cavaliers rank eighth in the nation this season with a .584 faceoff percentage.

Virginia possesses athleticism and speed, which translates into making it tough for opponents to move the ball from the defensive end to the offensive zone.

Opposing teams have cleared the ball just 75.3 percent (122 of 162) of the time, which ranks second among teams ranked in The Sun's top 10. The Cavaliers' attackmen pester defensemen, the midfielders swarm to the ball and the defensemen make life difficult for ball carriers.

Hopkins has cleared the ball 76.1 percent (83 of 109) of the time in the past five meetings with Virginia. The Blue Jays misfired on nine of 25 clears in last May's playoff loss.

"They just don't have the ball handlers to run by or manage the pressure that Virginia brings," said ESPN analyst Quint Kessenich, a former All-America goalkeeper who helped Hopkins capture the 1987 national championship. "Hopkins can't even get into their offense against Virginia. They get strangled, and they turn the ball over."

But the outcome of Saturday's game will be determined on the field, and Starsia cautioned against reading too much into the numbers.

"In a couple of weeks, you're going to ask me why we haven't beaten Duke in the past seven or eight times that we've played them, and I don't know the answer to that one either," he said. "I think the statistical anomaly to this thing is just cyclical in nature. I hope the trend with Hopkins continues, and I hope the trend with Duke does not continue."

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