Monday’s entry is the sixth installment of a week-long series taking a look at each of the seven Division I programs in this state according to their order of finish from last season. Check back on Tuesday for a preview of Maryland, and The Sun’s lacrosse preview is slated to be published on Friday, Feb. 17. This is Johns Hopkins’ turn.
Overview: After amassing the program’s first sub-.500 record since 1971, the Blue Jays rebounded in resounding fashion, winning 12 of 14 games in the regular season and earning the No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament – the school’s 40th consecutive appearance. But the team’s national title hopes fizzled as Denver knocked off Johns Hopkins in the tournament quarterfinals. Some regard this squad as one that could bring the NCAA championship back to Homewood Field for the first time since 2007, but time will tell.
Reason for optimism: Losing a starter who registered 34 goals and 42 points would usually sound an alarm, but the Blue Jays may be well-prepared to fill the void created by the graduation of Kyle Wharton. Coach Dave Pietramala is optimistic that sophomore Brandon Benn or freshman Wells Stanwick can join senior Chris Boland (34 goals and 20 assists) and junior Zach Palmer (22, 25) and help fuel the offense. “We’re pretty fortunate that it’s a group that we feel has a tremendous skill set,” Pietramala said. “They are as skilled a group as we feel like we’ve had.”
Reason for pessimism: One significant factor as to why Johns Hopkins outscored opponents last season by an average of four goals per game was the play of Matt Dolente, who won 66.7 percent of faceoffs (194-of-291). Junior Mike Poppleton is in line to get the first crack at winning the position, but Pietramala said he isn’t opposed to a rotation that could include senior Marshall Burkhart, junior John Ranagan, sophomore Mike Faby and freshman Drew Kennedy. “Quite honesty, the faceoffs are an area that is going to be critical for us this year, and we have to prove we can get the job done,” Pietramala said. “… Will we do it with one guy? I don’t know if that’s the case right now. We may do it a little bit more by committee depending on who has the hot hand.”
Keep an eye on: Pierce Bassett turned aside any doubt about his ability to play as he recorded a 7.1 goals-against average and a .570 save percentage. Those are lofty standards for the junior to replicate this spring, but Pietramala said Bassett isn’t content with last year’s accomplishments. “All you have to do is watch him practice,” Pietramala said. “He’s the hardest worker on our team, he’s the most prepared guy on our team, he is so well respected. You might think that after having a year like that, the kid from Arizona would kind of rest on his laurels. Nothing could be further from the truth. He’s been spectacular thus far.”
What he said: The Blue Jays have been ranked No. 2 in several preseason polls – a lofty accolade. But it holds no significance for Pietramala and the players. “The years we were ranked No. 1, our expectations were the same as the years we were ranked No. 8,” he said. “Preseason rankings mean absolutely nothing. They’re there to sell magazines, garner fan interest, and I’m in favor of that. It’s great for the sport. But from a coaching perspective and a team perspective, where we’re ranked now doesn’t matter. It’s where we’re ranked at the end of the year that matters to us. Are we the No. 2 team in the country? I have no idea where we are. We’ve worked hard, and I think we have a lot of work to do – as I would suspect most coaches would say to you.”