Johns Hopkins goes back to basics
With their opening game on Feb. 19 against Manhattan a week earlier than usual and their first day of practice a week later than they've started in the past, Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala says his team hasn't fallen prey to the February lull that can trouble teams around this time of year -- and that's even with the nearly 40 inches of snow in the Baltimore area that have canceled classes (though the Blue Jays didn't miss a practice and were forced inside only on Wednesday).
With last Friday's scrimmage against a Harvard squad with less than a week's worth of practice behind them and a trip to Cornell for their final scrimmage tomorrow, Pietramala says he is tempering any reactions and delaying judgment until after his squad hosts the Jaspers, but he shared some early impressions with IL.
Same Question, Different Reporter
When prompted to start the team unit breakdown with the defense, Pietramala said, "That's where everyone's starting." It's a nod to the attention that's been paid to the unit, both internally and externally, since the end of last season when the Blue Jays failed to meet expectations in slowing opponents down.
"When you're a group like us that's a pretty proud group, and someone can look at you and say that was a weakness, it makes you stand up," Pietramala said. "Sometimes when something doesn't go well, people think everything needs to change. We needed to go backward and do the basics -- one-on-ones and four-on-fours, technique, off-ball play."
Seniors Sam DeVore and Matt Drenan will return as starters alongside freshman Tucker Durkin. Count on the unit to be big, physical and tough. In the net, senior Michael Gvozden came out of the Harvard scrimmage having not allowed a goal in his just-over-a-quarter of play, and the coaching staff was pleased with what all four goalies showed. Pietramala says his staff has taken a different approach to working with the keepers in practice as they continue to emphasize leadership in setting up the defense, consistency in stopping the ball and proficiency in the clearing game.
Not a Logjam at the Attack
At the offensive end, things have been crazy with players moving in and out of the lineup due to injury. Senior captain Tommy Duerr, who missed a year of lacrosse with a foot injury in the fall of 2008, is back making contributions and opened the scoring against Harvard. "I think you could sense how excited the team was when he got the first two goals," Pietramala said. Kyle Wharton, a deft lefty shooter who's liable to explode this season, is working his way back after missing the fall due to a non-lacrosse related medical procedure, and Chris Boland didn't play last Friday but is practicing. Add in senior Steven Boyle and sophomore Tommy Palasek, and there might be a concern about having too much talent. Not so, according to the coach.
"Depth is a positive because you're always going to have injuries. The guys that aren't out there can still contribute; whether that's on man-up, at the midfield or rotating more guys through as we ask for more from the riding game. It isn't a logjam, there's plenty of time for guys to make their mark."
Moves at the Midfield
Pietramala is not the type of coach to talk about the health of his players, but he did say there will be some changes at the midfield as guys get healthy. One guy who's back after missing some time is senior star Mike Kimmel.
"It's good to have Michael Kimmel back at practice. He makes everyone around him better, and he's been passing the ball really well," Pietramala said.
The coach added that the groupings will change as the year goes along, but through the first handful of games it will be important to get leadership from Kimmel and other veterans like Max Chautin (who ran man-up against Harvard) and Nate Matthews, while freshmen Zack Palmer, John Ranagan and John Greeley slide into the mix. Greeley has been hampered after suffering a minor knee sprain in practice, while sophomore Marshall Burkhart, junior longstick Orry Michael and junior Mark Goodrich will likely miss more time to recover from more serious injuries.
"If there's ever been a year when we haven't worried about the external things, this has been it," Pietramala said. "Last year, we were too caught up in preseason stuff as a team. None of that matters to us right now. What people think, what people speculate, where we're ranked; none of that matters to us right now. That's when we've always been our most successful. The Blue Jays have a sign in their locker room that says "Until Manhattan" and is counting down the seconds until their first game arrives.
You can check out the Johns Hopkins Blue Jays at two of IL's events this season, both at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. They'll take on Princeton at the Konica Minolta Face-Off Classic on March 6 and will face-off against longtime foe Maryland at the Smartlink Day of Rivals on April 17.
For more on college lacrosse, check out Inside Lacrosse.
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