It was almost a year ago — 363 days, to be exact — but it seems like eons now.
John Ranagan fired home a low, bouncing shot with 5.6 seconds left in overtime to give Johns Hopkins an exhilarating 11-10 win over then-No. 1 Virginia, extend the Blue Jays' start to 8-0 and vault them to the top of The Baltimore Sun poll.
Since then, however, the goals and late-game heroics have not been as frequent for Ranagan. As the midfielder embarks on the second half of his senior year with the Blue Jays, Ranagan is acutely aware of the expectations that have dogged him since he was named a first-team All-American in 2011.
"I guess having a good sophomore year — not great, because it didn't end the way it was supposed to — you're supposed to do what you're supposed to do," he said. "If you showed what you can do on the field, then there's no reason that you shouldn't be able to do that again. The most pressure comes from myself. I try to make sure that I'm doing what I can every single day to make myself a better player."
Ranagan and the rest of No. 12 Johns Hopkins (5-2) will take center stage Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium, where they will face the No. 13 Cavaliers (5-3) in the second game of the Konica Minolta Face-Off Classic.
Performing in the spotlight has not always been a fact of life for Ranagan. Although he was recruited by the likes of Hofstra, Massachusetts and Colgate, Ranagan was not the Blue Jays' most prized recruit of that class. That honor went to midfielder John Greeley, who was featured on the cover of the September 2009 issue of Inside Lacrosse magazine along with Cavaliers midfielder Chris LaPierre and Harvard midfielder Jack Doyle.
After starting the final seven games of the 2010 season with Greeley and Michael Kimmel (Loyola High), Ranagan gained national attention the following season when he registered 18 goals and 14 assists and became the only sophomore to earn a spot on the All-America first team.
In doing so, Ranagan joined a select group of Johns Hopkins midfielders to be named first-team All-Americans as sophomores. That lineage helped raise the bar for Ranagan, according to ESPN analyst Mark Dixon.
"Is it a little unfair that we expect too much?" the former Blue Jays midfielder said. "When a kid makes first-team All-American as a sophomore, if you look at the progression of Johns Hopkins midfielders that did that prior to John Ranagan, it's Kyle Harrison and Paul Rabil. Look at the careers that they had. Harrison was a first-team All-American three times, Rabil was a first-team All-American three times. So you started thinking that John Ranagan was on that track."
Ranagan's junior year, however, did not unfold as some had envisioned. He finished with 16 goals and seven assists despite taking a team-high 94 shots. But Ranagan said he never viewed himself as being in a slump.
"If that's what people say, they can say that," he said. "I definitely could have played better — there's no denying that. My numbers may not have been as good, but I certainly learned a lot and I grew. That's an important aspect of it, but the focus this year has been to improve on my three-year career, not just saying that I had a good sophomore year and a bad junior year."
This spring, Ranagan's numbers are better. He has nine goals and seven assists in seven starts and is on pace to match what he produced two years ago.
Ranagan's effectiveness isn't limited to offense, either. He lines up on the wings on the faceoff unit and is the lone short-stick defender on man-down defense. That is why Ranagan's value is more than just goals and assists, senior defenseman Tucker Durkin said.
"He just does so much that a lot of people don't realize," Durkin said. "You can't really sum up John's production level just by looking at how many goals he has or how many assists he has in a year. You really have to look at his complete body of work. He's been a tremendous midfielder ever since he arrived at Johns Hopkins."
Much consternation has been raised over Ranagan's .281 shooting percentage this season, but it is better than his totals last season (.170) and in 2011 (.273). Coach Dave Pietramala said Ranagan's struggles are not a byproduct of a lack of caring.
"He works very hard at it," Pietramala said. "It's not like he's not out there shooting extra. It's not like he's not out there putting time in. He is. I've been pleased with the amount of time that he's put into his game. Sometimes, unfortunately, we don't reap the benefits of all of our hard work. I think right now, John's put a lot of hard work in and he hasn't reaped the benefits as much. He's been fighting to find his shot a little bit and to find some consistency."
The hope is that with Virginia coming to Baltimore, Ranagan might rediscover his shooting touch. After losses to then-No. 10 Syracuse and then-No. 14 Princeton, he and the Blue Jays are eager to collect their first significant victory of the season.
"We're still looking for that first win, that first big win against a ranked opponent this year," Ranagan said. "That's the great part about having a whole week to prepare. We need to shake off the Syracuse loss [last Saturday]. We woke up Sunday morning and got back to work on another opponent. Every day, we've been working hard at it. The entire team is very excited about the opportunity on Saturday afternoon."