After graduating three of four starters, the Johns Hopkins women's lacrosse team came into this season needed to rebuild its defense. Nearing midseason, construction is running way ahead of schedule.
The No. 9 Blue Jays have been one of the top scoring defenses in the country all season, allowing only five goals per game — a big reason behind the 8-0 start that ties the program’s best opening run since moving to Division I 15 years ago.
The defense has thrived despite losing veteran junior Octavia Williams to a sprained ankle the past three games. Freshman Nevi Fernandez (St. Paul’s) has stepped in without a hitch, even though she made a young defense even younger.
The Blue Jays already were starting freshman Haley Schweizer and sophomore Josie George (Bryn Mawr) along with the unit’s only senior, Liz Johnson (C. Milton Wright). Junior KC Emerson has seen most of the time in goal.
Their defense has been critical in winning the Blue Jays' closest games: 6-5 over Loyola, 12-8 over Towson and 11-8 Wednesday over Boston University.
“We were a little bit interested in how our defense was going to take shape and couldn’t be happier with how the group has really meshed,” said Blue Jays coach Janine Tucker, who also credited associate head coach Tara Singleton, a former All-America defender at Loyola.
In a month that featured nine upsets of Inside Lacrosse's Brine Division I Media Top 20 teams in the first 10 days, including six by unranked teams, the Blue Jays' schedule will get a lot tougher. Next Friday, they begin a four-game run that includes No. 13 Georgetown, No. 4 Florida and No. 7 Northwestern.
Tucker, whose team hosts first-year program Michigan at noon Saturday, said that although it sounds cliche, a lot of little things are important to sustaining their momentum.
“Right now, we want to be really good at what we do and not try to change too much of our style,” she said. “The thing you’re seeing in a lot of these one-goal games is that teams are panicking, and that’s what I appreciate about my team in the Loyola game or the Towson game. We just stayed very composed.
“Now it’s about just sustaining the fundamentals that we’ve been instilling in the team offensively and defensively, and if we don’t try to get too fancy, keep it simple and stay true to our fundamental style, I think that we’ll be OK. The end of our season is going to be unbelievably challenging, and we hope if we keep getting a little better every day, we’re going to be up for the challenge a little better this year. And that’s what we’ve been building toward the last couple of years.”
Tucker said the Blue Jays' patient offense also has played a role in keeping opponents' scores down.
"We’ve had the ball a lot on offense, and they’ve been taking really, really good care of it, so that helps our defense," she said. "And then on the flip side, our defense does such a good job at shutting things down and getting the ball back for us so often, that’s helped our offense to thrive. Some of the success we’ve been having on either end of the field is directly related to what the other side is doing for us, so we’re going to be highlighting that kind of balance.”