Division I lacrosse preview: Johns Hopkins Blue Jays

Sunday’s entry is the fifth 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 Monday for a preview of Maryland, and The Sun’s lacrosse preview is slated to be published on Friday, Feb. 8. This is Johns Hopkins’ turn.

Overview: The Blue Jays’ 11-3 record in the regular season included an 8-0 beginning that matched the program’s best start since 2005. They earned the No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, but were upended by unseeded Maryland in the quarterfinal round. Johns Hopkins hasn’t advanced to the Final Four since 2008 – a development that gnaws at coach Dave Pietramala and the players. How they intend to rectify the matter will be a topic of interest all season long for the Blue Jays.

Reason for optimism: Chris Boland has finally graduated, but that also means that the attackman took his skills and leadership elsewhere. Sophomore Wells Stanwick, who recorded nine goals and 14 assists while filling in for Boland after he missed seven games due to a broken collarbone, is slated to join senior Zach Palmer (27, 26) and junior Brandon Benn (30, 7) as the third starter on the attack unit. “What’s nice is we got a preview of what this year would be like last year when Chris went down and Wells did step up in his place and did a good job, a more-than-admirable job,” Pietramala said. “Additionally, when Chris and Wells were both hurt, [senior] John Kaestner stepped in against Princeton and did a terrific job. When you have an injury, you hope there’s some kind of silver lining, and the silver lining a year ago to those injuries was we had an opportunity to kind of get a glimpse of the future and get those guys significant minutes in significant games, which has certainly made the transition for all of those guys a lot easier.”

Reason for pessimism: Senior John Greeley has been practicing with the team after undergoing surgery in April to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee that he had initially strained in the summer of 2011. But should Johns Hopkins take some time with Greeley (7, 7 last season) and bump senior Lee Coppersmith (15 goals) to join senior John Ranagan (16, 7) and junior Rob Guida (17, 11) on the first midfield? That’s an option that Pietramala is considering. “We’ve looked at it all,” he said. “You don’t want to punish a kid like John Greeley for getting hurt. It wasn’t his fault, and at that time, he was on the first midfield. You also have a guy like Lee Coppersmith who is good enough to be on the first line. I think in the end, it will just come down to balance because this year more than ever with the new rules, you’re going to have to play your second midfield more and you’re going to have to get quality minutes and production from them. So the days of loading up that first midfield may not quite be as prevalent as they used to be.”

Keep an eye on: The Blue Jays also welcome back another player who dealt with his own torn ACL. Phil Castronova is back after sitting out last season, and Pietramala said the junior short-stick defensive midfielder’s impact has been noticeable already. “In his freshman year, he was our best guy off the wing. So we automatically get an upgrade on the wing on faceoffs,” Pietramala said. “We get a guy that can stay and play defense, but also can create in the transition game. And then with the new rules, it does allow a guy like Phil to get up and down a little more and try to create and maybe stay and play a little bit of offense.”

What he said: Johns Hopkins hasn’t brought a national championship back to Homewood Field since 2007, watching the likes of Loyola and Duke Notre Dame capture the elusive hardware. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the program’s aspirations have dropped off. “Our expectations – with a veteran group returning – are to get to the Final Four and have an opportunity to compete for a national championship,” Pietramala said. “Obviously, there’s a lot that goes into that. So we’ve got to make sure that we do our job in order to meet those goals. Those are the expectations here every year, is to make it to the Final Four and compete for the national championship.”

Note: I wrote "Notre Dame" when I should have written "Duke." Tip of the cap to Jack Gober for catching that gaffe.

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