When Johns Hopkins edged Virginia, 12-11, on March 26, the win snapped a six-game losing skid to the Cavaliers. It was shortly after that contest that they lost top defenseman Matt Lovejoy to a season-ending torn labrum and later unveiled a zone defense.
The No. 2 Blue Jays are expecting a mix of zone and man-to-man defense when they visit Charlottesville, Va., this Saturday for a highly-anticipated showdown with No. 1 Virginia.
A zone defense can shut off inside opportunities and make life difficult for an inside finisher like Johns Hopkins sophomore attackman Brandon Benn. It can also frustrate offenses and entice them into being impatient, according to Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala.
“People can rush things, and I think you saw that a little bit last year,” he said Wednesday. “When teams couldn’t figure it out or couldn’t crack it, they’d come down and have a quick possession rather than an extended one because they were a little frustrated and tried to make something happen. … Last year, I thought they [the Cavaliers] went to it out of necessity. They needed to. They needed to find an answer. I think they use it this year very much as a strength, and they’re pretty good at it.”
Virginia ranks seventh in Division I in defense, surrendering just an average of 7.5 goals per game this season. The Cavaliers have become adept at switching between their zone and man-to-man defenses, but coach Dom Starsia said the Blue Jays’ midfield of juniors John Ranagan, John Greeley and Lee Coppersmith and sophomore Rob Guida concern him.
“What scares you about them is their range with the ball,” Starsia said. “With the zone that we’ve been playing, some of the goals we gave up were mostly shots from about 12 to 14 yards. We gave up about one or two in almost every game that we played, and we were willing to give up that shot so that we could take away the inside stuff. There’s the Benn kid who makes you respect the inside, but they have guys that can step down and are legitimate threats from 15 yards. So that’s a grave concern. It’ll be interesting to see how we match up here if we do play the zone. We’ll probably play some zone and see whether or not we can handle their shooters. That first midfield is fairly overpowering, and in a man set, how do you cover them? And in a zone set, can they just blow the ball by us from a distance? This is the first team that we’ve played that has players that might be capable of doing that. So the question will be whether they can pull us out because of their range, and for us, that’s frankly some concern for us doing it.”