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Johns Hopkins at Loyola Maryland: Three things to watch

Johns Hopkins has dominated this series to the tune of a 47-4 record, but Loyola Maryland snapped a 13-game skid with an 8-4 victory on April 27, 2013. The Blue Jays are 4-1 on the road this season and are looking for their best away record since going 5-1 in 2007. The Greyhounds are 8-0 at home and seeking their first perfect campaign at home since 1999, when that squad went 8-0.

No. 6 Johns Hopkins (10-3) has bookended a three-game losing streak with identical 5-0 runs. Drew Kennedy has won just 43.8 percent (21-of-48) of his faceoffs and collected just 19 ground balls in his last four starts, but the junior still ranks 10th in Division I with an overall 61.8 success rate (160-of-259) and eighth in ground balls per game at 8.8. The Blue Jays are poised to qualify for their 42nd NCAA tournament in 43 years, and a win would prevent them from having to go on the road for a first-round game next weekend.

No. 1 Loyola (14-1) has matched a program record of 14 consecutive wins set by the 2012 squad that captured the national championship. Senior Pat Laconi leads all short-stick midfielders with 28, which ranks eighth in the country. As the Patriot League tournament champion, the Greyhounds will make their third straight appearance in the NCAA tournament and fourth in the last five years.

Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Ridley Athletic Complex in Baltimore on Saturday at noon.

1) Johns Hopkins’ midfield vs. Loyola’s Rope unit. The threat of the Blue Jays’ starting attack is well documented, but their first midfield is potent, too. Senior Rob Guida is tied with sophomore attackman Ryan Brown for second on the team in assists with 13 each, and sophomore Connor Reed is fourth with nine assists. But the player who has caught the attention of Greyhounds coach Charley Toomey is sophomore Holden Cattoni, who ranks third on Johns Hopkins in goals with 24 and fourth in points with 30.

“With 72 shots, he certainly leads that unit in his ability to get to the goal,” Toomey said. “Part of that is because he plays on extra-man. He’s got six goals on extra-man, but what I’m seeing from Cattoni is, he is coming from below goal line a lot. They’re willing to put him down there with [junior attackman] Wells [Stanwick] and run a big-little, and he’s just very dangerous right around the goal line or just above. So we know that we’ve got our hands full in terms of preparing for that. But he’s shooting it about as well as anybody in the country with room and time.”

2) Johns Hopkins’ dodges vs. Loyola’s slides. The Blue Jays rank 10th in the nation in scoring, averaging 12.2 goals. Their revamped offensive strategy of having multiple players initiate from anywhere on the field has forced defenses to stay honest. The unit will tangle with a Greyhounds defense that ranks second in the country, surrendering just 6.9 goals per game. Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said the key will be whether the offense can persuade Loyola to slide from its preassigned matchups.

“They don’t like to slide a whole lot,” Pietramala said. “They force you to earn their slides. … The bottom line is, they’re not willing to create offense for you. They are going to force you to earn their respect and their slides. Obviously, they’ve found a way that works very well for them, and it’s a tall order to score goals. A year ago, we didn’t do that, and it was something that bit us in the tails. So we’re going to have to work very hard to generate quality shots, but once you get a quality shot, you still have to get it past the goalie.”

3) Johns Hopkins’ Eric Schneider vs. Loyola’s Jack Runkel. Scoring might be a premium as both teams boast goalkeepers ranked in the top 10 nationally in both goals-against average and save percentage. Schneider, a senior, has recorded a 5.68 goals-against average and a .654 save percentage in the Blue Jays’ five-game winning streak. Runkel, a senior, made 27 saves during the Greyhounds’ march to the Patriot League tournament crown and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

ESPN analyst Mark Dixon said both goalies are getting hot at the right time.

“Schneider’s played terrific over the last five games with double-digit saves in three of his last four games when he hadn’t made double-digit saves since early March,” said Dixon, a former Johns Hopkins midfielder. “So his game has picked up. Runkel has had a great senior season. He has been terrific. When you talked about Loyola’s woes last year, the way you finished that sentence was, ‘They need better goaltending from Jack Runkel,’ and he has been better this year. So I think both of them are capable and both of them have played well. Runkel’s been a little more consistent, but I would say that Schneider over the last couple weeks has been better. So I think it’s how the two defenses in front of them play that will determine their success. They have got to give those two an opportunity to save the ball.”

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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