Johns Hopkins has dominated this series, winning 59 of 87 meetings. But Navy has won the last two games in Annapolis.
The No. 5 Blue Jays (8-3) have won three straight contests after dropping three in a row. Victories over No. 18 Albany on April 4 and No. 6 Maryland on Saturday may have been enough to cement the team’s bid for an at-large spot in the NCAA tournament, but a loss Friday could undo those positive vibes. Junior faceoff specialist Drew Kennedy ranks ninth in Division I at 63.6 percent (152-of-239) and third in ground balls per game at 9.1.
The Midshipmen (4-7) must win the Patriot League tournament as a No. 6 seed to extend their season. But for now, their priority is knocking off the Blue Jays. Senior long-stick midfielder Pat Kiernan needs just one more caused turnover to become the first player in program history to record 20 takeaways in a single season multiple times.
Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis at 7 p.m.
1) Johns Hopkins’ man-up offense vs. Navy’s man-down defense. Part of the Blue Jays’ rise to 12th in the country in scoring at 12.2 goals per game can be attributed to a man-up offense that is tied for second in the nation at 56.8 percent (21-of-37). The Midshipmen aren’t exactly shrinking violets when it comes to killing penalties as they rank 21st in Division I at 68.4 percent (allowing just 12 goals in 38 chances). But Navy coach Rick Sowell said his first preference would not entail sending the team’s man-down defense onto the field.
“The best way to defend their extra-man opportunities is to not give them extra-man opportunities,” he said. “And it’s a fine line because we certainly want our guys playing aggressive but under control. We can’t afford to be in the penalty box because it’s pretty much a goal if we put their extra-man on the field. So we’re aware of that. We don’t want to limit our aggression, but we do have to be smart.”
2) Johns Hopkins’ defense vs. Navy’s offense. The Midshipmen have struggled offensively, having averaged 9.8 goals and scored fewer than 10 goals in five of their last six games – all of which have resulted in losses. But the unit’s top three scorers are its starting attack of senior Sam Jones (20 goals and 15 assists), sophomore T.J. Hanzsche (20, 2) and senior Tucker Hull (16, 5). Keeping that trio contained should be a priority for the Blue Jays defense, but coach Dave Pietramala said his unit can’t forget about Navy’s midfield.
“Their attack is one that is a very formidable one,” he said. “Those three guys do a lot of different things very well. … But we would be foolish to think that the only challenge we have is to deal with them. [Junior Gabe] Voumard is having a very good year. He’s [got] 14 [goals] and seven [assists], and he’s second on the team in assists behind Sam Jones. [Senior] Pat Durkin has been playing for three or four years. [Sophomore] Patrick Keena has played a little bit of attack and a little bit of midfield. So they’ve got a group there that is obviously not uncomfortable with handling the ball. So to say you just focus on the attack, I think that would be disrespectful to the abilities of some of their middies. We’ve played in games where their middies have hurt us. So I think we have to be very aware of their unit rather than just their individuals.”
3) Johns Hopkins’ offense vs. Navy’s defense. The Blue Jays have excelled at sharing the ball this spring as 64.0 percent of their goals (89-of-139) have been assisted. The Midshipmen would be wise to get their sticks in the passing lanes and otherwise make it difficult for Johns Hopkins to find open players with high-percentage opportunities, and their first target would naturally be junior attackman Wells Stanwick, who ranks third in the nation with 36 assists.
“Obviously led by Stanwick, they’re a very unselfish, very high-IQ lacrosse team, and their schemes are tailored to the talent that they have,” Sowell said. “They run an offense that is a little different from most offenses out there, and it’s been interesting just watching film and seeing how teams defend them. Everyone has a different way of defending them, but bottom line is, it hasn’t had much effect. They’re averaging roughly 13 goals a game. We’re going to have to find a way. Our goalie’s going to see shots, and he’s going to have to have a big game for us, and whatever sets they have, the defense is going to have to make them difficult.”