Drew Kennedy

Drew Kennedy faces off against Ohio State's Dominic Imbordino earlier this month. (Steve Ruark, Baltimore Sun / February 9, 2014)

The success that No. 12 Johns Hopkins has enjoyed in victories over then-No. 13 Ohio State and No. 18 Towson can be credited to the offense and defense. A faceoff unit paced by junior Drew Kennedy has also played a role.

Kennedy has won 75.6 percent (34-of-45) of his draws and scooped up 23 ground balls thus far. His play has helped allay concerns over the graduation of Mike Poppleton, who won 64.8 percent (328-506) and collected 167 ground balls as the team’s primary faceoff specialist over the past two seasons.

“There’s been a culture change and it kind of began with Matt Dolente [in 2010],” Blue Jays coach Dave Pietramala said Wednesday morning. “… What we found was Matt put a lot of extra time into his faceoff technique, listening to whistles. All these guys have these iPods now where they put the earphones and they have whistles over and over and over, and they work on listening to the whistle, anticipating the whistle, their technique. Late in Matt’s career, his junior and senior year, Matt really made an extra commitment to his time at the faceoff X and in doing so, he really trained Mike Poppleton well because in Matt’s senior year, Mike was behind him and Mike started to follow suit. He spent a lot of extra time on the field. When practice was over, you could walk by the field 30 minutes after practice and you’d see Matt Dolente out there. A year later, you’d see Mike Poppleton out there doing the same thing. Last year, you’d see Drew Kennedy out there doing it. Now you see Drew Kennedy and [sophomore] Craig Madarasz doing it. It’s been interesting thing to watch.”

Kennedy had taken just 68 draws in 2013, winning 37 of them (54.4 percent) and grabbing 18 ground balls. So there was an inexperience factor, but Pietramala said Kennedy embraced the challenge of being the team’s full-time faceoff specialist.

“I don’t think there was any kind of pressure that Mike didn’t welcome when Matt graduated and Drew didn’t welcome when Mike graduated,” Pietramala said. “I wouldn’t define it as pressure as much as I would define it as a feeling that their opportunity had arrived. I think they were more excited and more anxious to seize what they could do with that opportunity than they were feeling pressure to perform.”

Kennedy has been supported by junior long-stick midfielders Michael Pellegrino and Nikhon Schuler and a trio of short sticks in seniors Rob Guida and Phil Castronova and freshman Joe Carlini. The unit has worked well so far, but Pietramala emphasized that the players can’t sit back and assume that they will hover around 72.0 percent (36-of-50) for the rest of the year.

“I think we need to continue to work on some areas of the faceoff,” he said. “Not just the draw and winning the draw, but some of the things we do with the ball, how we handle the ball, how we handle pressure. I think we’ve got to continue to work on that. And I think we have to continue to develop another faceoff guy.”