When the 2011 campaign ended with a stunning loss to Denver in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament, one of the big questions Johns Hopkins faced was finding a successor to faceoff specialist Matt Dolente, who ranked second in Division I with a 66.7 percentage and collected 119 ground balls.
Any mystery, however, has been solved by the emergence of junior Mike Poppleton, who ranks seventh in the country after winning 62.6 percent (159-of-254) and has scooped up a team-best 76 ground balls. Poppleton, who is quick to share his success with teammates like long-stick midfielders Michael Pellegrino and Jack Reilly and midfielders Marshall Burkhart and Rob Guida on the wings, said he was aware of the expectations awaiting him.
“Coming into this year, I knew I had big shoes to fill,” Poppleton said Wednesday. “That was definitely motivation. The 62-percent number is a good number. Our coaches try to push for it, and we think we can be at that because it is a three-man game. It’s not just all me out there. It’s two of our wing players. So most of the time, if I don’t win it, it becomes a three-on-three ground ball.”
Poppleton won 14-of-19 faceoffs in the Blue Jays’ 9-6 loss to Maryland – Saturday’s opponent in the NCAA tournament quarterfinal – on April 14, but coach John Tillman said the Terps dodged a bullet that night.
“Watching that film, they really took it to us at the faceoff X and on the wings,” he said Tuesday. “That’s something that we’ve got to do a better job. They totally controlled the flow of the game in the first three periods. So we’ve got to do a better job there. They just kicked our butts. So we’ve got to do a better job overall.”
Maryland’s starter is Curtis Holmes (49.8 percent on 103-of-207), but the team has begun relying more on freshman Charlie Raffa, who has won 61.4 percent (35-of-57) of his draws in the team’s last four contests. Poppleton is preparing for a healthy dose of that duo.
“They’re pretty similar,” he said. “They’re both very strong. They’re both on point with the whistle. If you’re slow to react, they’re going to win the faceoff easily. And both are scrappers. Both fight for the ball, and their wings are awesome, too. We have a lot on our hands on faceoffs this week.”