Within the next two years, Johns Hopkins’ women’s lacrosse program will leave the American Lacrosse Conference and begin competing as an independent.
Blue Jays coach Janine Tucker said Friday that the change will give her more control over scheduling, but she doesn’t expect it to dilute her team's strength of schedule or its chances to make it to the NCAA tournament. The Blue Jays' men have had great success as an independent and she would like to be able to schedule the same way.
“We’ve been talking about this for a long time,” Tucker said. “It was just one of those things where we would like to have a little bit more control over our scheduling, and it’s something that we think is really the best for our student athletes.”
The Blue Jays will remain in the ALC next season when they host the conference tournament May 2-4. It usually takes two years to withdraw from the conference, but with an exception, they can withdraw after one. The exact departure date won't be known until later this summer.
Hopkins’ departure will be eased by the addition of Michigan, which will begin play next spring and will keep the conference at six teams, allowing it to retain its automatically qualifier for the NCAA tournament.
The Blue Jays were charter members of the ALC in 2002, joining other teams that had no conference, and it grew into one of – if not the – most powerful conferences in Division I. The conference includes such perennial top 20 teams as seven-time national champion Northwestern, Notre Dame, Penn State, Ohio State and Vanderbilt as well as Florida, which reached the final four this spring in its third season as a varsity program.
The Blue Jays finished 1-4 this spring in a four-way tie for fourth place in the conference, but Tucker said the departure has nothing to do with how tough the it is. The Blue Jays have beaten every team in the conference in the last few years, including a regular-season win over Northwestern in 2011.
“We’ve beaten every team in the conference at some point, so it had nothing to do with that,” Tucker said. “There’s not a lot of teams that can claim they’ve beaten Northwestern and taken Florida into double-overtime. We think we hang pretty well with our conference teams.
“We don’t want and we don’t expect our strength of schedule to suffer at all, but I do think we are very unique and we’re different than a lot of teams that are in our conference in size and things like that.”
Not only is Johns Hopkins a significantly smaller university than the other schools in the conference, but the others are Division I in all sports while Hopkins is Division I only in men’s and women’s lacrosse and Division III in all other sports.
Tucker said she hopes to retain some of the ALC teams on her schedule and add some new teams.
“Schools like to Syracuse, North Carolina"she said. "We already had Virginia, Princeton and Georgetown on our schedule. It would be fantastic to have the opportunity to face those kind of schools. We wouldn’t mind being able to take our team out to California to play some of the West Coast schools down the road. It would be nice to get Maryland back on our schedule. The nice thing is as an independent you really have a lot of flexibility and that’s something that we’re excited about.”
The Blue Jays' only route to the NCAA tournament now is by earning an at-large bid, but with the tournament field expected to increase from 16 to 24 teams in the near future, Tucker said she thinks her team could have an even better shot at making tournament.
“When the ALC first formed, we were all the leftovers and then the conference really was wonderful for us,” Tucker said. “There’s no reason for us not to keep Northwestern and some of the other schools on our schedule if they want to do that. At this point, we’re excited to compete as an independent and do our own thing and stand on our own two feet and make our way, if we’re fortunate enough, to the NCAA tournament by working hard every game and trying to win as many ball games as possible.
“We are not looking to jump into another conference. There’s no hidden agenda. This just makes sense and the timing was right for us, for our school and for what we think is best for our program.”Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun