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No. 13 Ohio State at No. 15 Johns Hopkins lacrosse: Three things to watch

Faceoffs, Blue Jays' offense figure to loom large in season opener for both teams

By Edward Lee, The Baltimore Sun

9:00 AM EST, February 9, 2014

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Johns Hopkins and Ohio State will meet for the fifth time Sunday, but this will be their first matchup since 2002. The No. 15 Blue Jays have won every game in the series and are 3-0 at Homewood Field.

The No. 13 Buckeyes rolled to a 13-4 record last season, knocking off Loyola and Denver for the Eastern College Athletic Conference tournament crown before advancing to the NCAA tournament quarterfinals. Ohio State graduated its leading scorer in attackman Logan Schuss (44 goals and 28 assists) and midfielder Domonique Alexander (9, 20), but returns its eight other starters, including three 25-goal scorers in junior midfielder Jesse King (32, 23), sophomore attackman Carter Brown (27, 16) and junior midfielder Turner Evans (26, 8).

Johns Hopkins went 9-5 in 2013, but was left out of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1971. The Blue Jays graduated six starters, but the returning players should be motivated by last spring's postseason absence. Johns Hopkins’ most obvious strength at this stage of the year is its offense, which has a potent starting attack of junior Wells Stanwick (24, 23), senior Brandon Benn (34, 1) and sophomore Ryan Brown (17, 4).

Here are a few factors that could play a role in today's 11:30 a.m. matchup:

1) Battling for faceoffs. Ohio State graduated its primary faceoff specialist in Trey Wilkes (58.0 percent and 68 ground balls last season), but does return sophomore Kacy Kapinos (52.7 percent and 13 ground balls) and senior Darius Bowling (47.1 percent and 40 ground balls). Johns Hopkins may be forced to play without junior Drew Kennedy (54.4 percent and 18 ground balls), who is dealing with an undisclosed ailment. That would leave sophomore Craig Madarasz (44.4 percent and one ground ball) and freshmen Kevin O’Toole and Matt Ledwin to take the draws. “When you’ve got a guy like Drew and you’re going into a game like this, the great thing is you have a known and you can at least feel comfortable that you’ve got a sense for what you might get,” coach Dave Pietramala said. “Obviously, you never know [if] he is going to win a lot of faceoffs, but you know you’ve got a guy that is competitive and has been in there and done the job. Now, in this instance, I think you have both teams that have new faceoff personnel. … So it makes for an interesting situation. Here you have two guys stepping out to take the opening faceoff, neither of which have done that in a game, and there’s not a lot of information on either of those guys. That’s a position where scouting is important. I think in general, that’s a spot where in-game adjustments are going to be important, in particular for us if Drew doesn’t play.”

2) Being versatile on offense. The Blue Jays averaged 11.5 goals last spring, but became predictable toward the end of the season with only a few players initiating the offense. The focus in the offseason has been being more versatile on offense, and Pietramala is eager to see how the work will pan out against a Buckeyes defense that returns all three starting defensemen and senior goalkeeper Greg Dutton (8.96 goals-against average and .523 save percentage). “We want to see an offense that forces the defense to defend six people,” he said. “We don’t want it to be something where you can make one or two or three guys the focal point, and if you stop those three guys, the offense comes to a halt. We want it to be an offensive performance where you do have to defend six guys and all six guys have to be defended on and off the ball. So for us, that will be crucial.”

3) Protecting the ball. Johns Hopkins was one of the best teams last spring at possessing the ball, ranking eighth in Division in turnovers per game (13.3). That number could change with the team fielding a much more youthful, and inexperienced, roster. Limiting those giveaways are even more important against Ohio State, Pietramala said. “We can ill afford to have unforced turnovers,” he said. “They’re a team that can take chunks of time off the clock on the offensive end, and that doesn’t mean that they play slow. They certainly have multiple-shot possessions. So if you turn the ball over, you might not see it back for a little bit, and then that’s when the faceoff game does play a critical role.”