Here is the fifth installment of a series that checks in with the seven Division I programs in the state to give a glimpse into the past and the future. Teams are scheduled to appear according to the chronological order in which their seasons ended. Thursday’s visit was with Mount St. Mary’s. Friday’s visit is with Johns Hopkins.
The good: The Blue Jays opened the season with eight consecutive wins, accruing their first 8-0 start since 2005. Eventually, the team finished the regular season with an 11-3 record and the No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. “For most teams, when you finish a regular season with 11 wins, it’s a pretty exciting season, and we were pleased to win 11 games and earn a second seed,” coach Dave Pietramala said. “That was great. We put ourselves through the regular season and in a position to try and accomplish something during the playoffs.” … Like many teams, Johns Hopkins dealt with a spate of injuries. Fifth-year senior attackman Chris Boland sat out seven games to heal a broken collarbone suffered in the season opener against Delaware. Freshman Wells Stanwick, who replaced Boland as a starter, missed three contests because of a right hand injury. And the loss of sophomore short-stick defensive midfielder Phil Castronova was mitigated by the emergence of freshman Nikhon Schuler. “I thought a great thing was how we overcame injuries,” Pietramala said. “When Boland went down, we had another guy step in and do his job. And when Stanwick went down, we had another guy. And when Greeley went down, we had another guy. Phil Castronova tears his ACL before the season even starts, and we have a freshman step in. When you think of those things, to get where we got was great.” … The departure of faceoff specialist Matt Dolente (66.7 percent on 194-of-291 and 119 groundballs) was a significant question mark, but junior Mike Poppleton filled the void by ranking sixth in Division I with a 61.6 percentage (167-of-271) and collecting 78 groundballs. “Mike Poppleton had an outstanding year considering the level of competition he was playing against, the kinds of people he was competing against,” Pietramala said. “So that was very much a positive in an area where we had some uncertainty.”
The bad: For all of their regular-season success, the Blue Jays couldn’t parlay that into the postseason. The 11-5 loss to Maryland in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals ended Johns Hopkins’ campaign there for the second straight year, and the program hasn’t advanced to the final four since 2008. “Not getting to the final four was a missed opportunity for us because I think we’re good enough to be there,” Pietramala said. “That being said, the teams that got there earned their way and deserved to be there. We had the same opportunity that they had, and we didn’t capitalize on it. So I thought we were talented enough to get there, but we didn’t do what we had to do to earn the right to be there. And maybe that right there is the most disappointing thing.” … While the defense ranked seventh in the country, the offense was just 25th, averaging just 10.3 goals. In three of its last six contests, Johns Hopkins scored fewer than seven goals in each game. “The bad thing is I thought we showed some inconsistencies,” Pietramala said. “I thought there were moments when we needed to be better on offense. Part of that is other teams holding the ball, part of that is us not doing a great job of capitalizing on opportunities.” … The lack of an experienced long-stick midfielder prodded the coaching staff into moving sophomore Jack Reilly from close defense. He did score a goal, scooped up 21 groundballs, and caused six turnovers, but his athleticism was missed on close defense. Pietramala said the plan is to move Reilly back to close defense and start freshman Mike Pellegrino up top. “We felt like we did exactly what we needed to do, which was move Jack Reilly up,” Pietramala said. “We thought he did a very good job with that, and at the end of the year, you saw the emergence of Mike Pellegrino. He grew, he developed, and at the end of the year, he wasn’t playing like a freshman.”
Personnel changes: The Blue Jays graduate just two starters, but one is the aforementioned Boland who could dodge and find open teammates. He averaged almost four points in eight starts (18 goals and 13 assists), and his leadership was almost as important. Stanwick is the leading candidate to join junior Zach Palmer and sophomore Brandon Benn as starters. “Wells Stanwick is the guy who – when Chris went down – went in,” Pietramala said. “While at the time, you’d rather not have that happen, it’s certainly a blessing in disguise as we move into next year because Wells received a significant amount of playing time as a starting attackman. So the fact that he received that time – at times he played the other team’s top defenseman – will help him tremendously as we go into next year. We’ll look at guys like him and Palmer and Benn and [junior] John Kaestner and [freshman] Mike Daniello.” … As mentioned earlier, Reilly is slated to succeed defenseman Gavin Crisafulli and join juniors Tucker Durkin and Chris Lightner as starters on close defense. Pellegrino rounds out the long poles. “Obviously, there will be competition for all those positions, but it will be their jobs to keep or lose,” Pietramala said. “We feel like we’ll be more athletic down low, we feel like we’ve got a pole that can handle the ball, is good off the ground and on the wings on faceoffs, and can make some plays. I think we’re a very solid group down low with Reilly, Lightner and Durkin if they can all stay healthy.” … Pietramala has been told that junior midfielder John Greeley is projected to return in time for the 2013 season. But Pietramala said he’s not opposed to shaking up the midfield lines in an attempt to get more consistent results from the midfield. “You want to see how guys develop,” he said. “We’re hoping that [freshman] Bronson Kelly comes back and really develops. We’ve got a nice group of young guys coming in whom we really like. We’ll see how they project. It’s hard to project that a freshman is going to walk in and start on the first midfield, but we’ll certainly open it up and create some competition there to see who will go where.”
Forecast for 2013: Sunny. Graduating just two starters means Johns Hopkins has a plethora of talent coming back for next year. The departure of Boland hurts, but it does allow for Stanwick to return to his natural position after being a member of the second midfield. Moving Reilly back to close defense solidifies that unit in front of junior goalkeeper Pierce Bassett, and faceoffs should be solid with Poppleton and freshman Drew Kennedy. With starting short-stick defensive midfielder Marshall Burkhart graduating, the return of Castronova from a torn anterior cruciate ligament is vital for the defensive midfield. If a few new faces can contribute immediately, the Blue Jays could find themselves near the top of the rankings again.