Here is the sixth 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. Friday’s visit was with Loyola Maryland. Monday’s visit is with Johns Hopkins.
The good: After failing to qualify for the NCAA tournament in 2013 for the first time since 1971, the Blue Jays entered this spring with weighty expectations. A 10-4 record was strong enough for them to earn an at-large bid in the postseason, where the team advanced to the quarterfinals and fell to eventual national champion Duke.
“That’s where we expect to be, and that’s where we expect to be again and more,” coach Dave Pietramala said of qualifying for the NCAA tournament. “I think the validation comes more from our ability to actually see us perform and see us perform well. I think that’s more validation than us getting to the last eight in the country.”
**The graduation of goalkeeper Pierce Bassett was thought to become a liability for Johns Hopkins. But the gap was filled capably by senior Eric Schneider, who recorded an 8.84 goals-against average and a .547 save percentage in his first year as the full-time starter. The encouraging thing for the team is that Schneider has one more year of eligibility left.
“We’ve now got a goalie who’s been through the battles, who understands what it takes to prepare and understands what the games are like and understands the highs and lows of a season,” Pietramala said. “He can now go home, and instead of working carefully on those things in the middle of a season, he can kind of hone those skills and have them become habit. So we’re really excited to have him back. We think he’ll come back even better with the experience that he’s had.”
**In addition to Schneider, this year’s squad featured the emergence of several first-time starters in sophomore midfielders Holden Cattoni (29 goals and six assists) and Connor Reed (9 G, 15 A) and junior defensemen John Kelly (38 ground balls and 12 caused turnovers) and Robert Enright (18 GB, 6 CT). Their development was key for a program that had bade farewell to long-entrenched veterans.
“What we needed was for guys to step up,” Pietramala said. “Gone were those household names of [John] Ranagan, [John] Greeley, [Lee] Coppersmith and [Zach] Palmer. We needed other guys to step to the forefront.”
The bad: The Blue Jays finished the season ranked 22nd in Division I with 30.6 ground balls per game. That’s not bad, but it is the third-lowest average since 2002, trailing the 26.9 average in 2010 and the 27.13 average in 2012. Pietramala said improving that statistic will be a point of emphasis leading up to the 2015 campaign.
“The simplest thing is, we have to be much better off the ground,” he said. “That will be at the forefront of what we do this fall and in the preseason. We’ve just got to be better there. What does that mean? I think we’ve improved our athleticism as a team with what we’re bringing in. I think we’ve got the chance to move a piece of the puzzle around and get a young guy or two who wasn’t really ready to play but is very athletic.”
**The defense ranked 17th in the country after surrendering 8.9 goals per game this past spring. But the unit underperformed with regards to forcing turnovers. The team caused an average of 6.1 turnovers, which ranks 55th out of 67 Division I teams. Pietramala said the coaches are reviewing the way the team plays defense.
“Do we need to create more deflections as we call them or caused turnovers?” he asked. “Do we need to extend a little bit more and slide a little bit less, which would give us the opportunity to get to loose balls a little bit quicker? So if there’s one area that I was disappointed in and I feel we really have to address, it would be our play off the ground as a team.”
Personnel changes: An offense that ranked 11th in the nation in scoring at 12.1 goals per game graduated attackman Brandon Benn, who registered 40 goals and five assists but was often defended by a short-stick defensive midfielder because of a lack of a dodging threat. Freshmen Wilkins Dismuke and Jack Grass could compete for the starting role as could the incoming class of recruits. Either way, Pietramala is hopeful that the new face joining junior Wells Stanwick (23 G, 44 A) and sophomore Ryan Brown (40 G, 14 A) will force opposing defenses to respect the attack unit.
“You lose something with Brandon,” Pietramala acknowledged. “You lose a bunch of goals, but I think what will happen is, we may find that we’re a little more difficult to cover at the attack because it may be a little more challenging to short-stick one of the attackmen. We feel like we may be able to be a bit more assertive at attack with the guys that are coming in and the guys that are coming back.”
**Johns Hopkins also lost midfielder Rob Guida (16 G, 17 A) to graduation. The starting midfield does return Cattoni and Reed, and Pietramala said freshman John Crawley (12 G, 6 A) will get the first shot at moving from the second to the first line.
“I would think that’s how it will start in the fall,” Pietramala said. “But I feel like we’ve got a ton of more competition. We’ve got those other kids who ran on the second midfield line and got some valuable time. And then we’ve got the guys who are coming in and the guys who have been here. So I think we’re a much more competitive team.”
**The numbers may not suggest it, but defenseman Jack Reilly (20 GB, 6 CT) was the team’s top defender, and he usually got the plum assignment of marking opponents’ most dangerous attackmen. Nick Fields (8 GB, 5 CT) may not fill that role immediately, but the freshman is poised to move from long-stick midfield to close defense and join Kelly and Enright.
“Nick is a tremendous athlete,” Pietramala said. “He’s got great range. He can cover the ball. So we feel like it’s a pretty obvious and easy transition for him to move down low and now we keep him on the field full time. We lose Jack’s athleticism, which we hope we kind of regain with Nick’s. When you look at them physically, Nick’s a little bit thinner, but there are similarities in height, range, length, footwork and athleticism. So moving him there is the right thing to do.”
Forecast for 2015: Sunny. After a highly disappointing 2013 campaign, there’s a lot to be optimistic about around Homewood Field. The offense’s average output was the program’s highest since 2004 when that squad scored 12.1 goals per game. The defense surrendered an average that was the team’s highest since 2010 when that squad allowed 9.6 goal per game, but the unit still ranked 17th in the country. And with just three starters graduating, the pieces are in place for next year’s team to return to prominence. And by joining the Big Ten conference next season, Johns Hopkins can vie for the NCAA tournament automatic qualifier from winning the league tournament. The Blue Jays have to be considered one of several favorites to succeed Duke as national titlist.