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, which finished with a 12-5 overall record and a 3-2 mark in the Big Ten.
The good: The Blue Jays might have finished second in the conference, but they came away with their second Big Ten tournament championship and first since the league’s inaugural debut in 2015. The team outlasted No. 3 seed Ohio State, 6-5, in the semifinals May 3 and then upended top seed Maryland, 13-10, in the title game two days later. What was especially gratifying to coach Dave Pietramala was to see the players bounce back from an 8-7 loss in triple overtime to the Terps on April 28.
“The fact that we won the Big Ten championship, coming off a triple-overtime loss to Maryland and then having to go onto the road and play Ohio State four days later, I thought we showed a toughness both mentally and physically this year that we had not shown, in particular mentally,” he said. “I just thought we were very different there.”
» Johns Hopkins’ 7-3 record in games decided by three goals or fewer this past spring — including a 4-1 mark in one-goal decisions — was buoyed by a remarkable ability to overcome deficits. The team erased multi-goal holes to claim seven victories. Two wins that encapsulated the players’ comeback attitude were the 15-13 decision at Virginia on March 24 that involved rallying from a 9-2 halftime deficit and a 10-9 overtime victory over Georgetown in the NCAA tournament first round May 12 that entailed digging out of an 8-3 hole in the third quarter.
“I thought we dealt with pressure much better this year than in previous years,” Pietramala said. “So I was pleased with our focus, with our poise and our mental toughness.”
» A year ago, the defense surrendered 11.5 goals per game to tie for 54th in Division I. That was an alarmingly high average for a program that has prided itself on its defense and is headed by Pietramala, who is considered the best defenseman to ever play the game. The return of junior defenseman Patrick Foley (30 ground balls, 14 caused turnovers), improved play from senior goalkeeper Brock Turnbaugh (9.52 goals-against average, .506 save percentage), and the development of four short-stick defensive midfielders all played a role in the defense lowering its average to 9.7 and ranking 26th in the nation.
“I think defensively, we were much improved,” Pietramala said. “We knocked down our goals-against by two [per game]. Our goaltending improved. So I thought our defensive play at the short-stick position was much improved. I thought [junior] Danny Jones was our most improved player on the year and not far behind him was [sophomore] Matt Hubler.”
The bad: Fresh from capturing the Big Ten crown, the Blue Jays ended a two-year pattern of early exits from the first round of the NCAA tournament by rallying against Georgetown. But their postseason run ended in a 13-8 loss in the quarterfinal round to Duke, which advanced to the title game against eventual national champion Yale. As pleased as he was to see the program get out of the first round, Pietramala acknowledged that the team fell short of its primary objective.
“I would say that clearly we did not achieve our ultimate goal, which is getting back to Championship Weekend and playing for the national championship,” he said. “Those are the standards at Hopkins, and those will remain the standard at Hopkins. That is a goal we set for ourselves every single season with every new group that steps into the Cordish Center. Only one team really goes home happy, and for the rest of us, it was a good year. … That’s kind of how we measure it.”
» Last season, Johns Hopkins led the country in man-up offense at 60.5 percent (26 goals in 43 chances). But the unit’s conversion rate dropped to 35.5 percent (22 of 62) to slip to 31st in 2018. The team raised its man-down defensive numbers from 52.5 percent (killing 21 of 40 opportunities) in 2017 to 68 percent (34 of 50) in 2018, but Pietramala acknowledged that he was seeking more from both special-teams units.
“On man-up, we were at 60 percent a year ago, and now we hovered in the mid 30s,” he said. “That was a big change for us. I thought that hurt us. I thought we were improved on the man-down, but would like to see us still be better there. Statistically, we were better, but I still think we have room for growth there.”
» Senior Hunter Moreland (Boys’ Latin) ranked 20th in Division I in faceoff percentage (.570 on 200 of 351 and 99 ground balls) and ground balls per game (5.8), and the team as a whole ranked 26th in the country (.524) in that department. But the Blue Jays finished below 50 percent in seven of their last 10 games, which might have contributed to nine being decided by three goals or fewer. The length of a physically taxing season seemed to have caught up to the entire faceoff unit in April and May.
“I thought we tailed off in the end at the X, and I don’t mean just at the X. I mean on the wings as well,” Pietramala said. “I’d like to just see more consistency. The games where we were good, we were really good. The games where we weren’t so good, we weren’t really good at all. There was not a lot of middle ground, and that’s not to say it’s the faceoff guys. It’s a unit, and I’d like to see us be better and way more consistent there.”
Personnel changes: The offense graduated three starters in midfielders Joel Tinney (21 goals, 32 assists) and Brinton Valis (15 G, 1 A) and attackman Shack Stanwick (18 G, 35 A). While Pietramala mentioned players such as freshmen Brett Baskin (4 G) and Jack Keogh (1 G, 1 A) emerging as options in the midfield, the unit needs a facilitator as Tinney and Stanwick were. That might be where sophomore Forry Smith (2 G, 2 A) steps in.
“I think it’s going to be important for Forry Smith to take that next step,” Pietramala said. “He’s played in significant moments. He played in the Penn State game when Shack got hurt, and he was a guy we called upon and did a solid job. So the hope is that like [sophomore attackman] Cole [Williams] from his freshman to sophomore year going from six [goals in 2017] to 35 [in 2018], you hope that you’re doing a good job with player development, and now Forry can take the next step and not just as a player. I think he’s got to take a step as a leader because he’s one of our best young men. He buys into everything we believe in. So we’ll be looking for him to take another step this summer.”
» The biggest loss on defense is Turnbaugh, the Phoenix resident and Hereford graduate who took command of the cage in his final season. Sophomore Jacob Giacalone, who was not on the roster this past spring, is expected to return to compete for the starting job with freshman Ryan Darby. The latter, however, may have the edge after getting mentored by Turnbaugh.
“Brock really did a great job of taking him under his wing,” Pietramala said. “At meals, they were next to each other. At meetings, they were next to each other. It was like a big brother and a little brother, and I think Ryan was really taught well and has a good sense of the right way to do things, and we were pleased with the way he performed. So we feel good about his abilities.”
» Freshman Kyle Prouty (32.8 percent on 21 of 64, 4 GB) served as Moreland’s primary backup and figures to play a prominent role in replacing his mentor on faceoffs. But he will face competition from freshmen Weston Narewski and a pair of incoming freshmen in Spencer Sande and Matt Narewski (Weston’s younger brother). Whoever takes the job, Pietramala said he expects the faceoff unit to be more athletic.
“We think that Kyle Prouty has a lot of ability. He’s a guy who was thrown into some challenging situations,” Pietramala said. “I thought there were moments when Kyle did a good job, but we didn’t help him on the wings. Wing play is an area where we would like to improve, and we’ll do that. But we will be more athletic at that position.”
Forecast for 2019: Partly sunny. A year ago, a leaky defense was Johns Hopkins’ biggest problem. The graduation of Turnbaugh is a deep cut, but the unit is expected to return all three starting defensemen, its top two-long-stick midfielders and two of its top four short-stick defensive midfielders. The offense has a nice base in junior attackman Kyle Marr (41 G, 17 A) and Williams to build around, but it has to find and develop a quarterback. That will be a critical piece if the Blue Jays intend to realize their objective of advancing to the NCAA tournament semifinals.