There's a little more room on the Johns Hopkins men's lacrosse bandwagon this season, and that's fine with the Blue Jays.
With the team graduating a senior class that included midfield maestro Paul Rabil and three other All-Americans, whispers have been floating that Johns Hopkins is in the midst of a downward spiral.
That perception doesn't bother the players.
"We just try not to pay attention to that," senior defenseman Michael Evans (South River) said. "We focus on ourselves and the task that we have at hand. People are always going to talk, but that's fine. We don't really let it get to us too much. We just want to focus on our own team."
The sense of defiance swirling around Homewood Field is so pervasive that the players have adopted a slogan crafted by coach Dave Pietramala: Step up.
"I think we're just embracing it right now," said junior attackman Steven Boyle, who returns as the team's leading scorer with 19 goals and 15 assists. "We have to step up and be a team and get things together."
Added junior midfielder Michael Kimmel (Loyola): "I don't think there's anything wrong with being an underdog. People are going to write or say that we'll struggle because of the guys who graduated, but every year here, guys graduate who are great players. Those guys are gone, and we have to try to win without them."
No one is disputing that the task of filling the void left behind by the graduation of, among others, Rabil, attackman Kevin Huntley, midfielder Stephen Peyser and defensemen Matt Bocklet and Eric Zerrlaut is daunting.
Last year's senior class accounted for 62 percent of Hopkins' goals, 55.7 percent of its points and ground balls, and 42.2 percent of its assists. That class made three trips to the NCAA tournament final, winning twice, and Rabil, Peyser, Bocklet and Huntley were taken in the first two rounds of May's Major League Lacrosse draft. Huntley was the MLL Rookie of the Year.
Those players made their teammates better, but Boyle acknowledged that there were times he and his teammates relied on those seniors too often.
"Sometimes I think we used to fall back on them, thinking, 'OK, if things are going wrong, let's just get the ball to them,' " he said. "I think now everyone has to step up, and everybody has to kind of do their thing and play their role."
One of the more significant changes spurred by graduation losses is a tweaking of the team's offensive identity. While insisting the offense will continue to rely on its half-field sets, Pietramala agreed that the unit will emphasize squeezing out more production from the transition game and man-up situations.
"I think this may be a group that is more aware of its shortcomings," he said. "By being aware of its shortcomings and being willing to admit them, they work harder together. We're well aware of the challenges that we face, and it will be a challenging season because our opponents are tremendously talented. We're well aware that we're going to have some growing pains."
If fans are abandoning the Blue Jays, ESPN analyst and former Army coach Jack Emmer is not so willing to do so.
"I know how hard Dave Pietramala and that staff works, and I just don't see them taking a big step backwards," Emmer said.
"They've got the ability to regroup and reload pretty rapidly. They may not have some of the great talent, but I think you'll find some of the younger guys stepping up and doing a better job than some people might anticipate. Dave doesn't leave much to chance, and he'll have an opportunity to bring these young guys together at the beginning of the season, and they'll be very competitive."
WMAR/ESPNU Game of the Week:
When Teams Time
Sat., 2-21 Towson at Loyola 1 p.m.
Fri., 3-6 Princeton at UMBC 8 p.m.
Sat., 3-7 Maryland at Towson 2 p.m.
Sat., 3-14 UMBC at Maryland Noon
Sat., 3-21 Virginia at Johns Hopkins 8 p.m.
Sat., 3-28 Syracuse at Loyola Noon
Sat., 4-4 Albany at Johns Hopkins Noon
Sat., 4-11 Hofstra at Towson 1 p.m.
Sat., 4-18 Navy at Johns Hopkins 2 p.m.
Sat., 4-25 Vermont at UMBC 1 p.m.
Sat., 5-2 Loyola at Johns Hopkins 1 p.m.
THE BALTIMORE SUN DIVISION I TOP 20
(2008 record in parentheses;
state teams in bold)
1. Virginia (14-4)
2. Syracuse (16-2)
3. Maryland (10-6)
4. North Carolina (8-6)
5. J. Hopkins (11-6)
6. UMBC (12-4)
7. Cornell (11-4)
8. Duke (18-2)
9. Denver (10-7)
10. Navy (10-6)
11 Hofstra (10-6)
12. Brown (11-3)
13. Colgate (11-6)
14. N. Dame (14-3)
15. Ohio State (11-6)
16. Loyola (7-7)
17. Georgetown (9-4)
18. Princeton (7-6)
19. Bucknell (10-5)
20. Towson (5-9)