Wednesday's entry is the sixth of a series taking a look at each of the seven Division I programs in this state according to their order of finish from last season. The Baltimore Sun's men's lacrosse preview is slated to be published on Friday, Feb. 5. Tuesday's visit was with Towson. This is Johns Hopkins' turn.
Overview: A 4-6 start in 2015 appeared to doom the Blue Jays, but they rebounded quickly to split the Big Ten Conference regular-season title with Maryland and then win the conference tournament. A run to the NCAA tournament semifinals (where the team fell to the Terps) was the program's first appearance in the Final Four since 2008 and a reminder that Johns Hopkins remains in the conversation about national championship contenders. To get there again, the squad will have to navigate a minefield of formidable opponents both in and out of the Big Ten.
Reason for optimism: The importance of the attack unit has been punctuated by the impending season-long absences of midfielders Joel Tinney (28 goals and 10 assists; suspension) and Connor Reed (10 G, 16 A; knee injury).
The offense will lean heavily on senior Ryan Brown (61 G, 16 A) and sophomore Shack Stanwick (28 G, 23 A) to set the tone against opposing defenses. The third starting position is up for grabs and depends on how Brown is employed.
If Brown mans the right-handed spot, the need for a left-handed attackman will be filled by junior Wilkins Dismuke (5 G) or freshmen Kyle Marr and Alex Concannon. If Brown – who can shoot with both hands – moves to a left-handed role, freshmen Henry Grass and Jake Fox are in play.
"I think what we need is a little more consistency out of that bunch," coach Dave Pietramala said. "But day in and day out, you're thinking, 'OK, he can play there.' The next day, it's, 'OK, he can play there.' So there are a couple guys, and I would say that sometimes you worry when there are a couple guys, you think you don't have anybody. In this case, I actually think the competition has been very healthy and very good."
Reason for pessimism: Traditionally one of the stingiest defenses in Division I, the Blue Jays surrendered an alarming 10.5 goals per game last spring, and the graduation of four starters in two defensemen, one long-stick midfielder, and one of two starting short-stick defensive midfielders does not appear promising.
Senior Matt O'Keefe, fifth-year senior Ben Kellar (a Bucknell transfer) and freshman Patrick Foley are competing to join junior Nick Fields on close defense. Senior Derrick Kihembo, junior Austin Spencer (a Massachusetts transfer) and freshman Robert Kuhn are candidates to start at long-stick midfielder. And senior Kelton Black, sophomores Tal Bruno and Christopher Hubler and freshman Ryan Coulter are vying to team with junior Joe Carlini at short-stick defensive midfielder.
"Now the job is to find out what pieces of the puzzle go where," Pietramala said. "… We've seen guys in different places. Now we need to see them in scrimmages and figure out who we feel most comfortable with."
Keep an eye on: Eric Schneider had his fair share of struggles, but he did finish the season as the starting goalkeeper with a 10.37 goals-against average and a .489 save percentage.
His graduation opens the door for what has boiled down to a three-horse race between senior Will Ryan, sophomore Brock Turnbaugh and freshman Hunter Sells. Turnbaugh may be more fundamentally sound, and Sells may be quicker, but Ryan has the edge in experience after playing in six games including two starts and compiling a 10.00 goals-against average and a .424 save percentage.
"It serves him well as a starting goalie because when he steps out there, it's not his first time," Pietramala said of Ryan. "He knows the system, and he's comfortable in it. … We feel like Will's time in the cage certainly benefits him in terms of confidence, comfort and experience. The other guys, if they were to earn the spot, it would be a new experience for them to be the starter in Division I."
What he said: As mentioned above, Johns Hopkins advanced to the national semifinals for the first time since 2008.
While the loss to Maryland hurt, the march seemed to validate the work and changes the program had enacted to reverse that 4-6 start. While delighted for his players to get a taste of success, Pietramala hopes that setback to the Terps will serve to remind the players of what the Blue Jays' ultimate goal is.
"We're not here just to get to the Final Four," he said. "It's a great achievement and for many teams, it's a great season. Our goal is not just to get to the Final Four. It's to get there and win it. So when you look at things that way, you use it as motivation. Yes, we were excited to be there and privileged, but this is what it took to get there and this is what we're going to have to do to get there and get more. You hope that little sour taste in their mouth of not achieving their ultimate goal will motivate them."