Here is the third 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. Tuesday's visit was with UMBC. Wednesday's visit is with Johns Hopkins.
The good: The Blue Jays went 8-7 overall and 3-2 in the Big Ten and earned an at-large invitation to the NCAA tournament, where they fell to No. 5 seed Brown in the first round. The season was remarkable in that the team lost starting midfielders Joel Tinney (NCAA violation) and Connor Reed (torn anterior cruciate ligament) before the year began and then two more midfielders in freshmen Drew Supinski and Alex Concannon to season-ending knee injuries within the first two months. But the offense hardly blinked and soldiered on thanks to enviable depth on the roster.
"One of the things I'm pleased about is, we never used [injuries] as an excuse," coach Dave Pietramala said. "It is what it is. We dealt with some very serious blows this year, and we found ways to overcome. Ultimately, I think some of that caught up with us at the end of the year in a lot of different phases. It wasn't just in the offensive end. It affected the wings on faceoffs, it affected our ability to have our better athletes on the field. But our kids didn't bat an eye."
**Despite the graduation of attackman Wells Stanwick, the offense continued to be a strength for Johns Hopkins. Under the direction of sophomore attackman Shack Stanwick (Wells' brother), the unit ended the season ranked in the Top 10 in Division I in man-up offense (seventh at 48.1 success rate) and assists per game (10th at 7.3) and also averaged 12.3 goals to rank 12th out of 68 teams. Pietramala funneled credit to offensive coordinator Bobby Benson and the players under his tutelage.
"I think it's a product of the job Coach Benson did," Pietramala said. "I think it's also the job that the guys have done. You've got to give some credit to the guys, and given some of the challenges that we faced, you've really got to give them credit with Brownie [senior attackman Ryan Brown] stepping up and Shack stepping up. [Junior attackman] Wilkins Dismuke had a 25-goal season. That's a solid first year as a starter, and he didn't play full-time. He split time with [freshman] Kyle Marr. So those are all positives. I thought the guys really bought into what we were doing, and I think the way we played offense allowed us to overcome those blows of the injuries a little bit better."
**Speaking of Brown, the Sykesville resident and Calvert Hall graduate wrapped up his career in sole possession of second place in program history in career goals (159) and hat tricks (27). He also ranks seventh in school history in points (209). Pietramala wondered if Brown's numbers would have been even better if Tinney and Reed had been eligible to play.
"I think the one thing that stands out to me that doesn't get mentioned as much is that he was doing all of this without some important pieces to the puzzle, which put a lot more of the onus on him and a guy like Shack," Pietramala said. "He was doing this without four of the top six midfielders out there, and that made it more challenging because with those guys, there are more slides drawn, there's more pressure put on defenses by the other people and less attention being given to Ryan. I think given the circumstances, it speaks volumes to what he's done."
The bad: With so many talented programs in Division I, earning berths in the 18-team NCAA tournament is not as simple as it once was. Along with 2016 national champion North Carolina, the Blue Jays qualified for the postseason despite accumulating six losses in the regular season. But their path ended in a 17-8 thumping at Brown, and Pietramala acknowledged that the outcome was disappointing.
"Look, we didn't meet our standard," he said. "Just because we had injuries, our standards didn't change. It's not going to change. It's why we're disappointed that we didn't get to play longer. We understand why. We made too many mistakes, and I'm not going to sit here and tell you that we didn't beat Brown because we didn't have those guys. We didn't beat Brown because we weren't disciplined enough, we made too many mistakes, we didn't execute at certain times, and we played a very good team. So there are no excuses."
**For the second straight year, the defense struggled. After ranking 39th in the country in goals allowed per game (10.5) last season, the unit slid to 58th (11.6), 39th in saves per game (10.3) and 62nd in caused turnovers per game (4.8). Johns Hopkins did have five first-year starters in sophomore goalkeeper Brock Turnbaugh, junior defenseman Austin Spencer, freshman defenseman Patrick Foley, freshman long-stick midfielder Robert Kuhn, and sophomore short-stick defensive midfielder Tal Bruno, and that youth showed, according to Pietramala.
"I need to do a better job of coaching that group," he said. "We have to evaluate what we're doing, how we're doing it, and if it's the right way to do it. I thought our two young guys had good years in Kuhn and Foley. We threw them to the wolves, and I thought they had good years. But as a group, we didn't perform the way we need to perform defensively, and that's always been a staple around here, and I can promise you that it will be that again."
**Clearing the ball was a problem for the team, which finished the year ranked 49th in that category at 84.3 percent. The struggles were especially apparent in losses to Loyola Maryland (10-for-15) and North Carolina (17-for-23) and an overtime win at Penn State (15-for-20). Pietramala attributed the subpar numbers to rash decision making.
"Clearing has always been something that we've been very good at," he said. "We probably put more time into this year than we have. … I think it's one of those things where we just have to be better and be more fundamentally sound. We've got to make good decisions and make the first, easy pass and not necessarily the big pass. And we've got to continue to develop our stick skills. We've got to be better off the ground than we have the last two years."
Personnel changes: The departure of Brown (41 goals and 16 assists) saps the offense of its most potent scorer, a player who could stretch a defense with his outside shooting or attack interior gaps. Marr, who registered 13 goals and three assists in 15 games, would seem to be the leading candidate to join Stanwick (20 G, 38 A) and Dismuke (24 G, 3 A) as starters on attack, but Pietramala said there will be competition for the spot.
"We will look at everything," he said. "We will look at the people who return on attack, we will look at the young guys coming in, we'll look at some of the younger guys and how they come back. We've got a couple guys that are talented players. [Freshman] Jake Fox is a talented player, and there are other guys on the roster that can help us. How do they come back? How are they in their second or third year? So we'll look at all of those guys. There's a chance you could move a midfielder down there and move an attackman up to the midfield. We're going to look at all of those things, and we're going to do the same thing down on the other end."
**Speaking of the defensive side, all seven starters should be back. But there is some consideration for moving Spencer (28 ground balls and seven caused turnovers) back to long-stick midfielder, a position he played at Massachusetts in 2015. That could open the door for junior Riley DeSmit to start as a close defenseman. Nonetheless, Pietramala said utilizing Spencer best is a priority.
"We moved him down there out of necessity this year, but we've got some guys coming back and some guys coming in so that we will have more competition defensively than we've had in a few years," Pietramala said. "There's a very good chance [of moving him back to long-stick midfielder], and if that happens, now you've got Kuhn and Spencer in there."
**In addition to Brown, Johns Hopkins bade farewell to another starter in midfielder Holden Cattoni, who compiled 20 goals and four assists in 15 contests including eight starts. Cattoni bounced back from an early-season demotion to the second midfield, but he was especially prized on the man-up offense, where he finished tied for second with Marr in extra-man goals (five). Pietramala said replacing Cattoni and Brown on the man-up offense will be key.
"We've got options to move guys around, guys that maybe have been waiting their turn for a chance to get on the man-up, guys that maybe are new and bring something different to the man-up," he said. "So there are a lot of options there. We've been pretty good at that spot, and while we lose those guys, you hope that you're able to find ways to be successful, and I believe we'll be able to do that."
Forecast for 2017: Sunny. Hopes should be high around Homewood Field next spring. Losing Brown and Cattoni on offense will bring about some transition, but Marr could step in as a starter. The anticipated returns of Tinney (28 G, 10 A in 2015) and Reed (10 G, 16 A in 2015) should be a huge boost for the unit. The issue is the development of the defense. While the major contributors will be back, the unit was too generous for Pietramala's liking. If Turnbaugh can continue to evolve as a goalie and the defenders can fine-tune their schemes, there's a solid chance that the Blue Jays will be in the discussion for a Final Four appearance at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., in May.