Johns Hopkins has built a 58-29-1 advantage in this series and has won four of the past five meetings with Virginia. The last seven games at Homewood Field have been decided by a total of nine goals, including five one-goal decisions.
The No. 8 Cavaliers (5-2) opened the season with three straight victories, but have split their last four contests – including Saturday's 11-9 loss to No. 3 Notre Dame. Despite the losses of a pair of starting defensemen in junior Tanner Scales (Achilles tendon) and senior Greg Danseglio (transfer to Maryland), the unit has fared well with three first-year starters in senior Davio Sacco (eight ground balls and six caused turnovers) and freshmen Logan Greco (9 GB, 4 CT) and Scott Hooper (3 GB, 1 CT).
The No. 14 Blue Jays (3-4) have dropped three of their last four games, including a 13-10 setback to No. 1 Syracuse on Saturday. News that starting senior defenseman Robert Enright will miss the rest of the season after suffering a right knee injury in a 13-11 loss at No. 2 North Carolina on Feb. 21 would appear to make senior Nikhon Schuler a starter for the remainder of the year. Schuler, a converted long-stick midfielder, has posted seven ground balls and two caused turnovers in three starts.
Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Homewood Field in Baltimore on Saturday at 6 p.m.
1) Virginia's still potent attack. To overcome a season-ending knee injury to junior attackman James Pannell, the team shifted midfielder Greg Coholan to attack, and the junior responded with team highs in goals (four) and shots (11) in the loss to the Fighting Irish. Senior Owen Van Arsdale posted one goal and three assists, and sophomore Ryan Lukacovic added a goal and an assist. Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said he wouldn't be surprised if Cavaliers associate head coach and offensive coordinator Marc Van Arsdale elected to surprise the Blue Jays by moving sophomore midfielder Zed Williams to attack.
"Marc Van Arsdale does a very good job with their offense," Pietramala said. "I'm sure that's why they practiced other guys and prepared them. You just have to have the next guy step up. Does it hurt? Sure, you never want to lose a starter, but with adversity comes opportunity, and this is an opportunity for another guy to step in and step up. That's the way we've looked at it."
2) Virginia's underrated goalie. The defense is tied for 53rd out of 69 Division I teams in fewest goals allowed at 11.6 goals per game, but don't put the entire blame on sophomore Matt Barrett. The 6-foot, 220-pound goalkeeper ranks fifth in the country in saves per game at 13.7 and 18th in save percentage at .542. Barrett stopped 20 shots in a 15-9 loss at No. 1 Syracuse on March 1 and then made a career-high 21 saves in a 15-14 win against No. 7 Cornell six days later. Pietramala said Barrett uses his obvious size and surprising quickness to stymie opposing shooters.
"I think what we've got to do is we've got to take good shots," Pietramala said. "I don't think we can afford to just throw the ball to goal-line and just take any shot. I think it's got to be more of the best-available shot, and hopefully, we can get the ball moving. With any goalie, shooting the ball off of ball movement rather than letting him kind of stand still and see it the whole way is an important thing to do."
3) Virginia's clearing ability. The offense's average of 12.7 goals has been aided by a defense that leads the nation in clearing percentage at 91.6 percent (120-of-131). The defense's ability to move the ball from one end of the field to the other means more possessions and more opportunities for the offense. Pietramala said the quick transition from defense to offense usually starts with Barrett.
"When your goalie saves the ball, it means he has possession of it, which allows him to get the ball up and out," Pietramala said. "Virginia is a very good transition team. They play a quick-strike offense, and they like to get the ball up the field quickly. Part of that is Barrett's ability to actually save it rather than stop it and give up a rebound. Their middies are athletic, their poles handle the ball well. So it's no surprise that they clear the ball very well."