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Hopkins lacrosse keeping late teammate Jeremy Huber in mind as they prepare for NCAA semifinals

Even before the Johns Hopkins men's lacrosse team had upset No. 2 seed Syracuse to earn a spot in the semifinals of the NCAA Division I tournament, Robert Huber said he and his family had made arrangements to attend championship weekend at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.

It's what Huber's eldest son, Jeremy, a Blue Jays freshman defenseman who died of complications from pneumonia and flu in January, would have wanted.

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"We actually bought the plane tickets last week," Huber said from his home in Las Vegas. "Jeremy and [younger brother] Justin and I went to the final four last year for the first time when it was in downtown Baltimore, and we enjoyed the heck out of it. We figured worst-case [scenario], we could go there and enjoy it again, and the best thing that could happen is if the Blue Jays were there playing. So we're looking forward to it."

The Huber family and Johns Hopkins (11-6) — which meets No. 6 seed Maryland (14-3) in the second semifinal at 3:30 p.m. — have remained deeply connected since the passing of Jeremy Huber, who was discovered in his dorm Jan. 26.

The program has chosen to honor Huber's memory by preserving his locker in the team's locker room at the Cordish Lacrosse Center, painting his No. 19 on the sideline at Homewood Field and stitching his number on the cuffs of the players' gloves.

There is also a Jeremy Huber Memorial Fund (also known as the JERM 19 Fund) at the Peabody Institute in a nod to Huber's passion for playing the piano and listening to music. Earlier this month, Blue Jays fan Truitt Sunderland asked friends to forgo presents for his 12th birthday in exchange for donations to the fund.

Huber's legacy continues to resonate so much that senior defenseman John Kelly invoked Huber's name in the final five minutes of the Blue Jays' 16-15 win against the Orange at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.

"When it was crunch time, we were all saying, 'Let's do it for 19. Let's do it for Jeremy,'" fifth-year senior goalkeeper Eric Schneider said. "John said it first. Me personally, I got chills when we were saying that. We just really wanted to close that one out for him."

Johns Hopkins' seven-game winning streak and national semifinals berth belie the struggles the program endured through the first half of the season. The team canceled a week of practice to mourn Huber's death before pounding UMBC, 16-4, in both teams' season opener Feb. 7.

But the Blue Jays lost six of their next nine games, tail-spinning to a 4-6 record that had them on a Big Ten tournament championship-or-bust path. Without shirking responsibility for the near-disastrous opening, coach Dave Pietramala said the players sagged under the weight of trying to play without their fallen teammate.

"They said, 'We would like to dedicate the season to Jeremy.' Yet, I think we were burdened by that for a while because here we were not performing well, and we had all said that we wanted to dedicate the whole season to this young man and we were performing like garbage," Pietramala said. "… We just had to decide that we were going to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and decide to move forward because this mattered to us and this mattered to Jeremy."

Robert Huber, who has attended several regular-season games this spring, said the team's troubled start worried him.

"One of my biggest fears was that what happened to Jeremy would destroy their season," he said. "He was happy to be there. He obviously made some great friends during the short time that he was there, and that would be the last thing that he would want.

"Between Coach circling the wagons around the guys and them working through their issues together and supporting one another, they've made a miraculous turnaround from where they were at the end of the Ohio State game, and we're just so happy for them. It's a great sense of relief to see them find the strength and resolve to get back together and get the right kind of focus out there on the field."

While the players leaned on themselves, family and friends to bounce back, Pietramala sought counsel from coaching friends like Penn State's Jeff Tambroni and North Carolina's Joe Breschi. Tambroni helmed Cornell when the program endured the death of defenseman George Boiardi in 2004 after he was struck in the chest by a ball during a game. Breschi, a Baltimore native and Loyola Blakefield graduate, lost his oldest son Michael in a motor vehicle accident just days before Boiardi's death.

Breschi said he talked to Pietramala several times, including just prior to their teams' regular-season meeting Feb. 21.

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"David was struggling with the aspect of, 'I'm responsible and I'm running a team,' and it felt like the walls were caving in a little bit," Breschi recalled. "That's where I just encouraged him to be himself and to let the emotions run and flow. I told him that he has to grieve. We all grieve differently, but at the end of the day, there's a sense of being real with the team and the experience of them going through it together on a daily basis."

The Huber family is still processing the loss of a son and brother. Jeremy Huber's room remains largely untouched, boxes of his belongings are unpacked, and framed pictures of Huber playing in a scrimmage against Drexel in the fall and standing on the sideline are waiting to be hung.

Robert Huber said the family has enjoyed its connection with the team. Pietramala texts Robert and Nancy Huber weekly, and the players participated in a video conference call with the family April 26, which would have been Jeremy Huber's 19th birthday.

ESPN analyst Paul Carcaterra, who filmed a 30-minute one-on-one conversation with Pietramala released in March for Lacrosse Magazine, said he has sensed a determination among the players.

"For those kids, I think they're playing with a purpose," said Carcaterra, a former Syracuse midfielder. "They are obviously playing for Jeremy and his memory, but also Jeremy and his family and giving them some type of healing and purpose to continue to associate Jeremy with something that's great, and that's the 2015 Johns Hopkins Blue Jays. To me, it's certainly a situation that will drive these kids."

Johns Hopkins expects a large contingent of fans to descend upon Lincoln Financial Field, and Robert, Nancy and Justin Huber will be part of that support base. The program's first national championship since 2007 would be a remarkable achievement, but Robert Huber said he has enjoyed witnessing the team's journey.

"Even before the game this past weekend, when I look back at the course of the year and what their season was like and how they got there, I was happy and satisfied that things were good, and I was content that they had gotten themselves back on the right track," he said.

"Now, perhaps it was a different kind of inspiration that Jeremy was providing them for where they've gotten to after the past couple games. [An NCAA title] would be great. I don't have any expectations, but it sure would be fun to see them out there on Monday afternoon."

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