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Johns Hopkins Blue Jays attack Ryan Brown (4) battles Albany Great Danes defender James Burdette at Homewood Field Friday., April 4, 2014.
Johns Hopkins Blue Jays attack Ryan Brown (4) battles Albany Great Danes defender James Burdette at Homewood Field Friday., April 4, 2014. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

When Johns Hopkins senior attackman Ryan Brown jams another shot in a tight corner or scores from an awkward angle in practice, head coach Dave Pietramala isn't impressed.

He just marvels if the goalie can make a save.

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"To have a shooter like that is outstanding," said ESPN commentator Mark Dixon. "The things he does with one hand are good, but to do that with two hands — the precision, efficiency, accuracy and velocity — is amazing."

Brown is the best shooter in college lacrosse. When he was an All-American defenseman for the Blue Jays in the late 1980s, Pietramala saw only one player who could match Brown's shooting skills: Syracuse midfielder Gary Gait.

Loyola coach Charley Toomey, an All-American goalie, played against Gait and the only recent player that he believes might be similar to Brown is attackman Mike Sawyer, who scored 128 career goals for the Greyhounds from 2009 through 2013.

"Michael's release point was at three-quarters, but Ryan hides his hands so well that he can cause a goalie to freeze," said Toomey. "Sawyer could overwhelm you with velocity, Brown does it with accuracy."

Toomey has to find a way to slow Brown on Saturday when the No. 6 Blue Jays (1-0) travel to Ridley Athletic Center to face No. 8 Loyola (1-0). Last week, the Greyhounds beat Virginia, 11-4.

Holding the Cavaliers to only four goals is not easy, but Hopkins has The Shooter. Navy traditionally has one of the best defenses in the country every year, and Brown lit the middies up for six goals.

"If [Brown] gets his hands free at 12 yards, then you are asking too much of a goalie," said Toomey. "You've got to be able to get on the cuff of his gloves because if he gets those hands free and the feet set, he can make it a long afternoon."

Brown, who has 118 career goals, isn't just a shooter. He has worked hard to perform his specialty, taking 100 shots a day in practice and then spending another 30 minutes shooting afterward.

And if you watch him play and listen to him talk, shooting isn't just another part of the game, but an art that can be as physical as an NFL quarterback throwing in the pocket.

"When catching the ball, I'm looking to see if my hands are free and then if the defender is coming out, do I need to freeze dodge or hitch and go?" said Brown. "I try to get my head around quickly to see where I need to place the shot. You have to think a lot in a few seconds because so much develops."

"You have to close out quickly and I am more focused on my shot than the guy flying at me," said Brown. "Sometimes you get nailed. Navy got me a couple of times."

Regardless, Brown's stroke is so smooth and pure, and it doesn't change regardless if he is shooting from over top or low to high. Pietramala has done a good job of creating for Brown, running him through multiple high and low picks.

Brown isn't one-dimensional. He carries the ball better than he did when he was a freshman coming out of Calvert Hall, and has become a better passer.

Brown has also joined what he calls the "meathead" crew, those Hopkins players who spend a lot of time in the weight room. He is 5-feet-10 and weighs 178 pounds, but bench presses 305 pounds.

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"Last off-season he spent time in training camp with the Cincinnati Bengals and being around those kind of athletes and seeing how they train made a big difference with him," said Pietramala. "He doesn't bat an eye at any of the conditioning runs anymore."

It will be interesting to see how Loyola defends Brown. No team slides directly off him to double team another offensive player. The Greyhounds have a four-man rotation with defenders Foster Huggins, Jack Carrigan, Jason Crane and David Manning.

According to Toomey, all of them will probably have to match up with Brown at some point Saturday because they have to switch when picks are set. Loyola's defense isn't overly aggressive, but they aren't afraid to push out and challenge.

Against Virginia, sophomore goalie Grant Limone played well, finishing with 14 saves, and he was a key in the transition game with good outlet passes. He appears to be much better than a year ago when he started the last 11 games and finished with a .538 save percentage and 9.93 goals against average.

"I thought I did OK against Virginia, had some lucky ones, and made some good ones down the stretch. I thought our defense played well," said Limone.

"With a guy like Ryan, you have to keep an eye on him all the time, know where he is on the field," said Limone. "With him, he doesn't give anything away when shooting. Some guys you can read when they're going to shoot low or high; he doesn't give you anything. He is definitely one of the best, if not the best shooter in college lacrosse."

Some players might be offended for being defined only as a shooter. But Brown likes the title.

"I have spent a lot of time shooting and working on the mechanics," said Brown. "Some people say that this is the only thing I can do. I am fine with that because I put in a lot of time working on it. But teams that play against me know I can do more."

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