When Johns Hopkins attackman Chris Boland speaks about the University of Maryland's three starting close defensemen, there is the utmost respect.
"We've played against some really good defensemen this year, and I'd have to put them right up there at the top with Syracuse, and that's really, really good company," said Boland, who leads No. 3 Hopkins in scoring with 19 goals and 10 assists
It's rare that a team can start three seniors on defense, but No. 7 Maryland (8-2) has three All-Americans in Max Schmidt, Brett Schmidt and Ryder Bohlander. The Blue Jays might be in awe of such an intimidating group except that the Blue Jays also have senior Kyle Wharton (16 goals, 4 assists) and sophomore Zach Palmer (14, 15) on attack.
Hopkins has outshot it opponents, 212-165, this season and the Blue Jays are averaging 11 goals a game. Most of Hopkins' offense is initiated in the midfield with top young players such as John Ranagan, John Greeley and Rob Guida, but Boland, Palmer and Wharton are the finishers.
Maryland counters with three top long poles, which makes for a great matchup Saturday night at Byrd Stadium.
"They've got some really big, athletic dodgers in the midfield, and those guys in the back are creative," said Max Schmidt. "They spread the ball around and have a balanced offense. Any of their guys can kill you. For us, we've got to take care of our business in the back, but also be prepared to slide to help out. We've got a great task ahead of us."
But it's not impossible. Maryland's close defense has a combination of speed, size, experience and athleticism. The three players are also roommates and best of friends. Except for class, they are inseparable.
"Max is a great, all around athlete, but a big old teddy bear," said Bohlander. "Brett is one of the fastest kids I ever met. We're usually together somewhere. We have the same sense of humor and can joke on each other, and no one gets mad."
Max Schmidt said: "This has been a blessing for us being roommates and on the starting defense the last three years. We have a great chemistry on and off the field. We trust each other, we know each other in and out and we have each other's back. We're a confident group because we have that comfort level."
At 6-feet-4 and 230 pounds, Max Schmidt usually takes the biggest attackman. Because of his speed, Brett Schmidt guards the quickest player. Bohlander is assigned to the one off ball, and does a lot of the communicating.
Along with long pole midfielders Brian Farrell and Jesse Barnhart, the trio has helped Maryland limit opponents to 6.49 goals per game. Unlike previous seasons, the Terps no longer have those periods of being reckless.
"They know who they are, and they know how they play," said Hopkins head coach Dave Pietramala. "They play physical, but very much in control. They are not fouling nearly as much as they did in the past. They are fast, strong and play well together. It's nice to have three seniors in front of a young goalie because they keep him settled and they help with discipline."
Hopkins teams from the past two years might have backed away from some of the physical stuff, but not this crew. This attack takes abuse and keeps coming back. There were questions surrounding the Blue Jays attack in the fall especially with Boland out because of knee injury.
But the Blue Jays got better instead of worse.
"Boland's absence forced Kyle to do more, forced him to be more in charge, forced him to carry the ball more and become more of a playmaker," said Pietramala. "He became a better dodger and played with more aggression. The same with Zach. And when Boland came back, I made sure to tell them I didn't want them to change, that Kyle couldn't go back to playing inside that phone booth again."
So, what you have is a more versatile Wharton. He is still one of the game's best shooters, and deadly if he can get his hands free. But the entire attack is more diversified, and more importantly, they have become team leaders.
The Blue Jays have extremely young midfielders.
"We [attack] have put a lot on our shoulders as far as communicating, getting guys in the right spots, being organized and consistent," Boland said. "I think we're a tough group, and we've taken a bit of a beating. Kyle is a shooter, they try to beat on him and get in on his hands. Zach is a smaller guy, and people think they can push him around and get him rattled. But we've responded very well."
Next up, though, is Maryland.
"That's a crafty group," said Max Schmidt of Hopkins' attack. "They capitalize on your mistakes and they put it in the back of the net. This is the next great test for us."