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Cole Williams’ career day lifts No. 13 Johns Hopkins men’s lacrosse to season-opening 15-7 win over No. 17 Towson

Hopkins players celebrate one of their 15 goals against Towson on February 8, 2020.
Hopkins players celebrate one of their 15 goals against Towson on February 8, 2020. (Barbara Haddock Taylor/Baltimore Sun)

Cole Williams’ new look includes a closely shaved head instead of the long blond hair that flowed seemingly out of every opening of his lacrosse helmet. But one thing that hasn’t changed about the Johns Hopkins senior attackman is his prowess with the stick.

The Marriottsville resident and Loyola Blakefield graduate had game highs in points (seven) and assists (four) to power the No. 13 Blue Jays to a 15-7 win against No. 17 Towson in the season opener for both sides before an announced 1,914 at Homewood Field on Saturday afternoon.

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Williams, who was especially important during Johns Hopkins’ game-ending 9-1 run over the final 28:06 of the second half, when he contributed four assists and one goal, said he suffers from alopecia, which explains the change in hairstyle. He added that he has a different mindset for the final year of his college career, which is absent a trip to the NCAA Final Four.

“I think it’s that senior mentality, knowing that this is the last thing, the last ride for me,” he said. “So just rallying with our other seniors knowing that we’re the leaders of this team, I think that’s just it.”

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Filling in for Epstein

Joey Epstein stood on the Blue Jays sideline in his No. 32 jersey and helmet, but a bulky brace on his right knee was the most visible indication that the sophomore attackman who set the program’s freshman records for goals (48) and points (73) and was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year would not play against the Tigers.

Williams played a significant role in filling the void created by Epstein’s absence, but he was aided by three-point efforts from junior midfielder Connor DeSimone (three goals), freshman midfielder Garret Degnon (three goals) and sophomore midfielder Evan Zinn (two goals and one assist).

Coach Dave Pietramala said the offense will continue to seek contributions from a variety of sources until Epstein’s return, which he declined to assign a timetable.

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“We’re going to need those other guys,” Pietramala said. “Today was about those other guys. We know what we’re going to get from Cole. We needed [freshman attackman Owen] Murphy [one goal and one assist], we needed Degnon, we needed some of those other guys, [junior attackman] Brett Baskin [one goal], [sophomore faceoff specialist] Matt Nawrewski had a great goal. We needed them to contribute, and if we can continue to get that and have Joey come back and fit things in, then you can be dangerous and kind of count on your depth.”

Gaining ground balls

In last year’s season opener between the same schools, Towson waltzed to a 17-8 win thanks to a 43-18 advantage in ground balls. A large part of that was because of Alex Woodall, who won 21 of 28 faceoffs and collected 17 loose balls.

On Saturday, senior Kyle Prouty’s 14-for-19 performance and Narewski’s 6-for-7 outing helped Johns Hopkins win 20 of 26 faceoffs and a 42-28 showing in ground balls. The imbalance in loose balls was especially gratifying for Pietramala.

“A year ago, obviously they handled the [faceoff] X, but on those tough ground balls that it was a 50-50 ground ball or a 60-40, I thought all of those came up for them last year, and I thought the majority of them came up for us this time. So I was pleased with that and our play off the ground.”

Seeking scoring

Koby Smith enjoyed a career day of his own with four points on two goals and two assists — all in transition, which is an encouraging sign for the Tigers.

The flipside is that a junior defenseman leading a team in scoring is generally not a promising indicator of future success.

Senior attackman Jon Mazza scored two goals in his first game since March 24, 2018, but was part of a starting attack that combined for seven turnovers and a .222 shooting percentage (four goals on 18 shots).

Towson coach Shawn Nadelen pointed out that the first midfield was absent redshirt senior midfielder Grant Maloof (South River), who had to sit out one game to retain his eligibility for his redshirt season, and sophomore midfielder Austin Stewart, who is still awaiting NCAA clearance after transferring from Denver.

Nadelen also noted that senior attackman Brody McLean (one goal and one assist) had been cleared medically Friday to play and that he and Mazza made the kind of mistakes that occur when players are rusty and pressing.

“I don’t want to pick those guys out individually because they’re trying to generate things to have things happen, but we didn’t cash in on them at times,” he said. “Not having two of your first three midfielders out there with Grant Maloof and Austin Stewart, Grant especially being a veteran presence at the midfield, that hurt our ability to really allow the offense to work and move.”

Nadelen did say that Maloof is expected to return for Saturday’s home opener against Mount St. Mary’s.

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