Halting a season because of the coronavirus pandemic could set back a program. The Johns Hopkins women’s lacrosse team has instead found a way to turn a recent pause into an advantage.
The Blue Jays collected their second straight victory since returning from a 26-day layoff by walloping visiting Rutgers, 17-10, on Sunday afternoon before an announced 246 at Homewood Field.
With a 4-4 record overall and in the Big Ten, Johns Hopkins improved to .500 since the start of the season. The team has won four of its past five games, and players and coaches both credit their latest string of success to that nearly monthlong break that began after a 10-9 overtime loss to Maryland on March 12.
“I think it was a good moment to reflect on how we were playing in the first half of the season and kind of improve in the areas that we were falling short in,” senior attacker Aurora Cordingley said. “So I think the two weeks were needed for us to kind of reset and focus on new offensive sets and owning up on our defensive slides.”
Coach Janine Tucker said she and her staff treated the temporary suspension as an opportunity to review and address certain deficiencies that they might have been able to solve if they had a typical preseason.
“We had time that we didn’t have in the fall,” she said. “We didn’t really have a preseason because we were in groups of 10 early on for so many weeks. So we finally had 26 days to really focus on us and get the reps that we needed, and that’s what we’re seeing come to fruition.”
It’s difficult to argue with the results. In victories over the Nittany Lions and Scarlet Knights, the offense converted 53.6% of its shots (30 goals on 56 attempts) and 54.5% of its free-position chances (six goals on 11 opportunities). The offense was aided by a draw control unit that won 63% (34-of-54), and the defense was buoyed by the play of senior goalkeeper Kathleen Garvey, who turned aside 22 of the 42 on-goal shots she faced.
“I think we’ve figured out our kinks,” senior defender Haley Reitz said. “We’re now in the second half of our season, and I think we’re just used to each other. We’ve figured out how to work well with each other, and I think that’s just going to stick and keep moving us forward throughout the rest of the season.”
The Blue Jays were particularly thorough against a Rutgers squad that nearly pulled off an upset of No. 11 Maryland on Thursday evening in College Park before falling, 14-12. They broke a 3-3 tie with 19:20 left in the first half by closing out the period on a 7-1 run fueled by sophomore attacker Maeve Barker’s first career hat trick and a four-point outing (one goal and three assists) from graduate student attacker Mackenzie Heldberg.
Johns Hopkins opened the second half with a 4-2 burst for a 14-6 advantage with 18:21 remaining. And even when the Scarlet Knights scored three unanswered goals in a 45-second span to draw within 15-10 with 8:42 left, Cordingley shut the door with her fifth and sixth goals of the game to cement the victory.
The offense set a season high in assists with 13, an indicator of the players’ growing comfort level with new offensive coordinator Kristen Carr’s philosophy.
“I think we’re being more patient offensively, and I think we’re really just trying to play to our strengths individually and as a team,” said Cordingley, who finished with six goals, one assist and six draw controls while raising her career goals total to 101. “Just knowing that they slid early, we were able to hit the backside and exploit their slower second slides and third slides. It’s just simple lacrosse and simple lacrosse IQ.”
The defense shut out Rutgers for separate stretches of 12:58 and 11:21, Garvey made 10 of her game-high 12 saves in the second half and senior defender Trinity McPherson (Catonsville) compiled three caused turnovers and three ground balls. Reitz held Marin Hartshorn to zero goals on four shots, one assist and four turnovers after the Scarlet Knights junior attacker erupted for a personal-best eight points (three goals and five assists) in that near-upset of the Terps.
“I know she’s a strong lefty,” said Reitz, an Owings Mills resident and Bryn Mawr graduate who accumulated three ground balls and two caused turnovers. “So I really just sat on her strong hand and tried to get into her hands immediately so that she wasn’t able to do what she wanted to do with the ball.”
Tucker said winning 18 of 29 draws, with six each from Cordingley and senior midfielder Shelby Harrison (St. Mary’s), helped the Blue Jays maintain the edge in time of possession.
“I think getting the draw was one of the main things because when we have the ball, we’re pretty dangerous,” she said. “And just defensively, we buckled down for really good stretches. On the other end of the field, we were able to capitalize. It got a little sloppy towards the end, and I think a little fatigue was in there, but the girls had to buckle down and close the win out.”
Senior attacker Taralyn Naslonski paced Rutgers with five points on three goals and two assists, and sophomore midfielder Ashley Campo added one goal and two assists. But coach Melissa Lehman said fatigue from Thursday’s game at Maryland affected the Scarlet Knights (3-7 overall and in the Big Ten), who dropped their sixth game in a row.
“We just weren’t playing as smart as we could,” she said. “We were taking shots early in the possessions again, which allowed us to play a lot of defense, and that’s where you saw the tired legs. The other night was a battle, and when you’re playing defense for that long and not winning draws, I think that definitely played a factor.”