There has been much written about the Blue Jays missing the NCAA tournament last year for the first time since 1971. It was an incredible streak, no doubt, but in recent years there has been a decline in Johns Hopkins lacrosse, or more probably just the results of increased competition from schools that once were unheard of in the lacrosse world.
The last time Hopkins went to a Championship Weekend was 2008, when they lost to Syracuse in an epic game that was Paul Rabil's finale. In 2009-10, after a 7-7 season, somehow the Jays got an at-large bid before being smoked by Duke in the first round 18-5; the game was an absolute joke. Hopkins exited the tournament in the second round for the next two seasons until which they followed up with their 9-5 season in 2012. That record includes an overtime loss to UNC and wins over Virginia and Maryland and in a lot of other years, that record would have gotten them into the tourney. For many other programs, second round exits and one championship game appearance in the last six years would be welcomed, but this is Johns Hopkins.
Between SU and JHU, there are 20 National Championships. That means nearly 50% of all championship games have ended in one of those two teams winning it. The overall record between the two schools is 27-23-1 in favor of the Blue Jays, but in recent years Hopkins has had some trouble with SU. The Blue Jays have just one win in the series since 2007. Those losses include an overtime loss, a double overtime loss, and a national championship loss.
Now though, Syracuse is in the ACC, and next year Hopkins will join the Big Ten. This is one of the best rivalries in college lacrosse, if not the best, and there was some question as to what joining conferences would mean for it. Thankfully it has continued as Coach Pietramala and Coach Desko have cut other rivalry games off their schedules in favor of keeping this matchup alive.
While this is a big rivalry, the game is important for another reason. Let's face it, there is a better than good chance that Syracuse and Notre Dame will not be involved in the ACC tournament and thus be eliminated from grabbing the ACC AQ. While it could happen, the odds of the tournament committee giving five at large bids to a six team conference is not great. That means SU and Notre Dame could be fighting for that fifth at-large invite.
On the other side, Hopkins is independent so there is no automatic qualifier for them to play for. Both these teams need quality wins to beef up their resumes, and yes I know the Blue Jays are 5-0, but last year they started their season 5-1, so anything can happen.
The list of wins that Hopkins has compiled in their 5-0 start isn't overly impressive. They've taken down OSU, Towson, Michigan, Princeton, and UMBC. Princeton is the only one that jumps out in that group, I had a chance to watch the Tigers against UNC last week and have a high opinion of them. The thing about Hopkins is that they don't rely too much on one aspect of their game, and no part of their team is overly weak. They have one of the best faceoff men in the country, a great goalie, a talented trio of attack who have been producing well, and their midfield has been adequate. When you watch them play, its hard not to like what they bring to the table. They can shoot from outside with guys like Rob Guida, and can burn you on the crease with Wells Stanwick. This is going to be tough matchup for Syracuse but it's not a bad one, in fact I actually think this is a great matchup for both teams.
The game is scheduled for 12 pm Saturday at Homewood Field and can be found on ESPNU.
The vast majority of the Blue Jays' goals come on the crease. Hopkins did this all day against UMBC last week. The attack is good at finding open spaces opposite ball side of the field and losing their long pole defender. Against UVA, Syracuse had the same problem with James Pannell where the ball would rotate away from him and he would back door cut up from X and get the ball wide open on the crease. This could be a problem on Saturday for the Orange. This week in practice the Blue Jays starting attack said that they are stressing possessions against Syracuse, trying to take down the number of shots they get off, in favor of taking smarter, better shots.
The attack is headed by Wells Stanwick who leads his team in assists at 18 and coming into this week is second in the NCAA in assists per game. The Honorable Mention All-American from 2012 also has 9 goals to add to his stats this year. Stanwick has a unique ability to find the open player on the crease and weave the pass to him. If you watch any of the highlights from Hopkins season so far, you will see a lot of him dodging from X, and passing up to the crease. Wells is not the only Stanwick playing lacrosse, the family boasts five men's and women's division I lacrosse players.
Ryan Brown came to Hopkins rated as the ninth best attack recruit in 2012. In his freshman year, Brown had 17 goals while only starting 4 games. Standing at tenth in the nation in points per game and eleventh in goals per game, this year has really been a breakout season for the Maryland native. Brown's best game came against a pretty good Princeton team where he put away 5 goals and 3 assists. One point of concern for him is that he isn't hitting the net as much as he should. He's taken a team high 45 shots while only getting 22 of those on net.
Brandon Benn and Wells Stanwick seem to have an incredible connection on the field, constantly finding each other. Against UMBC Benn had a season high 5 goals, 6 points. He has 14 goals on the season and an impressive .438 shooting percentage. Although with all the goals this attack line gets from point blank, that number should be high.
The progression for the Hopkins midfield has been slow this season. The vast majority of the Blue Jays offense comes from their attack. The midfield's production, especially after that first line, has been lacking. Coach Pietramala has talked this week about how even though he has shaken up those first two lines already this season, he isn't looking for big numbers from his midfield lines, but just wants to make sure that they can provide support to that first attack line. Co-captain Rob Guida had a spectacular 2012 year being recognized as a second-team All-American but missed eight games in 2013 with an injury. He's got an excellent long-range shot which can be very dangerous and leads all Hopkins midfielders with 7 goals.
Bronson Kelly started the year on the first midfield line for Hopkins, but after the first three games, Pietramala swapped him out for sophomore Holden Cattoni. Kelly had 2 points through those first three games on the first line. As for Cattoni, he had 4 goals in the first three games and in the last two which followed his move to the first line, he has had 2 goals and 4 assists which included a 5 point game against UMBC. It appears that Cattoni will stay on the first midfield line, but it is unclear if any more changes will be made. Of course, if the attack doesn't produce on Saturday, you may see Coach Pietramala start to mix things up again.
Sophomore Connor Reed played in six games last year but has started all five this year. He has 4 goals, 4 assists on the season, but with 5 points in the last two games, he has really begun to step things up. Conversely, true freshman John Crawley started his career off with a bang picking up 6 goals in his first three games, 4 of which came against Towson. Since then he only has 2 shots in 2 games.
Even though he is a junior, Michael Pellegrino was named a co-captain for the Blue Jays this year. The long-stick midielder has 2 goals on the year, but does have 12 groundballs to match. On the defensive side, another midfielder to keep an eye on is fellow co-captain James Malm.
This will be a tough one for the Orange in the faceoff game. Drew Kennedy is fourth in the nation with a .649 win percentage. The teams Hopkins have been playing don't have the best faceoff percentages, but that shouldn't diminish Kennedy has done handling the weight of the Blue Jays' faceoffs. To add to his resume, Kennedy is tied for first in the country in groundballs per game, and currently has 49 on the year. This should be a very tough matchup for Chris Daddio who last weekend went just under .500 against St. John's one of the worst faceoff teams in the country.
The Hopkins defense has been solid this season, only giving up 7.80 goals per game. Additionally, they have killed 10 of 13 man-down situations. The seemed a little slow to slide on the crease against UMBC, something SU might be able to take advantage of it continues. The one weak spot for the Blue Jays has been caused turnovers, of which they are one of the worst teams in the country. Jack Reilly is the most experienced long pole for the Jays. Reilly played at Christian Brothers Academy in Albany and if not for his junior year stint at long stick middie, he would have been a four-year starter at close defense. Reilly will be matched up with Kevin Rice on Saturday. The starting defense is rounded out by juniors Robert Enright and John Kelly. Kelly and Reilly both have 10 groundballs apiece this year.
In 2006, UMass rode freshman goalie Doc Schneider to the NCAA tournament finals. His younger brother Eric Schneider is the senior net minder for the Blue Jays. The goalie gene definitely runs in this family, as the younger Schneider has put together an excellent start to the season and has positioned himself as one of the premier goalies this year. The senior from Massapequa is fourth in the nation in save percentage, eight in goals against average and fourteenth in saves per game.