Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 2/17/10
From Press Releases and Staff Reports
If history is any indicator, then close followers of the Johns Hopkins men’s lacrosse team may like what the 2010 season has in store.
Entering his 10th season as the head coach of the Blue Jays, Dave Pietramala might see history repeating itself if he looks back on his first couple years at Homewood. Pietramala guided the Blue Jays to the NCAA Quarterfinals in his first season in 2001 and then welcomed the nation’s top recruiting class to campus three months later.
Fast forward four years and that group, which included the likes of Kyle Harrison, Chris Watson, Kyle Barrie (Haverford School), Peter LeSueur, Benson Erwin and Tom Garvey, capped its time at Johns Hopkins with a national championship and a four-year record of 55-6. The 2010 Blue Jays are coming off a quarterfinal loss that was followed once again by the arrival of the top-ranked recruiting class in the nation. While it’s hard to imagine a run like the class of 2005 enjoyed, the ingredients may just be in place to jump-start a spree that at least rivals such a mark.
If the Blue Jays are to make a return to championship weekend for the seventh time under Pietramala, they will rely heavily on an attack unit that returns three starters, a rebuilt midfield that is led by a national player of the year candidate and a defense that enters the season with a point to prove.
It’s no secret that what was perceived to be the Blue Jays’ strength last season – defense – didn’t materialize. Despite fielding a unit with two of the top individual defenders in the nation and a goalie who led JHU within one victory of the national championship in 2008, the Blue Jays never found their comfort zone on defense last season and struggled against several of the top offenses they faced.
One year later, several of the key parts remain, but there is a renewed sense of getting back to basics and communicating effectively in Pietramala’s highly-sophisticted team defense.
Senior Matt Drenan is a four-year regular who emerges as the leader of the group this season. Drenan has the rare combination of strength and athleticism that allows him to matchup with a variety of the top attackmen the Blue Jays will face this season. His ability to handle that role within the team concept will be paramount to the overall success of the unit.
Drenan has started 30 of the 46 games he has played in during his career, has 100 ground balls to his credit and excels in jump-starting transition.
Senior co-captain Sam DeVore returns to man the inside on close defense and must become more of a vocal leader on the unit. He caused a team-high 20 turnovers a year ago and grabbed a career-high 23 ground balls. With as many as three freshmen perhaps seeing time in JHU’s regular defensive rotation, his ability to manage operations from mission control is essential.
The third player in JHU’s 3-D defense is freshman Tucker Durkin, a La Salle graduate and 2009 Phillylacrosse.com Player of the Year who immediately caught the eye of the coaches in the fall and demonstrated the physical no-nonsense approach to the position that Pietramala loves.
Durkin, who led the Explorers to a pair of state championships, brings a high level of intensity and competitiveness to the position and should benefit from practicing against JHU’s experienced attack unit. Senior Greg Harrington (Hill School) is likely to see time on the interior and in man-down situations after seeing action in all 15 games a year ago.
Junior Matt Dolente (Malvern Prep) and senior Michael Powers return to anchor JHU’s efforts on faceoffs. The Blue Jays won just 52.8% of their faceoff attempts as a team last season, a mark that placed the Hopkkins defense under entirely too much pressure. Improving that mark into the 58-60% range has been a primary focus in the off-season.
Dolente took a majority of the team’s faceoffs a year ago and won 130-of-252 (.516) with a team-high 80 ground balls to his credit. He missed two full games and most of another with an injury, but ended the season by winning nearly 55% of his attempts in the NCAAs and will look to build off that momentum.
Powers stepped in for an injured Dolente early in the game at UMBC last March and proceeded to spark JHU to a victory with a stunning 17-of-24 showing against the Retrievers. He was 55-of-90 (.611) with 27 ground balls on the year and ended with a 7-of-11 showing against Virginia in the NCAA Quarterfinals.
While Pietramala is a stickler for detail and balance on the field, there’s no denying that the attack unit must perform at the same level it did last season, when returning starters Steven Boyle, Chris Boland and Kyle Wharton (Haverford School) combined for 83 goals and 36 assists.
Boyle is entering his fourth season as a starter and has twice garnered Honorable Mention All-America honors. He punched up 21 goals and 17 assists last season despite missing nearly two full games and is on pace to become the 19th player in school history to total 150 career points.
Boland burst on the scene a year ago and led the Blue Jays in scoring with 28 goals and 18 assists. He is a deadly accurate shooter (.528 shooting percentage) and his ability to finish in tight and find the open man (18 assists ranked second on the team) make him a difficult matchup.
Junior Wharton led the Blue Jays with 34 goals last season. Wharton spent his freshman year watching then senior Kevin Huntley flourish in the role of JHU’s sharp-shooting lefty on attack. He made his own mark a year ago as he established himself as one of the top shooters in the nation as he totaled 34 goals and 11 assists for 45 points en route to earning Honorable Mention All-America honors. With time and room (and he doesn’t need much as he has a lightning-quick release) he is one of the most feared players in the nation. He led the team in game-winning goals (4) and extra-man goals (6) a year ago and is the perfect complement to Boyle and Boland.
The unquestioned leader at midfield – and perhaps the entire team – is senior co-captain Michael Kimmel, a Second Team All-America selection a year ago and arguably the top passing midfielder in the nation.
After spending his first two years playing with and learning from Paul Rabil and Stephen Peyser, Kimmel had a breakout season a year ago as he totaled 20 goals and a career-high and team-best 25 assists for 45 points.
Kimmel’s presence at midfield, and the return of the three starters on attack, should take much of the burden off what is a very talented, but young, group of middies. Hopkins suffered a tough loss in the preseason when junior Mark Goodrich, who was contending for a spot on the first midfield, was lost with a season-ending injury. Still, this is a group that should grow as the season unfolds and could go eight-deep.
Pietramala and his staff have the luxury of an abundance of riches in the cage as senior Mike Gvozden, sophomores Steven Burke and Guy Van Syckle and freshman Pierce Bassett are all capable and have earned the trust of the coaching staff. Pietramala emphasized the need for consistency in the cage, regardless of who emerges as the starter.
Gvozden has two years of starting experience under his belt and sports a solid 8.63 career goals against average and a career .564 save percentage. He ranks ninth in school history in career saves (366) and has performed well on the big stage. With a solid group of young goalies on the roster, Gvozden has not rested on his laurels and has prepared hard for the 2010 season.