April 12, 2011

Tuesdays with Corey: Nothing But Rivals Now for Much-Improved Blue Jays

by Corey McLaughlin | LaxMagazine.com

After clinching a winning season and officially putting 2010 to rest, the No. 3-ranked Johns Hopkins men's lacrosse team starts a string of rivalry games with its biggest rival of all, Maryland.

© John Strohsacke/LaxPhotos.com

Quietly and relatively underreported Friday night, the Johns Hopkins men's lacrosse team clinched a winning season, an above-.500 record. Not normally, say not since 1972, would this be a noteworthy accomplishment for the winningest men's college program of all-time. But Blue Jay loyalists certainly haven't forgotten last year, when the team finished with a losing record for the first time since 1971.

How far away does last year seem now?

Johns Hopkins has an 8-2 record with four regular season games to play, and is ranked third nationally by the coaches and media after a weekend in which the Jays beat Albany, 11-6, through off-and-on rainstorms at Homewood Field. Afterward, loud music blared in the locker room, but the celebration was more subdued than that after an upset win over Virginia two weeks earlier.

That was a surprise win against Virginia. This was a ho-hum win, one based on the rankings they were expected to handle with ease as they did. Early in the game, Hopkins looked like a team that quite honestly just stepped on the field and thought it was better than unranked Albany. Because it was.

Matt Dolente won five of six first-quarter faceoffs and Albany didn't take a shot until 6:02 left in the first quarter, and when it flew it landed in the side of the net. Pierce Bassett didn't make his first save until 2:16 before halftime. Hopkins led 7-1 at the break.

Albany has faded recently, but is not a pushover by any means. It had beaten UMass, Delaware, Ohio State and Harvard and had close losses versus Bucknell and Hartford before Friday. But the Great Danes rarely held possession against Hopkins early, and when they did they struggled to create any offense through a defense led by the sophomore Bassett, sophomore close defenseman Tucker Durkin and freshman close defenseman Jack Reilly.

"Everyone is always screaming," Albany junior midfielder Joe Resetarits said of the Hopkins defense. "You can't really hear anything. [They are] sliding fast. Everyone is screaming. The goalie, everything. It's hard to concentrate when all those guys are screaming like that."

Consider that statement came from Albany's best offensive player Friday. Resetarits moved from attack to midfield two weeks ago and scored three goals Friday, two in the second half as the Danes staged a mini-rally.

Defense is coach Dave Pietramala's specialty. Sure, there is room for improvement as the players undoubtedly are being told, but what has often been labeled a "young team" is looking good now, said Albany's Scott Marr.

"When it comes to Dave's teams, they always start defensively first," said Marr, a teammate of Pietramala's as a player at Johns Hopkins. "I think Durkin and with the freshman Jack Reilly, even though he's young, his physical presence is solid. Pierce is playing great in the goal. I think they have the nucleus defensively to be in every game that they play. The Syracuse game, they hold them to five; Carolina last week to nine. They're holding Virginia, they really played well against them.

"They have the defensive core to get the job done. I think [they'd like] a little bit more consistency for them on offense -- I'm sure they feel the same way -- and better shot selection, better shot placement for them as well. But it's a solid team. That's for sure. They've proven that they can play with anybody in the country so far. So we'll see how the season plays out."

Now for Hopkins comes what Pietramala said are "nothing really but rivalry games." The Jays play on the road at Maryland Saturday night, then host Navy and Loyola for their next two games. Hopkins finishes the regular season at Army in a night game May 6.

"We're 8-2 now, and we take a lot of momentum into Maryland," Pietramala said. "I'm proud of our guys for the way they've performed over the last few weeks. Now we go into nothing really but rivalry games. It gets even more serious from here."

They are in the middle of seven days of preparation leading up to the game with the Terrapins.

"We came out with a win and now we're headed back to Maryland," sophomore midfielder John Ranagan said. "They're a really good team, and it's one of the biggest rivalries in lacrosse. That's a game that we're really excited for."

High Five

After a week hiatus to touch on Major League Lacrosse storylines last Tuesday, Upset Alert is back. This college season is just too unpredictable.

1. Fairfield (5-5) at Hartford (7-4), 4 p.m. Tuesday
The Hawks let Stony Brook come back to win Saturday night in a big America East game. They'll have to erase thoughts of the loss by the first quarter against Fairfield, which forced overtime with Loyola on Saturday.

2. No. 12 Bucknell (10-2) at Lehigh (6-6), 7:30 p.m. Friday
Bucknell is coming off a big win over Army and heads on the road. Lehigh hasn't had a terrible loss this season, and will look to help its way to a Patriot League postseason berth with a win over the conference leader.

3. St. John's (4-6) at No. 2 Notre Dame (8-0), 7 p.m. Saturday
Whoa, St. John's has won three straight. And the undefeated Irish begin a two-game stretch against what could be considered off-the-radar teams in the Red Storm and Providence, which St. John's beat Saturday. Trap weeks? Notre Dame finishes with Syracuse and North Carolina.

4. Ohio State (6-5) at No. 6 Denver (8-2), 5 p.m. Saturday
If this game wasn't at Invesco Field at Mile High, it would probably be higher on this list. Then again, Ohio State has experience playing in football stadiums before — at its own Horseshoe.

5. No. 5 Cornell (8-2) at No. 1 Syracuse (9-0), 7 p.m. Tuesday
This isn't totally fair to Syracuse. The Orange is theoretically on upset watch every week as the top-ranked team in the country. This should be a good game for New York fans at the Carrier Dome.

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