April 13, 2012

MD1 Notebook: Amato Prepared For Maryland-Hopkins Rivalry

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com

Maryland sophomore goaltender Niko Amato easily remembers his first taste of the Maryland-Johns Hopkins rivalry last season as a freshman, a wild 12-11 comeback win by the Blue Jays on the Terps home turf. The series returns to Hopkins' Homewood Field on Saturday.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

Maryland sophomore goalie Niko Amato would not dismiss the edge and emotion that is part of Hopkins Week, as game day draws near.

But the second-year starter for the No. 9 Terrapins, who will square off with the third-ranked Blue Jays at sold-out Homewood Field on Saturday night, said he has been too busy focusing on the scoring weapons he will confront to get caught up too much in pre-game hype.

"Early in the week, you want to work mainly on getting yourself better. As you get closer to game day, you really focus more on studying your game sheets [scouting reports], watching film, and just dialing in on what you are supposed to do," Amato said.

"I know [the Blue Jays] are a really balanced offense with a lot of threats. They've got outside shooters who can dodge and finish, and they've got inside shooters who are very crafty and know how to finish. It's a very athletic offense and a well-rounded group."

As the 108th meeting between the two schools inches closer, Hopkins (9-1) has the edge in experience, consistency and playmakers. Maryland (6-3) has some aces in its hand as well, including senior attackman Joe Cummings (team-high 27 points) and junior faceoff specialist Curtis Holmes, who looked quite healthy in last week's 13-6 shellacking of Navy, after fighting a back ailment all season.

Maryland will need its best defensive effort of the spring, and Amato is the unit's glue. Only Loyola's Jack Runkel and the remarkable John Kemp of Notre Dame have surrendered fewer goals than Amato, who has allowed 58 goals and ranks eighth in Division I in save percentage (.586).

Hopkins, which holds a 68-38-1 advantage in the longest-running series in collegiate lacrosse, has recent history on its side in the rivalry. The Blue Jays have won 12 of the past 15 games against Maryland, and have only lost at Homewood once since 1996. Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala is 8-3 against the Terps, with four of those in overtime.

One of those was last year's classic – a 12-11, comeback win that former Blue Jay attackman Kyle Wharton clinched on a low, sidearm shot Amato recalled easily.

"[Wharton] popped out from the wing and got fed from the X. I remember the shot hitting the net," said Amato, who had 12 saves that night at Byrd Stadium. "We felt like they kind of stole one from us."

Tomorrow, Amato has his chance to get even, in his first game at Homewood as a collegiate player, under the lights, before a packed house.

Bison's Time to Hunt

No. 18 Bucknell, the defending Patriot League champion, has shown its resolve already in 2012. The Bison, who have managed all season without senior midfielder Charlie Streep (torn ACL in the fall), recovered from a 0-3 start to reel off eight straight wins. Then came Saturday's shocking, 6-5 defeat to Army in double OT.

Now the Bison (9-4, 3-1) enter crunch time, in a three-way tie with Lehigh and Colgate atop the conference. Bucknell will face the Mountain Hawks and Raiders over the next two Saturdays, as the jockeying for seeding in the upcoming Patriot League tournament hits high gear.

One thing seems clear for Bucknell. If it doesn't win its next two games, it most likely must win the Patriot League to get into its second consecutive NCAA tournament. Another thing is clear. The Bison have the guns to pull it off.

Not only is Bucknell potent enough offensively – the Bison have four players with at least 33 points, are shooting 37 percent and have averaged 12.2 goals in their last 10 games. Bucknell appears to be peaking defensively, as it has held five straight opponents to single digits and three of its last four opponents to six goals or fewer.

Beat Army? Hasn't Been Easy for Navy

Here's a comforting thought for Rick Sowell, Navy's first-year coach. Not only must the Midshipmen (5-5, 3-2) beat Army (5-6, 2-2) in West Point on Saturday to become the last team into the four-team, Patriot League tournament. The Mids must beat the Black Knights to avoid losing four straight games to Army for the first time ever.

When Navy dropped a 14-9 decision to Army in Annapolis near the end of last year's 4-9 crash, it spelled the end for longtime coach Richie Meade. It also marked the first time that Navy had lost three consecutive times to its service academy archrival since 1952.

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