April 16, 2014

Trust in Attack Trio Paying Dividends for Hopkins

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | Lambrecht Archive

Wells Stanwick is fourth in NCAA men's DI with three assists a game, helping key a resurgent Hopkins offense from the attack along with Ryan Brown and Brandon Benn. (John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com)

When the Johns Hopkins offense is doing its thing, 2014 style, one unit essentially dictates the proceedings. Attackmen Wells Stanwick, Ryan Brown and Brandon Benn form the lightning rod in a system that is built equally on improvisation and structure.

And often, such as during Saturday's 11-6 whipping of archrival Maryland before a sellout crowd at Homewood Field, Blue Jays offensive coordinator Bobby Benson feels like a fortunate spectator witnessing another scoring show.

"I might do more watching them than coaching them," said Benson, a day after Stanwick, Brown and Benn combined to light up the Terps for a combined seven goals and eight points on 14 shots.

"We still run a lot of the same offenses we always have. We dodge hard, move hard off the ball," Benson added. "But [the attack] obviously handles more of it. They have a lot of freedom. They're poised and intelligent, and you don't have to worry about them taking crazy risks. Most of the time, I don't know what they're going to do."

What the Brown-Benn-Stanwick trio has done is transform the way the offense does business at Hopkins (8-3). Gone are the days when the Blue Jays built their scoring around big, athletic midfielders who would stretch opposing defenses and take the most shots.

To watch sixth-ranked Hopkins now is to watch what is going on throughout the college game. Motion, snappy ball movement, pick and rolls and two-man games are very much in, and this year's edition of the Blue Jays have embraced the concept with the perfect attack combination of skilled, unselfish players to make it work.

There is Stanwick, the junior product of Boys Latin in Baltimore who runs the offense as the prime distributor and occasional scorer. He leads the team with 50 points, mainly on the strength of 36 assists, third-best in Division I.

There is Benn, the senior Canadian native of Orangeville, Ontario, who is the pure finisher of the group, as slick off the ball as he is quick and accurate in the catch-and-shoot game. Benn's 27 goals rank second on the team.

And there is Brown, the sophomore out of Baltimore's Calvert Hall who is a two-handed hybrid of his attack cohorts and is widely considered one of the most fundamentally sound shooters in the game. Brown, who played midfield as a freshman before returning to his natural position last fall, leads Hopkins with 32 goals and is second with 43 points.

"Brandon has got a great shot. He knows where the cracks are in the defense," Stanwick said. "I just have to throw the ball near his stick, and I feel like he'll get it and throw it in [the goal]. Ryan handles the ball well and he's one of the best shooters in all of college lacrosse. He never really forces anything.

"A lot of what's going on is just chemistry we've developed from working together. We don't really have a set script. We kind of just know where each other is going to be. We might have a bad possession or a bad quarter, but we stay in the here and now. We're confident in what we're doing."

That confidence has been building all season, even during a three-game losing streak to Syracuse, Virginia and North Carolina last month, a brief slide that featured Brown's eight-goal explosion against Syracuse.

On Saturday, when Maryland's turnover issues forced it to play too much defense, the Blue Jays' relentless passing and picking around the net led them repeatedly to favorable short-stick matchups. Stanwick pounced especially hard with three goals.

Through the first 10 games of the season, the Hopkins attack combined for at least four goals and seven points in each game.

"This offense plays more to my skills and helps with my versatility. I'm obviously not a downhill dodger. I'm [better] all over the field," said Brown, who sat out Monday's 17-2 trouncing at Mount St. Mary's after sustaining a minor injury late in his two-goal day against Maryland.

"We don't come down and rush [shots]. We pass the ball down, spin it around and get it in anyone's stick. The cuts and picks change matchups and make defenses uncomfortable. We play off of each other. Wells never misses an open guy."

Benson said he first considered implementing this type of offense five years ago, but passed on it because the Blue Jays lacked the right personnel to make it work. After last season, which ended with Hopkins missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1971, Benson and head coach Dave Pietramala decided the Blue Jays had the ideal blend of skills and smarts to make the change.

The Blue Jays spent some preseason time in the gym, running skeleton offenses with a basketball to get more familiar with the hard cutting, screening and quick passing that would form the foundations of their new look.

"We've put [the attack] in the driver's seat," Pietramala said. "We've got a group that is very savvy and very skilled, with a real understanding of how to play around the goal. They're quicker than they are fast. And in big games [like Maryland], we need those three to play well."

As the season swings into its homestretch, the Big Three are holding up their share of the bargain. Thus far, Brown, Benn and Stanwick have accounted for 52.5 percent of the Blue Jays' 139 goals and 58.4 percent of its 89 assists.

"We were definitely excited when [the coaches] told us the offense was going to be rolling through our hands," Stanwick said. "It's gotten much better as time has gone on. We have to keep progressing."

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