February 24, 2016
Freshman Drew Supinski, a member of the U.S. under-19 men's team, has been thrust into a starting role at Johns Hopkins. (John Strohsacker)
Freshman Drew Supinski, a member of the U.S. under-19 men's team, has been thrust into a starting role at Johns Hopkins. (John Strohsacker)

Even Thinner Midfield Part of Blue Jays' Work in Progress

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

Coaches generally hate to blame personnel losses when their teams suffer setbacks, and Johns Hopkins men's lacrosse coach Dave Pietramala is no different in that regard.

But, during Saturday's 9-8 loss at No. 6 Loyola, a large problem undeniably stood on the Blue Jays' sideline. That is where midfielders Joel Tinney, Connor Reed and Alex Concannon could only watch, as Hopkins failed to make enough plays to avoid the school's first-ever, three-game losing streak against what now feels like the Blue Jays' true, Charles Street rival.

While the Blue Jays' offense sputtered early with a spate of turnovers, and sputtered often with some poor shooting and a lack of playmaking, the what-if signs kept pointing back at those missing midfielders, especially Tinney and Reed.

Tinney, the reigning Big Ten Conference Rookie of the Year and first Hopkins freshman midfielder to be named an All-American since Paul Rabil did it in 2005, was ruled ineligible for the 2016 season in the fall for an NCAA rules violation.

Reed, the two-year starter and hard-dodging distributor who had logged 16 assists and 26 points in 2015, saw his senior season end before the preseason barely had begun. While executing a split dodge in practice, a move Reed has performed countless times over his four years at Hopkins, he tore his ACL.

Then, the same knee injury happened in practice last week for Concannon, the talented freshman who was settling in with the second midfield unit before his bad-luck moment.

"Some years, you just have those [injury-prone] years," Pietramala said. "We went into the season feeling like we had a lot of depth [at midfield]. We're not about to offer excuses now."

Few teams make it through a season without lineup disruptions. Few teams also have one position turn into a game of depth chart musical chairs before the season warms up.

But that's the uphill climb that No. 7 Hopkins (1-1) must confront. It continues with Sunday's visit from a young, 14th-ranked North Carolina team that is fresh off an upset loss to Hofstra and has been a Blue Jays nemesis for years.

If Reed doesn't take a bad step in practice, and if Tinney isn't ineligible, the Blue Jays aren't thrusting freshman Drew Supinski into a starting role this early. They might have decided to start versatile junior midfielder John Crawley at attack, although Crawley also might have forced his way onto the starting midfield anyway.

In the Loyola loss, Supinski, who is a member of the U.S. under-19 men's lacrosse team, showed the quickness and athleticism that suggests he will be as good as advertised. But he forced shots – a sure sign of youth – and none of his six attempts were on goal. Crawley was his typically gritty, creative self with two goals, although he took 11 shots. Cattoni whiffed on his only shot and has been ineffective with one goal in two games.

That first unit scored a combined four goals – Crawley had two – and added two assists in Hopkins' season-opening, 12-11 win at Navy.

John Crawley, a versatile piece of the Blue Jays' offense, is currently running in the midfield. (John Strohsacker)

At Loyola, Hopkins' second midfield line of Cody Radziewicz, Patrick Fraser and Kieran Eissler combined to produce one goal by Fraser, who also could have forced overtime by hitting a wide-open, 15-yarder that Greyhounds goalie Grant Limone ate up with ease.

The midfield issues add intrigue to a year of transition at Homewood, where every Hopkins opponent is determined to keep the ball out of Ryan Brown's stick and make someone else do the scoring. In what was a huge game-within-the-game win for Loyola, Brown scored twice in the first quarter to move into fifth in school history in career goals (126). He got nothing after that, finishing 2-for-7.

Freshman attackman Kyle Marr, who essentially played starter's minutes coming off the bench to relieve Wilkins Dismuke, gave the Blue Jays a spark with two goals.

Sophomore Shack Stanwick, who has taken over for his brother Wells in the point-behind role, was very much the natural feeder with three assists. But the Blue Jays also need Shack to hunt for shots. After going 1-for-3 at Navy, he didn't offer one attempt against the Greyhounds.

It's still February, although surely some are panicking among the Hopkins faithful. They got used to seeing the Blue Jays scoring in the teens with an offense that fed off of Brown and both Stanwicks and Tinney and Reed.

Pietramala looks at the calendar and sees the Blue Jays have much time to settle into new roles, gain experience and confidence, and produce a more well-rounded offense. It's about getting quality wins early, and it's really about being primed to repeat as Big Ten champions.

"This group is going to grow. We're not going to be the same team a month from now," he said. "From the day we start fall ball, we tell all of our [backups] that each of them has to prepare like he's a starter. You never know when your number is going to be called. Right now for us, it's all about other guys stepping up."

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