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March 31, 2010
Garrett Billings, Steele Stanwick and Bratton brothers Shamel and Rhamel were unstoppable, pacing Virginia's relentless offense to a 19-8 blowout win over Johns Hopkins in the NCAA quarterfinals at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md. The Wahoos advance to the semifinals against Cornell at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. © Kevin P. Tucker
Garrett Billings, Steele Stanwick and Bratton brothers Shamel and Rhamel were unstoppable, pacing Virginia's relentless offense to a 19-8 blowout win over Johns Hopkins in the NCAA quarterfinals at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md. The Wahoos advance to the semifinals against Cornell at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. © Kevin P. Tucker

Lambrecht: Jays' Tournament Streak in Jeopardy

by Gary Lambrecht | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online | Lambrecht Archive

Well, here we are on the doorstep of April, and once again, the longest-running postseason show in collegiate men’s lacrosse is in danger of closing down for a year.

For the third straight spring, here is Johns Hopkins University, struggling with four losses already, slipping in the polls, working to right itself in time to stave off the unthinkable at Homewood.

At some point, maybe in a little over five weeks, the longest active streak of qualifying for the NCAA tournament in any Division I team sport -- 38 years -- is going to end.

At some point, Hopkins, which has been to every NCAA men’s lacrosse tournament dating to 1972, is going to miss the playoff party.

The law of averages eventually gets the last word. Navy’s football team has won twice in a row at Notre Dame after losing 43 straight times to the Irish. Among the lacrosse bluebloods, Virginia missed the postseason with a 5-8 record in 2004. Syracuse limped home with the same record in 2007. Princeton has been denied playoff entry twice in the past five years.

Only Hopkins has stemmed the tide of the sport’s encroaching parity. Beyond any governing rules of the cosmos, though, this much is clear about the 2010 edition of the Blue Jays at the midseason point: Hopkins is closer to the playoff cliff than ever under 10th-year coach Dave Pietramala.

The Blue Jays remain in search of their first quality victory.

Why? They just aren’t very good right now. Why not? The perfect storm has thrown a punch at 4-4 Hopkins, which has sunk to No. 14 after getting waxed at top-ranked Virginia, 15-6.

The Blue Jays are vulnerably young, partly due to the game’s normal cycles, partly due to injury.

A season-ending knee injury to senior attackman Chris Boland has been devastating to an offense that relies too much on seniors Steven Boyle and Michael Kimmel. Hopkins has been forced to roll the dice with freshmen such as midfielders John Greeley, Zach Palmer and John Ranagan, defenseman Tucker Durkin, and long-stick midfielder Chris Lightner. Freshman goalie Pierce Bassett could start against visiting, No. 2 North Carolina on Saturday.

And the Blue Jays are getting hammered in the world of fundamentals.

They don’t win enough ground ball or faceoff battles. They turn the ball over too much and fail to clear it consistently. They are dangerously unsettled at the goalie position, where senior Michael Gvozden has been pulled in blowout losses at Hofstra and Virginia. They shoot the ball very well, but not nearly often enough. Their offense lacks playmakers in the midfield. They have played way too much defense. They have started too many games too slowly.

When you combine all of these leaks with an always-brutal schedule, you can see why the Hop is lacking hop in its step these days.

“That schedule makes us who we are. We’ve been able to avoid that drop, which also makes us who we are,” Pietramala said. “We get everybody’s best shot. We’re not hiding from that, and we’re not hiding from the fact that we need a marquee win.”

There is no hiding from the odds facing Hopkins, which needs to beat either Carolina or No. 4 Maryland to begin to secure another playoff spot. Trouble is, these might be the best Tar Heels and Terps teams in years. It’s conceivable that Hopkins could be fighting for its postseason life in its regular season finale against Loyola.

No matter how you slice it, Hopkins, which opened the week with a power rating of No. 18 and has lost three straight to Hofstra, Syracuse and Virginia by a combined score of 39-19, must get better in a hurry.

If not, the Blue Jays no longer will be the last blueblood standing.


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