March 24, 2010

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Panic Time for Hopkins? Kimmel, Petro Say No

by Justin Feil | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Inexperience and injuries have Johns Hopkins stumbling after losing three of its last four games. “Consistency,” head coach Dave Pietramala says, “is a word we don’t know now. It’s a sign of our youth.” It doesn't get any easier with No. 1 Virginia on tap Saturday.

© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

The Johns Hopkins men’s team has dropped three of its last four games, and Michael Kimmel feels the urgency, but isn’t panicking.

The Blue Jays senior midfielder has been through this before... every year.

Kimmel was a freshman starting in the midfield when Johns Hopkins lost three in a row to fall to 4-4, then didn’t lose again on their way to their ninth national championship in 2007. It looked worse for the Blue Jays in 2008, as they dropped five straight to go 3-5 before winning eight straight to return to the national title game. And last year, they lost three straight to fall to 3-4 before seven straight wins propelled them to the NCAA quarterfinals.

“It gives us confidence that we’ve done it in the past,” Kimmel said. “At the same time, we need to put it together now.”

The Blue Jays (4-3) have lost to three of the top six teams in the country, falling out of the USILA top 10 for just the 13th time since 1973, and the schedule doesn’t give them any breaks. No. 5 Princeton edged them in overtime. After back-to-back losses to No. 6 Hofstra and No. 2 Syracuse, Johns Hopkins plays at top-ranked Virginia on Saturday and then hosts No. 3 North Carolina the next weekend.

“It’s a perfect opportunity,” Kimmel said. “It could be a huge momentum builder. If we can get a win under our belt, it’ll get us some momentum. The more you lose, the more taxing it is on your confidence.”

Slow starts have added pressure. Princeton led, 7-4. Hofstra was up, 6-2, early. Syracuse held an 8-1 advantage in the third quarter.

“It’s no sin in losing to No. 2,” said Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala. “We’re not thrilled with the way we played. The mistakes we made to incur the loss, that’s what you worry more about.

“We’ve never hid from our flaws here,” he added. “We’ve never made excuses. We have to play better. We have to play smarter. We have to play better from opening faceoff to the last faceoff. When we do that, we’ll be fine.”

Pietramala has seen mistakes of every kind. The Blue Jays have given up back-breaking easy goals. Against Syracuse, violations on the faceoff gave the Orange six free possessions. That lack of discipline, combined with some careless offensive turnovers, has forced Hopkins on defense too often.

“Early in the season, we were doing a lot in transition, but we have not been getting into our offense well out of the full field,” Pietramala said. “So practice has been a lot of full field. You look at the teams we have -- Syracuse, Virginia and Carolina, it all makes sense to work on it."

“Consistency,” he said, “is a word we don’t know now. It’s a sign of our youth.”

Pietramala hasn’t had a team this young since 2002. The Blue Jays last started a freshman on defense in 2006. They start two on defense this year -- Chris Lightner and Tucker Durkin. “And they’re doing a good job,” Pietramala said.

His team got younger when last year’s leading scorer, senior Chris Boland, was lost for the season with a torn ACL after appearing in just two games.

“You lose that IQ on the offensive end and you lose that experience,” Pietramala said. “Chris played in big games. He’s not fazed by them. Tommy Palasek (a sophomore) stepped up and scored a couple goals against Syracuse. He’ll see more at the attack with (freshman) Zach Palmer. Palmer will grow but, of course, we’re a lot younger there now.”

The Blue Jays need them to develop quickly to help leading scorer Steven Boyle and Kimmel, whose 28-game scoring streak -- the longest of any midfielder in the country -- came to an end against Syracuse, but that doesn’t bother him as much as the losing streak.

“I had three or four shots against Syracuse,” Kimmel said. “I hit a pipe and got stuffed three times. If I score those, I’ve got four goals and it’s a great day. Instead, it’s a no points day and it’s a bad game. I have to make the most of my opportunities.”

Kimmel is the veteran leader in the midfield and draws every opponent’s top long pole. Senior Max Chautin has moved up from the second to first midfield this year. Freshmen John Greeley and John Ranagan have contributed along with sophomore Marshall Burkhart.

“We have a lot of talent,” Kimmel said. “I think we’re deeper than we’ve ever been. We have eight middies we can put out that can produce. We haven’t clicked with finding the right group.”

Said Pietramala: “We’re getting what we need from the knowns. We need the unknowns to step up and produce more. This is a team thing. We need everyone to step up and contribute a little more.”

The Blue Jays are leaning heavily on the experienced upperclassmen to return them to their winning ways.

“You realize how tough it has been on the seniors in the past,” said Kimmel, one of three captains. “I really appreciate all the hard work they put in. It’s not as easy as it seems. You have to be mindful of your body language. Everything is magnified now.”

The Blue Jays have been through tough mid-season stretches before and thrived afterward. A win in either of the next two weekends might be all that it takes to do it again.

“It’s not going to just happen,” Kimmel said. “There are no guarantees this is going to happen."


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