March 27, 2014

Johns Hopkins Stays Humble, Hungry Amid 10-0 Start

by Laurel Pfahler | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Senior Sarah Taylor scored the game-winner against Georgetown 90 seconds into overtime to give the Blue Jays' a 10th straight win to start the year. (John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com)

It turns out the rebuilt defense was nothing for the Johns Hopkins women's lacrosse team to be too concerned about this season.

The No. 9 Blue Jays are off to a program-best 10-0 start, backed by a defense that ranks as the third best in the nation while allowing just 5.5 goals per game.

Johns Hopkins, which last year surrendered 10.4 goals per game, returned only one defensive starter and needed to replace goalkeeper Cosette Larash as well. However, the transition was smooth with the new cast in the back.

"Coming off the fall season, I was very excited about some of the things we were doing offensively, but we basically graduated our starting defense, so I was concerned what our defense was going to look like," Johns Hopkins coach Janine Tucker said. "I couldn't have imagined how well they've done."

Junior Octavia Williams, the lone returner of the group, has been the anchor on defense, despite missing three games with an injury, and senior Liz Johnson stepped up after playing in nine games off the bench last year. Josie George slid back from the midfield to help out, as well, and freshmen Nevi Fernandez earned a starting spot while Williams was out. KC Emerson and Caroline Federico split goalkeeping duties.

The team's performance overall has been impressive, though.

The Blue Jays, led by All-American attacker Taylor D'Amore, earned early-season wins over Loyola and Towson before tying the program record for best start at 8-0 with an 11-8 win over Boston University. Their 10th win was a hard-fought game against Georgetown last week when they rallied to score the game's final three goals and pulled off an 11-10 victory in overtime.

Senior Sarah Taylor scored the game-winner 90 seconds into overtime, and sophomore Dene' DiMartino finished with a career-best six points on three goals and three assists. DiMartino also won the final three draws of the game to help Johns Hopkins maintain possession at critical times.

"It was an exciting win over Georgetown," Tucker said. "Our defense really buckled down. We gave up eight goals in the first half and only two in the second half, so I was really proud of the adjustments they made, and then we really picked up the pace offensively, too. We went back to things that were working for us in the first half and worked on sets we felt we were more successful with, and it was a good mix of adjustments offensively and defensively."

For a program that was 28-24 the previous three years combined, it's hard not to get excited about the Blue Jays' start. They had lost 15-8 to Georgetown last year en route to a 10-7 finish.

With games against Vanderbilt (on Saturday), No. 5 Florida (April 5) and No. 11 Northwestern (April 13) on the horizon, Tucker said she reminds her players not to get caught up in their 10-0 record.

"Getting to 8-0 was cool because it tied our best start as a Division I program, and when we got that next win we thought, 'This is kind of special,' but the Georgetown win, the girls were dialed in, and it wasn't about getting that 10th win," Tucker said. "At the end, it was kind of like, 'Wow, we're in double digits now.' We just want to stick to the fundamentals and stick to our plan that got us here, and everything else is icing on the cake.

"We want to stay humble and hungry because I know adversity is probably coming down the pipe," Tucker said. "I'm looking forward to seeing how the team handles the challenges coming our way."

Looking Back

UMBC second-year co-head coach Amy Appelt, who won the 2004 Tewaaraton Award after helping Virginia win a national title, said things are starting to come around with her young team.

The Retrievers (5-4) bounced back from a 9-8 loss to Drexel on March 8 with three straight wins, a streak they bring into Saturday's game at No. 18 Stony Brook (7-2), which marks their America East Conference opener. Stony Brook and Albany (8-0) are the conference favorites.

"We had some injuries, and that put a little damper on our season early on, but the kids are working their butts off," Appelt said. "We start conference play, so we hope we're making a turn and get some good wins coming up."

Next year's freshmen will be the first class fully recruited by Appelt and co-coach Tony Giro. Appelt said she enjoys seeing the new talent that comes in every year, regardless of who they were recruited by, because players come in so much better prepared for college than when she played.

"When I was a sophomore in high school, my dad said, 'I'm going to hire you a trainer to get you stronger,' and all my friends and everyone in college when I got there, that was a foreign concept," Appelt said. "Now athletes are armed with all these resources, and they are able to test their athletic ability and improve their stick skills, and they are able to get to that point where when they get to college they are not so far behind."

Quick Slants

Navy's first loss of the season last week was quite a blow to the team. Boston University, a newcomer to the Patriot League, edged the No. 20 Mids, 9-8, and ended their streak of 15 straight conference wins. The Terriers had entered the game at 2-5, though their losses included four against ranked teams: North Carolina, Maryland, UMass and Johns Hopkins.

Notre Dame so far has overcome the loss of defender/draw specialist Barbara Sullivan, who was injured in a March 8 game against Louisville and is out for the remainder of the season. The No. 7 Fighting Irish are 3-1 since then, with only a 10-6 loss to No. 2 Maryland. However, they will find out just how well they've replaced her as they head into a tough stretch to end the season. Notre Dame plays host to No. 8 Stanford on Saturday and finishes off with games against Virginia, No. 12 Duke, No. 14 Ohio State and No. 3 Syracuse.

Albany (8-0), which remains the only unbeaten team ranked outside the Top 10, plays its biggest game of the season April 1 at Syracuse. The Great Danes rank eighth in scoring offense (15.2 points per game), with the help of Rachel Bowles' 29 goals and 15 assists, and fifth in scoring defense (6.4 points per game). Goalkeeper Anna Berman has a 49.5 percent save rate.


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