Nike/LM NCAA Preview: No. 13 Johns Hopkins (Women)
The Blue Jays are coming off an impressive season as an independent with wins over Duke and Stony Brook, but they are tired of the first round of the NCAA tournament. They want more.
With Dene' DiMartino leading in the midfield and an impressive eighth-ranked scoring defense, can Hopkins make a run for it in May?
Johns Hopkins at a Glance
2015 Record: 14-4
3 Big Things
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
For all the headlines that Johns Hopkins made when it added Tewaaraton-winning former Virginia attackman Steele Stanwick to its coaching staff, it is the defense, under assistant coach Tara Singleton, that has become one of the best in the nation of late. With all but Octavia Williams from last year's rotation back, the Blue Jays should once again be tough on opposing offenses in 2016.
1. They plan to run with interchangeable parts.
Returning a ton of talented players with experience is a boon for any program, as is bringing in a bunch of talented recruits to restock the cupboard. When you have both, it can get a bit tricky.
Johns Hopkins graduated one starter each at attack, midfield and defense, but returns just about everyone else — including six players who scored at least 20 goals.
"We're still morphing, to be perfectly honest," head coach Janine Tucker said. "It's good to have options, but it can certainly muddy the water a bit. We're excited about what we have to pull from, but we have to make sure it all fits and we've got the right people running together.
Tucker plans to six players each at attack and defense and run two midfields to keep the Blue Jays fresh in their pace-pushing system. If they can get the octane right, that could mean a lot of worn-down opponents late in games.
2. New goalie, familiar name between the pipes.
Johns Hopkins fans are known for having a long memory. Mention the name Federico, and no shortage of them will harken back to the halcyon days of the late 1970s and early '80s, when Mike Federico backstopped three straight NCAA championship teams at Homewood, earning first-team All-American honors and the USILA's Ensign C. Markland Kelly Award in 1978 and '79.
Caroline Federico is expected to be the starter this season for the Blue Jays with the graduation of KC Emerson. She will wear No. 32, just like her father. Federico saw action in 10 games last season with an 8.07 goals against average and 45.0 save percentage. She started eight games in 2014, and is ready for the spotlight with a solid defense featuring returning starters Kirsti Paavola (11 CT, 25GB), Nevi Fernandez (11CT, 25 GB) and Josie George (20CT, 34GB) in front of her.
"I'm excited to see her out there," Tucker said. "She's been waiting her whole life to follow in her dad's footsteps, and she's ready to lead us."
3. They're hungry for more in May.
"We've had enough with the first round of the NCAAs," Tucker said. The Blue Jays have elbowed their way into the Top 20 conversation in the past few seasons, but have not made it out of the first round of the NCAA tournament since 2007.
With experience returning up and down the lineup and talented young players pushing for playing time and adding depth, there's a lot of cause for optimism at Homewood Field. But every game is critical for the Blue Jays, who are competing as an independent before joining the Big Ten in 2017.
"We're very driven to go further this year, but it's obviously going to be hard," Tucker said. "If you want to be one of the big boys, you have to play them. We want to take that next step and finally get as far as we think our potential warrants."
* returning starters
The team leader in goals (40), points (52), draw controls (58), free position goals (12) and game-winning goals (4) as a junior, DiMartino is the epitome of the do-everything midfielder and the core of the Blue Jay lineup. A third-team IWLCA All-American she is just the 17th two-time team captain in Johns Hopkins history.
An All-World attacker for the U.S. U19 team, Ibello should be ready to contribute right away as a freshman. She scored 71 goals with 42 assists as a senior at Maryville Prep (Md.), with a whopping 289 points (212 goals) over her high school career.
The trouble with being a do-everything kind of player on a team with an All-American do-everything player two years your senior (DiMartino) is that you tend not to get noticed. As a freshman, Kenul started all 18 games, scoring 25 goals with a team-high 19 assists. "She does a bit of everything for us," Tucker said. "From the draw to ground balls to transition to scoring huge goals — and teams don't know if she's lefty or righty."
Biggest Question Mark
Touranment Hopes an an Independent
In its first of a two-year stint as an independent team between the ALC's demise and joining the Big Ten as an associate member for 2017, Johns Hopkins packed its schedule with tough contests and won 14 — including resume-boosting victories over Stony Brook and Duke. Among the Blue Jays' opponents in 2016 are NCAA tournament contenders Loyola, Penn State, Ohio State, Stanford, Maryland, Stony Brook and Boston College. But without the safety net of a conference tournament, winning a few of those marquee matchups (and taking care of business against the rest of their schedule) will be of utmost importance for the Blue Jays.
Attacker Emily Kenul was an impact freshman in 2015 with a team-high 19 assists, finishing second in points behind DiMartino. (John Strohsacker)
What rival coaches say about the Blue Jays
"For my money, the best offensive scheme in lacrosse. Beat Duke and Stony Brook last year. Can they break through this year?"
"Strength: Dene DiMartino returns as a senior. Only graduated three players from a year ago. Emily Kenul, all rookie player last year, now a sophomore. Weakness: Transition offense and depth in their midfield."
"Returns key players. The Blue Jays finished the season strong but ran into a tough draw with Penn State in the NCAA first round. Hopkins returns most starters and should be in good shape in 2016."
"Very good team. Their offense is fluid. They had young kids step in and filled the roles of their graduates so well. Impressed with the ball movement and the consistency on that team."
"Always such a tough and physical team. DiMartino is a big game player and will be a top threat for them offensively. Hopkins ride and their unique defensive sets will be strengths for them again this season."
Since elevating to Division I in 1999, the Blue Jays have made it to the NCAA tournament five times, but only won one contest, a 2007 first-round win over Hofstra. In the eight years since, Johns Hopkins has come close — an overtime loss to Georgetown in 2014 and last year's 14-11 defeat to Penn State — but has yet to advance beyond one-and-done in NCAA play.
16 @ Vanderbilt
March 2 vs. Penn State
The middle of a key early stretch that sees the Blue Jays take on a trio of teams — Loyola and Ohio State being the others — that made the NCAA tournament last spring. The Nittany Lions ended Johns Hopkins' season in the first round, so there will be no shortage of motivation when the Blue Jays host their future Big Ten rivals at Homewood Field.
Ramping Up for the Big Ten
Johns Hopkins does not officially join the conference until 2017, but the Blue Jays' schedule has a Big Ten vibe. Rutgers, Penn State, Ohio State and Maryland are among opponents, leaving only Northwestern and Michigan off their future-foes playlist.
Johns Hopkins has a heap of talent, experience and athleticism — and the leadership to help stitch it all together. The Blue Jays have a tough schedule, being one of just two independents in Division I. But if they can get a few marquee wins, expect them to be a very dangerous team looking for a deep run in May.
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