2022 NCAA Lacrosse Preview: No. 15 Johns Hopkins (Men)

PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER

Jacob Angelus had 12 goals and 12 assists for Johns Hopkins in 2021.


The 2022 college lacrosse season is nearly upon us. As is our annual tradition, we’re featuring every team ranked in the Nike/USA Lacrosse Preseason Top 20.

Check back to USALaxMagazine.com each weekday this month for new previews, scouting reports and rival analysis.

NO. 15 JOHNS HOPKINS

2021 Record: 4-9 (2-8 Big Ten)
Final Ranking (2021): Unranked
Coach: Peter Milliman (2nd year)

Pete Milliman attended just two lacrosse games at Homewood Field before the 2021 season — both significant in their own way.

There was the 100th anniversary matchup between the Blue Jays and rival Maryland, which took place on April 17, 2004. Milliman was fresh off his college career at Gettysburg, where he was a three-time All-American. Johns Hopkins took home a 14-10 victory in front of 10,555 passionate fans and the historic Hopkins Pep Band.

Nine years later, he returned to Homewood as an assistant for Princeton on March 1, 2013. The Tigers won 11-8 in what would be Milliman’s final season before moving on to Cornell — where he’d eventually become head coach for part of three seasons.

Now at the helm of Johns Hopkins, one of the most historic programs in lacrosse, Milliman is excited to experience the pageantry that comes with it. His debut season came in 2021, when the Blue Jays finished 4-9 in front of mostly parents (and no pep band). He hopes to see his team progress in 2022 in front of a packed Homewood Field, a staple in the Baltimore lacrosse scene.

“I don’t have any reference other than those two games and watching on TV,” he joked. “I have a good understanding of what I’m getting into, but I’m looking forward to that environment. Hopefully we can start to enjoy the fans and the alums and the families back. That’s what these guys deserve.”

The new era at Johns Hopkins — after the program and legendary coach Dave Pietramala parted ways in 2020 — is still very much in its infancy. Milliman did not have a fall season in 2020, and thus spent the early part of last season installing offensive and defensive concepts while managing a grueling all-Big Ten slate.

NIKE/USAL PRESEASON TOP 20
TEAM PREVIEWS

1. Virginia

2. Maryland

3. Duke

4. Georgetown

5. Notre Dame

6. North Carolina

7. Loyola

8. Yale

9. Penn

10. Rutgers

11. Lehigh

12. Denver

13. Army

14. Syracuse

15. Johns Hopkins

16. Delaware

17. Drexel

18. Cornell

19. Vermont

20. Bryant

By the end of 2021, the Blue Jays looked the part of a well-rounded team, downing Penn State and Rutgers on the way to an unlikely Big Ten championship game appearance. They went toe-to-toe with eventual NCAA runner-up Maryland but fell just short.

Milliman said he has closed the book on last spring but understands that the experiences his squad went through can only help as Johns Hopkins looks to compete in 2022.

“To see the progress that we made, it allows you to tailor the theme and the messaging a little bit more accurately going into this fall,” he said. “The guys that played last year, a lot of them had to go through some struggles, learn about themselves and this team and how to contribute and make an impact. Those things are going to make a big difference going forward.”

Milliman will return a team of veterans, particularly on the offensive end of the field. Only Cole Williams departed from the starting offense, and former top recruit Joey Epstein pairs with breakout star Connor DeSimone to form a strong tandem. Brendan Grimes, a highly touted recruit who started five games as a freshman, looks to be the next dominant attackman to step foot on Homewood Field.

Johns Hopkins lacrosse under Milliman is continuing to build toward a vision that the former Cornell coach has for the Blue Jays — one of focus, commitment and accountability. While many expect this team to improve upon its 2021 results, Milliman is looking for his players to continue to develop a rock-solid culture that will exist long after they graduate.

For the first time, Johns Hopkins fans, parents and alums will get to see the new version of a historic product. Milliman, who started the Pfeiffer program from scratch and returned Cornell to prominence just years ago, is confident that the Blue Jays program will follow an upward trajectory.







TOP RETURNERS

Joey Epstein, A, Sr. 

Epstein, the former No.1 recruit who has endured his share of ups and downs in his Hopkins career, scored 22 goals and added 13 assists in parts of 13 games last year. He has the raw talent to be one of the nation’s best and will have a veteran core (minus Cole Williams) with which to work. Could he approach the numbers that he reached during his freshman year (73 points)?

Connor DeSimone, A, Gr.

The leader of the Johns Hopkins offense, DeSimone broke out during the 2021 season to the tune of 25 goals and 20 assists after he moved from midfield to attack. His shooting percentage skyrocketed to 41.7 percent, and he finished as a second-team All-Big Ten selection. “He’s able to collectively find ways to make us better. We’re anticipating him, and we need him to be an integral part of our team this year,” Milliman said.

Matt Narewski, FO, Sr.

Narewski returns as the Blue Jays’ full-time faceoff man, winning 56.3 percent of his faceoffs in 2021. He was an integral part of Johns Hopkins’ run to the Big Ten final in 2021 and won 60 percent of faceoffs from the start of April through the end of the season.

KEY ADDITION

Jared Fernandez, LSM, Grad. 

Fernandez technically transferred from Syracuse to Johns Hopkins before the start of the 2021 season, but a preseason injury left him out for the entire campaign. This spring will be his first chance to suit up with the Blue Jays defense. Fernandez played in 22 games for the Orange from

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE

Brendan Grimes, A, So.

Grimes came to Homewood as the No. 4 recruit in the nation after having his 2020 season at Boys’ Latin (Md.) canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He scored eight goals and started in five games during a freshman year that was as much about getting back to lacrosse as it was blossoming in the college game. With the departure of stalwart Cole Williams, Grimes will have plenty of opportunities to showcase his firepower in 2022. Barring something unforeseen, he’ll have no problem surpassing last year’s totals.

ENEMY LINES

What rival coaches say about the Blue Jays:

“I thought at the very end, they might have been one of the better teams in lacrosse. They kind of stayed the course. The one thing I was really impressed with them was, maybe there were some early-season losses where they could have hung their head. I don’t think you saw a team that hung its head. They just kept getting better and all the sudden they got healthier. I don’t think anybody in our sport has a harder schedule than they do. They are very, very aggressive in their scheduling for this year. They’re going to learn right away a lot about their team and will need them to compete from day one. That should be an exciting team to watch this year.”

“No team got better throughout the season than they did. They gelled and developed more than anyone else and had a good run at the end of the year, and I anticipate that continuing with fall ball and a full preseason and a year under their belt as a staff. They’re someone that’s going to be right there at the top of the Big Ten.”

BEYOND THE BASICS
POWERED BY LACROSSE REFERENCE

1638

Matt Narewski won 56.2 percent of his faceoffs last year, putting him in the 82nd percentile nationally. But because of the Big Ten-only schedule, the Jays played the 11th toughest slate of opposing FOGOs. That means that Narewski’s actual faceoff rating (1638) lands him in the 90th percentile. Opponents matter.— Zack Capozzi

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