Pietramala Loosens Reins on Hopkins Defense

PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER

Junior Patrick Foley, who missed the 2017 due to injuries, returns to anchor a revamped Johns Hopkins defense that will rely more on individual playmakers and less on scheme.


US Lacrosse Magazine released the Nike/US Lacrosse Division I Men’s Preseason Top 20 on Jan. 8. Team-by-team previews will be unveiled on uslaxmagazine.com throughout January and will also appear as part of the magazine’s NCAA preview edition that mails to US Lacrosse members Feb. 1 — opening day of the 2018 college lacrosse season.

No. 13 Johns Hopkins

2017 Record: 8-7 (3-2 Big Ten)
Coach: Dave Pietramala (18th year)
All-Time Record: 971-329-15
NCAA Appearances: 45
Final Fours: 29
Championships: 9

Following another unsatisfactory season, after he’d watched his defense look anything like what used to define Johns Hopkins as one of the better units in Division I, Blue Jays coach Dave Pietramala knew it was time to alter the plan.

Too many times, instead of executing Hopkins’ read-and-react, slide-and-recover philosophy, instead of protecting the crease and steering opposing shooters to favorable outside angles for the Blue Jays’ goalie, Hopkins broke down. In six-on-six or in transition, the Blue Jays hesitated too much, failed to communicate effectively and simply surrendered scores too easily.

Not that many years ago, the idea of Hopkins giving up more than 10 goals per game over a long season was unheard of. The idea of a Hopkins defense finishing near the bottom of the Division I in goals allowed average was sacrilegious. That has happened for the past two seasons.

In the wake of the Blue Jays’ collective season-ending collapse last May — a 19-6 NCAA tournament first-round humbling by Duke and the worst-ever postseason loss at Homewood Field — Pietramala and associate head coach Bill Dwan decided some changes were in order.  

“It’s not an overhaul. We’re adjusting our thinking and adjusting to our personnel,” said Pietramala, who watched Hopkins finish 8-7, partly by giving up 11.47 goals per game, 54th-best in the country. Only five teams were statistically worse in man-down scoring defense . Two years ago, the Blue Jays ranked 58th in scoring defense by allowing 11.6 goals per game.

“We were successful in the past playing defense a certain way and our players were a great fit for that style. We could put a lot of schematic stuff on their plates,” he added. “[In recent years] we’ve spent too much time thinking and not reacting. Do I slide or not? Do I rotate or not? We’ve played too slow defensively. We’ve been a step late too often. We’ve got to play faster.”

Look for the Blue Jays to be less passive in their man-to-man and matchup zone alignments and more aggressive in their on-ball defense, from their short-stick defensive midfielders to their close unit. Look for the defense to engage ball carriers and hunt for turnovers more. Look for a more simplified scheme that is open to more individual playmaking.

“Our guys responded to it well in the fall,” Pietramala said. “They realize we can’t be sliding all over the place and thinking so much. We have to play more proactively, more freely.”







The Case For Hopkins

Offense was usually not the problem last year, although possession time was. Despite the Blue Jays’ struggles in the faceoff game, they still produced a healthy 11.6 goals per game on an average of 37.5 shots. Four of the top five scorers from 2017 are back, led by junior attackman Kyle Marr (25g, 20a) and senior attackman Shack Stanwick (26g, 21a). They will be joined by 6-foot-5 sophomore Cole Williams, who scored six goals in a backup role a year ago and brings a refreshing, physical presence on the wing. Senior midfielder Joel Tinney (28 points) leads the first midfield. Senior Pat Fraser (12 points) likely will lead the second line.

The Case Against Hopkins

It’s no secret that the Blue Jays play a tough schedule, but this year’s slate offers little breathing room, save for a back-to-back stretch in mid-March against UMBC and Delaware. The Big Ten conference remains a rugged place to exist as arguably the best league in the sport once again. The question marks about the Hopkins defense remain significant, as a young close unit must respond with three second-year players, led by junior Patrick Foley, back after missing the 2017 season with injuries. Senior goalie Brock Turnbaugh must erase a disappointing year with his best season. The defensive midfield, led by junior long-stick midfielder Robert Kuhn, must create more offense. It’s a lot to ask.

Path to the Playoffs

Winning the Big Ten and earning a spot in the NCAA tournament via automatic qualifier is a tall order. Defending champion Maryland stopped conference rival Ohio State in the title game. Penn State is getting closer to the top with an explosive offense under head coach Jeff Tambroni, and teams know better than to take up-tempo Rutgers lightly. The Blue Jays can score sizeable points in the challenging nonconference phase of their season, which alone could yield a handful of top-15 opponents. After opening the season against national semifinalist Towson and another talented Patriot League power in Loyola, the Blue Jays will roll through the ACC (UNC, Syracuse, UVA) and high-scoring Princeton.

Players To Watch

Patrick Foley, D, Jr.

23 GB, 11 CT (2016)

Foley returns to the starting lineup after sitting out last year. He was the only freshman to start all 15 games in 2016, when he led the Blue Jays with 11 caused turnovers and chipped in two goals and 23 ground balls. At 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, the Winchester, Mass., native is quick and physical and should neutralize a lot of attack weapons. Hopkins needs a big year from him.

Hunter Moreland, FO, Sr.

54.3%, 35 GB

Before going down with a knee injury early last year, Moreland was on his way to an outstanding year. He did return in early April and gave the Blue Jays a lift, but was limited while facing off with a cumbersome knee brace. Moreland won 102 of 188 attempts, but teammate Craig Madaracz struggled. Moreland is healthy again and is needed badly.

Cole Williams, A, So.

6 G, 4 A

With Stanwick as the veteran facilitator and Marr as a proven finisher, Williams shapes up as the physical dodger and scorer that the Blue Jays have lacked. The legendary Terry Riordan is the last Hopkins attackman who stood as tall as the 6-5 Williams. “He can really bring pressure on the wing,” Pietramala said. “We won’t have to beg him to shoot this year.”

National Rankings

Category

Rank

Value

Offense 16th 11.60 GPG
Defense 54th 11.47 GAA
Faceoffs 49th 46.5%
Ground Balls 47th 26.67/game
Caused TO 32nd 6.73/game
Shooting 22nd 31.0%
Man-Up 1st 60.5%
Man-Down 64th 52.5%
Assists 17th 6.67/game
Turnovers 2nd 10.67/game
Clearing 9th 89.6%

Power Ratings (Scale of 1-5)

Offense
⭐⭐⭐⭐

Defense
⭐⭐⭐

Goalkeeping
⭐⭐

Faceoff
⭐⭐⭐⭐

40.8

Senior goalie Brock Turnbaugh started seven of 12 games, as he ended up splitting time with fifth-year senior transfer Gerald Logan. Both were ineffective. Turnbaugh saved just 40.8 percent of the 228 shots he faced, while allowing 12.6 goals per outing. Part of that was due to the shaky defense in front of him. But the senior has to play better.

5-Year Trend
Scoring Defense (Per Game)

Year

Rank

GA

2013 3rd 7.79
2014 17th 8.84
2015 39th 10.50
2016 58th 11.60
2017 54th 11.47

Coach Confidential
Dave Pietramala

The Blue Jays will find out how much depth they have, especially at midfield and on defense, which places additional pressure on the senior class to deliver. Pietramala looked at guys such as Stanwick, Tinney, Fraser, Moreland, Turnbaugh, midfielder Thomas Guida and defensive midfielder Taj Bruno and said, “Our seniors must play to their capabilities.”

Enemy Lines
Rival Coaches

“The last year of college lacrosse with a Stanwick on the field is finally here. ...  Kyle Marr tore apart teams that did not intentionally blanket him. ... Hopkins’ midfielders are athletic and skilled, highlighted by Joel Tinney. ... Can the Blue Jays find a goalie this year?  The rest of us are hopeful this answer is no. ... I think this is a fair place for this team.  They have a lot to prove and my guess is they will more consistently be a first-round team with more trouble getting to the quarterfinals then most expect. ... Bobby does a great job with extra man. ... If their faceoff man can stay healthy and they get some saves, those are the two things. Getting saves, that was a revolving door last year. I just wonder if Brock can come back after going in and out and in and out last year. ... That’s a very proud and very motivated team. ... I think they’re going to be more athletic at the short-stick [defensive] midfield position. They had to improve that position. ... I feel like there aren’t many teams in the Big Ten that we can go toe-to-toe with, but [Hopkins] is one of them.”

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