As defending national champs, Johns Hopkins blew open a close, evenly matched game in the second half against Penn to advance to the quarterfinals. Up just one, 3-2, Kevin Huntley snuck in a goal with just 9 seconds to play in the first half to put them up 4-2. That set the tone for the second half as it was all Blue Jays. Sophomore Paul Rabil led the way for Hopkins with a 2-and-2 day. Youth chipped in 3 goals in the form of Tom Duerr, as experience returned with Greg Peyser healthy and his three assists. Both goalies were about even statistically on the day, with Hopkins' Jesse Schwartzman saving 10 Quaker shots and Penn's Greg Klossner stopping 9 Blue Jay shots.
The game started out looking as if it would be all Hopkins and that the Blue Jays were just a little too athletic for the Quakers to hang. To the Quakers credit, they responded from an early solo dodge and goal from freshman Brian Christopher just 41 seconds into the game. Christopher’s goal was the 10th game in a row that he’s scored. He’s the first freshman midfielder for Hopkins to reach that feat since at least 1980 (current Associate Athletic Director Ernie Larossa only has been able to retrieve stats since 1980 since he’s taken over).
Penn stuck to their game plan after the early goal and relied on a ball control offense. They weren’t without their chances early, but some nice play by Jesse Schwartzman in goal and tough defense kept them at bay. Also credit Hopkins head coach Dave Pietramala’s working of the refs. Twice in the first quarter, Penn worked the ball around on offense (having seen many Penn games in the past few years, these weren’t necessarily long possessions for the Quakers). Both times Pietramala called out an official by his first name and said “what are they doing?” Like clockwork on the next pass, that official (pretty sure it was the same one) put his one arm up and the other out and yelled ‘keep it in!’ Both times spelled disaster for the Quakers as they got rattled and tried to force the issue, turning into two turnovers.
”We thought coming into the game that Penn was really going to try and hold the ball. I give the officials credit. I thought they instituted, or implemented, or they interpreted the rule the way it was supposed to be interpreted. Which was if they’re not creating offense, you’re going to have to tell them to ‘keep it in’,” said Pietramala. “I thought the officials did a very good job, early in the game, making sure that if they weren’t creating offense that they gotta keep it in. That changes things.” It certainly did.
Despite a relatively slow opening quarter all around, Hopkins held a 2-0 advantage. Their second goal came on a nice individual effort by Paul Rabil as he dodged threw a couple of defenders with 1:34 to play in the period.
With face-off and lax.com Renaissance middie, Alan Eberstein, back in the game, Penn wasted no time to start the second. An illegal procedure call gave Penn the ball. They brought it down, worked it around, when senior middie Pat Rogers made a nice hard move down the right side and beat Schwartzman to get Penn on the board. Hopkins immediately responded as Rabil scored his 2nd on the day on a lefty shot that skittered on the ground past Klossner who looked slow on the shot. The brothers Andrzejewski would get Penn close again, for the last time of the day. Younger brother Craig fed the senior, DJ, who pulled the Quakers to within one with 11:22 to go. Neither team could generate much for the rest of the quarter despite 8 shots by Penn and 10 by Hopkins. That was until Grey Peyser found Kevin Huntley to send the game into the half with a 4-2 lead. Huntley’s goal came with just :09 left in the first half and pushed the momentum to Hopkins. Penn wasn’t without their opportunities in the first as head coach Brian Voelker pointed out after the game.
“I thought their goalie played great, he made some nice saves early in the game. We had some opportunities early, we didn’t capitalize on it, I thought that hurt us. They scored kind of at the end of the half, which hurt us a little bit. They’re a very good defensive team, we knew that coming in. They have a great system, they make it work and work to score goals,” said Voelker.
The defensive strategy of Hopkins actually had a slightly different look. “Coach Pietramala and Coach Dwan kind of went against what they normally do and we forced them to their weak hands from pretty much all over the field. I thought the team really bought in and did a good job executing that,” said Hopkins All-American Jesse Schwartzman. “We just wanted to execute our gameplan and let the chips fall where they may. Like coach said at halftime, we weren’t too happy. Penn had a bunch of opportunities. We don’t really look at it as how many goals the opponent gets, we look at is as how many quality opportunities. We thought we gave them a few too many opportunities on the backside and inside, so we tried to clamp down on that. In the third quarter, we had some transition goals and that really gets the team going and the defense buckled down a little bit and it really helped us out.”
The game was essentially a story of two completely different halves. The first being a pretty evenly matched game between two top programs. The second half, Hopkins reminded everyone that this is a team that won the National Championship just a year ago that has a lot of experience. Penn started to struggle and do things that were a bit uncharacteristic as the goals started to pile up.
“I just thought the second half they really kind of controlled groundballs, controlled the middle of the field. We talked all week how we had to do that. We had to win face-offs, we had to control the middle of the field, get groundballs and have the ball a lot. They had the ball a heck of a lot in the second half,” said Voelker. “It seemed like when we did have it, because the score started to get away from us a little bit, we started to do some things that we’re not used to doing it. And again it got away from us in the fourth quarter a little bit. Give the other guys a lot of credit, they’re big, they’re strong, they’re athletic, they’ve got some bruising guys in the middle of the field.”
Pietramala commented: “This is a group I think a lot of people counted out a little while back. Whether we’re favored or not does it matter? Whether we’re playing Syracuse, Harvard, Virginia, Princeton, the focus doesn’t change. It’s not about who you’re playing, it’s about what you do. Our biggest struggle this year has been to find who we are. I think we’re starting to find out who we are.” That could be dangerous over the next couple of weeks. Hopkins is 15-2 in their last 17 games in the month of May.
Hopkins pulled away starting from the get-go in the third quarter. Slowly and methodically despite Penn’s effort, Hopkins got transition going. They won the third quarter 3-1 and the fourth 6-0.
“What helped us, is playing with a lead…I think the biggest difference in this game were two plays, I should say three. One is the first goal of the second half. The other two is the ground ball that Greg Peyser gets in the face-off, goes through about four or five guys, we wind up getting possession and getting a goal,” said Pietramala. “The next big play, Matt Feild rides the ball back right at the box. And that’s intensity that I haven’t seen from #45 in awhile. It was great to see from a senior captain. You can never assume how a game’s going to unfold. You hope. And we had thought they would hold the ball and they did. That’s why you saw us when there was transition developing, you saw us push the tempo a little bit because we wanted to try and up the tempo a little bit more to create those transition opportunities. Our offensive coordinator, Seth Tierney, did a great job for this group offensively this week getting ready for what we thought might be multiple defenses.”
Hopkins now moves on to face Syracuse at Stony Brook next Saturday as Syracuse defeated Harvard. Hopkins has a lot to improve on, but is definitely moving in the right direction.
“A little disappointed with our performance at the face-off X today. If we hope to even think about taking a step further we’re going to have to be a heck of a lot better at the face-off X. Where I’m really pleased is 19 of 20 clearing. We’ve been ridiculous clearing the ball this year, it’s been a horror show,” said Pietramala. “And we’ve spent the last week and changed up our clear. To the guys’ credit, they bought into it. I think that was a big reason, because Penn held the ball a bit today and us clearing the ball did force us to have 2nd-3rd chances like we’ve had in the past. I’m just very excited and proud of the guys.”
As for Penn, it was the end of quite a remarkable turnaround season. Last year, the Quakers finished a dismal 2-11 (with 5 one goal losses). This year they responded by winning their first 6 games to the surprise of pretty much everyone except for those in the UPenn locker room. The seniors at Penn leave a legacy of two trips to the NCAA tournament, which is a step in the right direction for Coach Voelker’s program as the recruits continue to flock to West Philadelphia.
“We’ve worked hard all year to get back here. We talked about all week about not just being satisfied getting here. I think our program is moving in the right direction. We’ve got some great, young kids. We’re losing some incredible seniors, not only players, but leaders. Guys that did everything we asked them to do as coaches and then some,” said Voelker. “I really thought the program’s moving in the right direction and I give the senior class a lot of credit because they really helped us get this thing moving into the right direction.”
Don’t look now, but 18 of the 21 points scored against Penn for Hopkins were by players who will return next year.
I’ll leave you with quotes from the post-game press conference from Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala, which if for no other reason were enlightening and/or entertaining:
(about local recruits) “Well, I’ve got them three of them around me [Baltimore guys – Feild, Schwartzman and Rabil]. I gotta be careful because I’m a minority in this group. Quite honestly, I think people make too much of where guys come from. I think people make too much of what area is a hotbed. This sport changes. You look at on the field today, #43’s a kid from California. You look at #1, the kid’s from Cazenovia. I’m not sure any of you could tell me where Cazenovia is. It happens to be in up-state New York. You wouldn’t know. We’re fortunate that we have talented players from all over the place. Some which are local and some from other areas. We have, since we came on board, made an emphasis to try and keep some of the better local players, like these guys, home. We try to do it like football does. You look at Texas and Texas tries to dominate Texas and get the best players from Texas and then go to Florida and California and get some other players. We want to make sure we keep some of the best talent from here home and then we want to make sure we go to all different places and find talented guys. It’s not a local thing. It’s nice to have local flavor, it’s great for the fans, it’s great for the media, it’s great for these guys. What an opportunity to play in front of a home crowd, in front of your friends and your families…”
“We’re excited, we’re very privileged to be representing Hopkins in the quarterfinals. This is a team that’s kind of struggled throughout the year and they’ve really shown some character. They’ve really developed as a group to win the last three games of the year the way we did. Then to come out here today and to make sure we didn’t take a very talented and well coached UPenn team lightly. I thought our guys showed a lot of character in not taking these guys lightly.”
(on face-offs) “Well you can never assume what’s going to happen at the face-off X. The minute you think you’ve got an advantage, another guy comes in and the styles are different. We were winning early and their kid, #16, came into the game at the start of the 2nd quarter, now I don’t know why that is. He came in and he got on a little bit of a roll. They did a good job at certain points of making it a groundball war and their kid’s pretty good there. We’re more accustomed to pulling it out cleanly and picking it up right away. We never seemed to get in a rhythm. We never seemed to have that one guy that was the answer. Normally, with having, we use three guys pretty much across the board. We use Greg Peyser, Jamison Koesterer and Stephen Peyser. Usually one of those three, we can find the guy. Today we just couldn’t find him. Dave Allan does such a great job with those guys. Today in the locker room I told the guys that I was disappointed with our performance there. Stephen Peyser stood up and apologized said they were very disappointed in their effort at the face-off X and that they would work their tails off to make sure it doesn’t happen again. We’re going to have to do things a lot better there if we hope to think about moving on.”
(on the secret to their change in clears this week) “I’d be giving you a secret and I can’t give that away. You know what, we felt like, to a certain extent…I’m a Nebraska football fan and I watched Nebraska play about a year or two ago and they had fumble-itis. And the coaches, they were talking at halftime about how they were doing all these drills to practice to stop fumbling and working on guys trying to tear the ball away and at one point the coaches finally came away and said we finally got to a point where we said ‘we can’t talk about it anymore because we’re making it worse.’ And I think a big part of our clearing problem has been mentally. We have some new guys there and it’s just a matter of being confident and trusting yourself. We just put in, we made minor adjustments. We came back to the ball a little more, we made minor adjustments so the guys could make easier decisions and today we did it. Our dead-ball clearing has not been the issue. It’s been off a save or off of a loose-ball. We’ve got a couple athletes, we told them look if you get pressure just run, carry the ball over the side. I thought those guys did a good job today. It’s not like we re-invented the wheel clearing. We simplified some things and to be honest with you, I like to think we talked about it a little less than we have been.”
(on Ivy League Lacrosse) “I have a soft spot for Ivy League Lacrosse obviously because I’ve worked at two Ivy institutions. I worked at Cornell University and I’m awful thankful for the opportunity that they gave me because I wouldn’t be here probably without it. One of my very best friends is the head coach there, one of my former players is an assistant. Then at Penn, I went to my first full-time coaching job. I remember living, I was head of security in a building. It was a great opportunity. Both of those programs have done a great job in recent years. What Brian Voelker has done with that team this year from where they were a year ago, that’s phenomenal. That doesn’t happen just by accident, that doesn’t happen just by luck. That’s coaching and that’s a commitment from your kids. Princeton? Look, they’ve been terrific for a long time and Cornell’s been great. And you think about Harvard. Who ever talks about Harvard? Yet every year, they beat a couple of good teams and every couple of years they’re in the tournament. Ivy League Lacrosse this year was outstanding. There’s a reason why there were four Ivy teams in the tournament. Their RPIs were so high. Not only they’re playing each other, but the schedules they’re playing outside the conference are quality schedules, so Ivy League lacrosse this year was pretty terrific.”
|Paul Rabil||(2, 2)|
|Greg Peyser||(0, 3)|
|Tom Duerr||(3, 0)|
|Jamison Koesterer||(0, 2)|
|Stephen Peyser||(1, 1)|
|Kevin Huntley||(2, 0)|
|Garrett Stanwick||(1, 0)|
|Michael Doneger||(1, 0)|
|Drew Dabrowski||(1, 0)|
|Brian Christopher||(1, 0)|
|Jake Byrne||(1, 0)|
|Jesse Schwartzman||10 (0.769)|