Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE
The Jays haven't visited Championship Weekend since 2008. Does Hopkins break through the wall in 2013?
Johns Hopkins isn't vaccinated against droughts. While arguably the most decorated college lacrosse program in history, the Blue Jays endured a 14-season stretch (from 1988 through 2004) in which Hopkins failed to win a national championship (and only went to the title game twice -- in 1989 and 2003). That isn't much of an issue for most programs around the country, but for the Jays, it was a painful journey that left many Hopkins partisans smashing their fists on the coffee table they muttered an angry "Drats!"
In the early NCAA Tournament era, the Jays were the class of the country, dominating much of the 1970's and 1980's without an absolute peer. From 1972 through the end of the 80's, Hopkins only missed out on making the national championship game four times -- 1975, 1976, 1986, and 1988; in that span, the Jays won five titles. As everyone moved into the 90's and ditched their neon legwarmers, Johns Hopkins moved back to the pack a little bit, seeing Syracuse and Princeton dominate the decade while the Jays were mired in a stretch in which the program missed Championship Weekend five times -- 1990, 1991, 1994, 1997, and 1999; in the years that Hopkins advanced to the Final Four, the blue and black never were able to play for the title on Memorial Monday. The 2000's appeared to signal a return to early-NCAA Tournament dominance for the Blue Jays, taking home two titles -- in 2005 and 2007 -- while also participating in the national championship game in two other seasons -- 2003 and 2008; Hopkins was a fixture at Championship Weekend in that decade, making appearances all but three campaigns -- 2001, 2006, and 2009. The momentum was in the Jays' corner entering the 2010's, potentially re-establishing Hopkins as the crushing force it had been earlier in its history. This decade, though, hasn't seen the Blue Jays move decisively in that direction.
Expectations are always high for the Hopkins, and when those expectations are internal and external it creates tension and a lot of handwringing. The Jays haven't been to Championship Weekend since 2008, and given Dave Pietramala's comments following Hopkins' defeat at the hands of arch-rival Maryland last May, there's a feeling that the Jays are anxious to take back what was formerly of their domain. Johns Hopkins has never gone four seasons in a row without making the Final Four, and there are a couple of things that compounds the suffocating atmosphere that permeates the drought:
- The intoxicating allure of a 10th title, which would put the Jays on even footing with Syracuse as the only programs to win double-digit national championships, is always a background issue with Hopkins. The program's Championship Weekend drought has only exasperated the situation.
- From the 2009 season forward, 11 teams have more than the Jays' 42 total wins -- Duke (60); Virginia (56); Syracuse (53); Notre Dame (49); Cornell and Siena (48); Maryland (47); North Carolina (46); Loyola and Bryant (44); and Denver (43). 10 teams have surpassed Johns Hopkins' winning percentage (67.74%) over the same period -- Virginia (80.00%); Syracuse (79.10%); Notre Dame (77.78%); Duke (75.95%); Cornell (73.85%); Loyola (73.33%); Massachusetts (70.00%); Siena (69.57%); North Carolina (68.66%); and Maryland (68.12%). While Johns Hopkins has played some difficult schedules over that period of time (2012 - 6th; 2011 - 11th; 2010 - 2nd; 2009 - 1st), but people don't always recognize the value of that fact; fans tend to hold on to tangible things -- how much is a team winning compared to how much other teams are winning -- that are readily digestible. For a program with a long history of winning (and winning as much or more than any other team), seeing peers and teams that aren't traditionally considered peers passing by the Jays in overall winning rate (and volume) can be difficult to swallow when there aren't titles or trips to Championship Weekend mitigating things.
Hopkins isn't in danger of getting left behind, but the restlessness in Baltimore is palpable. Pietramala has a host of talent at Homewood Field for next spring, and the Jays are sure to dot most preseason ballots as a top-five squad. The defense should be stout, and some more consistent play from the Jays' offense -- especially from the midfield -- makes Hopkins a legitimate contender for Philadelphia in May. This may be the year that the Jays snap its Final Four drought given all the pieces that are in play, but if Hopkins falters again, the Blue Jays will be in the midst of something that it has never had to deal with before in an increasingly inflamed way.