The 2014 season is months away. Let's punch fate in the face and make wild assumptions about what could be the best 20 teams in the country next year.
Team: Johns Hopkins
Important People: Brandon Benn (A); Wells Stanwick (A); Rob Guida (M); Ryan Brown (A); Jack Reilly (D); Michael Pellegrino (LSM)
Formerly Important People: Mike Poppleton (FOGO); John Ranagan (M); Zach Palmer (A); Pierce Bassett (G); Tucker Durkin (D); Chris Lightner (D); Lee Coppersmith (M)
Final 2013 Poll Positions: Media: 17; Coaches: 13
2013 Record: 9-5 (Hopkinspendent)
2013 Snapshot: Kaboom!
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Losing the defensive core of Durkin, Lightner, and Bassett is tough: Durkin was a two-time Schmeisser Award winner, a game-changer on the defensive end that exchanged flash for exceptional competency; Lightner was an imposing presence, a black Camaro outfitted with a blower and a skull and crossbones painted on the roof; and Bassett -- while the flashpoint for public scorn in his senior campaign in 2013 -- was a strong manager in the crease that never quite received the acceptance that he earned. These are important assets that are now doing things other than running wind sprints on Homewood Field, and the value that they provided to the Jays' defense -- as both parts and contributors to the whole -- was significant. In 2014, the departure of this trio -- consistent contributors over their tenures at Hopkins -- is important for two reasons: (1) The graduation of Poppleton -- a possession-generating machine -- could create more exposure for Johns Hopkins' defense, a unit that will be looking to replace these vital cogs against what is expected to be another top 10-type schedule; and (2) The Jays' approach to defense -- patient dedication to forcing the opposition into non-preferable shots and a steady adherence to sound defensive positioning and execution with a commitment to mitigating overaggressiveness -- puts pressure on a keeper and his field defense to maintain focus and constant individual responsibility (each piece must fulfill its purpose or issues gestate). This is a difficult combination of circumstances to address, but it’s the latter issue -- Hopkins' defensive approach and how the Jays will transition through it -- that is the most pressing: Durkin, Lightner, and Bassett were proven quantities that excelled in the system and were driving forces behind Johns Hopkins' defensive success; is there sufficiently sustainable -- not comparable, but sustainable -- potential set to step forward and assume similar responsibilities? It's likely, but that transition still needs to come into focus.
A Thousand White Doves
I don't think any coordinator in the country has taken as much heat as Bobby Benson has with respect to the offense he has employed at Hopkins. Facing a situation where the Jays have lost all kinds of options through the midfield and appear more attack-oriented in 2014, Johns Hopkins is moving toward a box-style offense:
This has the potential to create all kinds of offensive heat: Hopkins has an attack built for this offensive model -- Stanwick's creativity is profound; Benn has a sack of shots that appears bottomless; and Brown is an emerging hammer in-close -- and there's enough pop through the midfield -- Guida has the skill set to wreak havoc; Rex Sanders put together a quietly useful season in 2013 -- where the Jays can create scenarios conducive to goalie embarrassment with the weapons they're toting. The confluence of intelligence here has the plausibility for consistent rewards, and if Hopkins can execute in this new style, the Jays could have the offense-defense balance that the team was missing a season ago.
Hopkins current offensive crop talent is smaller, quicker, with strong lacrosse IQs, Hopkins is pushing a more constant level of back cuts, clear throughs, screens, picks and off-ball movement. “You've never seen us play offense like this, you never have,” coach Pietramala said following Friday's practice. “Defensively it's so challenging, and you turn your head and someone's moving, someone's cutting, someone's picking. There's constant movement.”
The Stars, The Moon, Six Feet Under
The Stars: The Jays break their Championship Weekend drought and quiet the screaming sociopaths on Baltimore-area radio; the Jays reassert their position among college lacrosse's hierarchy, achieving vengeance against some combination of Syracuse, Maryland, Loyola, and Princeton; Wells Stanwick puts together a Tewaaraton-worthy campaign.
The Moon: The Jays return to the NCAA Tournament despite early season struggles in adapting to a new offensive model and plugging pieces into Hopkins' defensive system; no forehead-furrowing results and at least a win against a fellow blueblood; double-digit wins against a top 10 schedule; undefeated home campaign.
Six Feet Under: The team continues its 2013 difficulties against elite competition and torches and pitchforks descend upon Homewood; the Jays face a bubble-out situation relative to the NCAA Tournament; the offense can't adapt to its new approach and overexposure of the team's defense forces Hopkins to frequently play from behind; injuries decimate the Jays' primary assets; Pierce Bassett's void is too large to fill; ESPNU pre-empts Hopkins games each gameday for pointless college softball games.