Last night I got to watch a college lacrosse game on TV. Needless to say, it was a most excellent Tuesday evening of work with some quality lax on in the background. Johns Hopkins was #2 coming into the game, and a definite favorite to compete for the national championship. Delaware came into the game with high hopes, and the need to rebound with a win after losing to Loyola. Chris Boland, one of Hop’s captains, is out with a broken collar bone (4-6 weeks according to Quint), and it’s a perfect recipe for an upset.
Yet somehow, Hopkins still won the game. Delaware gave it all they had, and Hop still won. And this brings me to this week’s Hot Pot topic: Playing With A Target On Your Back.
Everyone knew Hop would be good this year. They more than proved their worth last year, and returned the vast majority of their top players this season. I even heard rumblings that they could easily be a pre-season #1, even though UVA won it all last year. The point is that Hopkins is probably seen as THE giant in D1 this year, and every single team that plays them will bring their A-game.
So every single game for Hopkins this year could be like a playoff game, but how can they deal with this????? Both Towson and Delaware have come out hard, but Hopkins has found a way to win. Some call it winning ugly, but I just call it winning. What lessons can be learned from their success?
JHU runs a good number of players in games: In the past, Hop tried to use marquee offensive players exclusively on offense, and definitely had “their guys” who each filled certain roles. When one guy went down, the next guy on the chart was expected to step up and fill the void. But at the end of last year, and so far this year, things seem a little different.
A couple more guys get involved all over the field, and more guys get runs from D to O. It’s sort of like watching Tufts against Salisbury in the 2010 DIII finals. Middies who can do it all. Love it. Star players take the wings on face-offs, and the midfield units seem much more fluid. By getting away from an overly structured football mentality, Hop seems to be increasing their depth. They have more guys who have do more things, and they’re letting them play.
Hopkins is consistent: Hop doesn’t come out slow, and they don’t slow down late. They play all 4 quarters hard, and keep their eyes on the prize at the end of the game. People talk about momentum a lot, but with Hop it’s almost a non-issue. They don’t get too up, and they don’t get too down. The other team scores and goes crazy? I don’t notice a change in Hop. The attitude and effort remain the same. It’s this consistent work rate and mindset that helps Hop deal with all comers. It starts with Petro, but every guy on the team seems to buy in to it. Petro seems a little calmer now (just a little) but I think this is really helping the team stay focused on winning.
Hopkins still dictates. Other teams may treat this like a special game, but it’s just another step on the path for JHU. Hop isn’t out there changing up schemes to fit their opponents, or trying crazy stuff. They are just playing teams straight up, building on their existing base, and getting better. They play THEIR style of lacrosse, and run THEIR sets when they want to. If you want to run and gun (like Delaware did), Hop doesn’t care. They’re just going to go on and play their game, and win by 2 goals.
This shows a confidence in not only the schemes, but also the personnel on the field. And it allows for a LOT of changes later on in the season, when other teams start to think they truly know what Hopkins does. And this brings me to my final point…
Hopkins is building to something bigger. Hop is playing like they are in mid-season form, but their offensive sets, man up plays, man down approach and other strategies are still in their beginning phases. For example, imagine if Hop is working on an aggressive man-zone hybrid D right now. They can stick to what they know for now, whip this hybrid out in mid to later April, perfect it over the last month of the season, and then use it to totally change their approach in the play-offs. And another layer to the pyramid would be in place.
I’m not saying they ARE working on a man-zone hybrid… just that they’re working on SOMETHING. And when they decide it’s time to add it to a game plan, the rest of the college lacrosse world will have some more catching up to do.
To sum up, if you have a big target on your back, you’d best be prepared to deal with a tough opponent in every single game. You need talent, and depth, and great coaching to weather the storm. But check out Johns Hopkins as a model. They may win “ugly”, but they win, and there’s no real end in sight.
LACROSSE IN OTHER NEWS:
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LACROSSE VIDEO OF THE WEEK:
We found some solid CW Post vs Wheeling Jesuit highlights online. NCAA DII lax at its finest!