After a very hectic first month of the season that saw the team play nine games, Dom Starsia’s Cavalier squad sees a change in its routine as the games come once a week for the rest of the regular season.
This week’s foe is perennial powerhouse Johns Hopkins, winners of two of the last four national championships and runner up one other year. The Blue Jays are 3-2 this season and fell to Syracuse in their last outing last week, but playing at Homewood Field is no easy task for any team. The game is slated to faceoff at 8 pm and is being televised nationally by ESPNU.
“Clearly (Johns Hopkins) coach (Dave) Pietramala is going to have their full attention this week in his preparation,” said Starsia. “We must look like a big turkey coming over hill. I am sure the Jays will be ready for us and we’re clearly going to have our hands full.”
The pressures associated with playing a team looking for a big win on its home field are ones Starsia and his team have embraced all season.
“I would tell you that our kids are excited about the game and have been very good as we prepare ourselves,” he said. “If there is one characteristic that has distinguished itself to this team to date it has been our ability to be ready on each of these game days. We’ve played a lot of games and I give our kids a lot of credit for that.”
For four years the Blue Jays relied heaving on All-Americans midfielders Paul Rabil and Stephen Peyser and attackman Kevin Huntley, who have since graduated.
“I don’t have the nightmares that I had when it was Rabil or Peyser,” said Starsia. “But the nightmares now include Steven Boyle and Michael Kimmel and some of those guys.”
Every team undergoes transition from year to year, but having players ready to fill those vacancies is what keeps good teams good on a consistent basis according to Starsia.
“The reason that ... Hopkins is certainly back around those top teams in the country is they’ve had good young players waiting in the wings,” he said. “They’ve got some new characters but they’re also outstanding at the same time. Clearly they’ve got some guys that are ready to perform at the highest level.”
Among those players who have seen their roles expand are attackmen Boyle, Kyle Wharton and midfielder Kimmel.Wharton leads the Blue Jay offense with 13 goals and six assists, while Boyle is close behind with 11 goals and five assists. Kimmel, a junior who has been an excellent scorer and distributor throughout his career, leads the midfield with nine goals and six assists.
The defense is clearly one of the Blue Jays’ strengths with two seniorsMatt Drenan and Michael Evansand a juniorSam DeVore on close defense. They provide the last line of protection for junior goalie Michael Gvozden, who has proven his ability to carry the team.
“I think last year was a very interesting year for him,” said the Cavalier head coach. “You might have described him struggling a little bit earlier in the year, and then he really got hot in the second half of the season and really took Hopkins all the way to that final game and kind of bore that team on his shoulders defensively late in the season. We’ve seen him be very good so far.”
Against Syracuse last week he recorded 15 saves. “Syracuse really kept a lot of pressure on Hopkins in the first half of that game and Gvozden was very good in the goal.
“We fully expect Gvozden to step up and play his best game on Saturday night. We prepare with that in mind. With that in mind, you understand that you’re going to have to work to get really good shots and then can those opportunities,” Starsia said.
With the frenzied atmosphere of Homewood Field with the 1-2-3-We Want More! chants, it is likely to come down to the Cavaliers’ experience and leadership from the older players to provide the boost the team needs for a successful Saturday night.
“We certainly have enough leadership (from our older players) that I would expect us to be able to play our best game and not overreact to the atmosphere at Homewood,” Starsia said.