- The Washington Times - Monday, May 30, 2005

PHILADELPHIA — Next year finally came for Johns Hopkins.

The Blue Jays, college lacrosse’s most history-rich program and bearers of an 18-year title drought, finally shed the weight of expectations and a seemingly epoch-long championship wait as they rallied past second-seeded Duke 9-8 before a title-game record 44,920 at Lincoln Financial Field.

Goalie Jesse Schwartzman, the tournament’s most outstanding player, made 12 saves as the Blue Jays (16-0) won their first title since 1987. Hopkins completed the first undefeated season in Division I since Princeton’s perfect year in 1997.

Hopkins started the season as the top-ranked team and wound up recording five victories over the other three final four teams. The Blue Jays were the favorites from the start; at least Hopkins’ savvy senior class felt that way.

“I thought it all along,” midfielder Kyle Harrison said. “I would never say it to my teammates, because I don’t want anybody to get cocky or arrogant even though I don’t think anybody ever would. … It’s a little bit like the weight has been lifted. It’s back at Hopkins like we all think it should be.”

The Blue Jays got their title through a dogged defensive effort and a balanced offensive approach. In other words, it was a fairly typical performance for a tight-knit team that had been steeled by final four disappointments and more than made up for its lack of panache with a string of well-earned victories.

Hopkins’ seniors had been so close in years past, whether falling by two in the 2002 semifinals to Princeton, being on the wrong end of Virginia goalie Tillman Johnson’s brilliant effort in the 2003 title game or last year’s demoralizing 15-9 semifinal loss to Syracuse. Those defeats only forged greater determination for the Blue Jays, who used last year’s harsh ending as motivation throughout this season.

“For a couple of years we’ve been trying to find the right ingredients to get this thing done, and last summer was the longest of my life,” said Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala, who became the first man to win NCAA lacrosse titles as a player and a coach. “We just kept thinking about ‘What did we do wrong? What didn’t we do right?’ We just made some subtle adjustments, but we stuck to our guns and did things the way we said we were going to do them.”

The Blue Jays took a 9-8 lead when attackman Jake Byrne twisted to his left past short stick Matt Zash and zipped an eight-yarder with 13:35 left.

Hopkins held from there, confounding the Blue Devils with a defense anchored by Schwartzman’s hot play.

“We’ve been hanging our hat on shooting 35-plus percent all year, and we had our chances, but they didn’t go in,” Duke coach Mike Pressler said. “The goalie was solid, but too many balls hit him. We were one and done.”

Harrison scooped up a groundball with 2:35 left, and he took the last shot of the game, missing an open look with 1:14 left. Yet his teammates covered and wound up going up two men when freshman Kevin Huntley drew two penalties with 55 seconds left.

After a timeout, the Blue Jays killed the clock. The Blue Devils were whistled for a loose-ball push with six seconds left, clinching the title for Hopkins.

The Blue Jays fell behind 8-6 early in the third quarter when Matt Danowski scored off Zack Greer’s feed, but they didn’t allow a goal in the final 27:43. Freshman Paul Rabil beat short stick Michael Ward with a shot that trickled through the legs of Duke goalie Aaron Fenton (seven saves) to make it 8-7. Even with the deficit, it seemed Hopkins — a team that won four overtime games this season — was where it wanted to be.

Late in the quarter, Harrison darted off with a broken stick and was replaced by Greg Peyser. The junior scampered on the field, took the ball and buried a 17-yard laser to tie it.

Peyser wound up with two goals and won four of his last five faceoffs. He will be one of the leaders for Hopkins next season, the first group in nearly two decades that won’t face questions about when the drought will end.

As for the seniors who helped stop it, the moments after the final seconds trickled off the clock were just as perfect as the season the Blue Jays just completed.

“I can’t express how I’m feeling right now,” senior midfielder Benson Erwin said. “I’m on top of the world.”

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