- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 24, 2007

BALTIMORE — It was easy to overlook defensive midfielder Brendan Skakandi when he was part of a class at Farmingdale High School that doubled as a pantheon of potential impact college players.

Future Duke star Matt Danowski was an attackman for the Long Island powerhouse. The close defense featured Steve Panarelli (Syracuse), Jerry Lambe (Georgetown) and Will Presti (Princeton). Eventual Towson regulars Jonathan Engelke and Keith Obloj and Syracuse faceoff man Danny Brennan dotted the roster.

But Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala still remembers Farmingdale assistant Buddy Krumenacker describing Skakandi during the recruiting process.

“He said, ‘Dave, all I’m going to tell you is of all the guys on this team, he’s your kind of guy,’ ” Pietramala recalled. ” ‘He’s the guy who fits you perfectly and fits your program perfectly.’ ”

The advice was accurate. Although Skakandi still doesn’t attract much attention, he has produced a superlative senior season as both an emotional spark and an effective long pole for the third-seeded Blue Jays (11-4), who will meet Delaware (13-5) in Saturday’s NCAA semifinals at M&T; Bank Stadium.

The man accustomed to having his name omitted from game programs has been anything but unforgettable at Hopkins. He’s the guy who implores teammates to fight through practices, chirps almost as much as goalie Jesse Schwartzman and even gives the occasional pregame speech in the locker room.

“That gets me going,” Skakandi said. “As much as I get them going, it works both ways. When you have 47 guys staring you in the face and you can see they’re just fired up and ready to roll, that’s important to me. That revs my engine a little bit.”

And he helps Hopkins’ defense run efficiently. A three-year starter at long pole, he is accustomed to trying to contain opponents’ most potent midfielders. He’s covered a who’s who of dodgers this year, including Duke’s Peter Lamade, Navy’s Billy Looney, Maryland’s Dan Groot and Georgetown’s Andrew Brancaccio.

Not bad for a guy generously listed at 5-foot-10, 180 pounds.

“Brendan doesn’t play like an undersized guy,” Hopkins assistant Bill Dwan said. “He’s in your face, he checks hard. It’s never been that much of a detriment. He just overcomes it. That’s kind of the story of his career here. He just moves on and doesn’t back down to anybody.”

Skakandi played short stick as a freshman with senior Corey Harned entrenched at pole. With Harned gone the next year, Skakandi shifted back to pole as a sophomore.

Skakandi and his old Farmingdale teammates — some by then notable names in college — got together several times after their freshman seasons. The competition wasn’t always serious, but Skakandi paid attention to how his talented friends operated.

“While those guys are screwing around just having fun, I’m taking mental notes on what Steven’s doing with his feet and what Jerry’s doing with his body and how Matt’s shifting and how to read him a little bit as a dodger,” Skakandi said. “I don’t think they realized I was doing it, but they definitely helped me.”

Skakandi has since helped Hopkins reach two final fours and win a title in 2005. His fiery attitude also makes him an on-field extension of Pietramala and the person teammates look toward in tight spots to organize a somewhat anonymous defense that has allowed just one team to crack 10 goals during a seven-game winning streak.

“He is the fire for our team. He’s probably the player who plays the hardest for us,” attackman Jake Byrne said. “You talk to some of the old alumni, and they say, ‘I would love to play with Brendan Skakandi.’ He’s just kind of an old-school guy.”

That’s a source of pride for Skakandi, who receives regular reminders from Pietramala that recruiting analysts didn’t think he would ever get on the field at Hopkins. While he has no illusions about his skills, his competitiveness permitted him to succeed and also quietly savor how he’s proved he always belonged among the big names.

“I know I’m not the most talented guy in the world and I’ve come to terms with that, but if there’s one thing I’d like to be remembered for, its being someone that had no quit in them and fought for his spot,” Skakandi said. “At home and here, I’ve had a lot of doubters over the last eight years. … I would never gloat or rub it in their face, but I’ll maybe throw them a smile [that means] ‘yeah, I’m doing it and I’ve worked every day to get to where I’m at.’ ”

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