BALTIMORE — The jokes are inescapable on a daily basis at Johns Hopkins. There's Chris Boland, the super senior attackman fresh off his 25th birthday, preparing for another day with the Blue Jays.
He's closer in age to offensive coordinator Bobby Benson than some of Hopkins' freshmen. Boland's brother Kevin in fact played three seasons with Benson a decade ago. He is, as Benson noted, "Grandpa Bo."
"I try to ignore them now because I'm so used to them," Chris Boland said. "There's not many good [jokes] anymore because they're all the same, it seems like it. If I get hit in practice or I'm limping around, they give me a hard time: 'Do you need a day off, old man?' "
For all his infirmities, including losing nearly all the 2010 season to knee surgery and more than seven games this spring with a shoulder injury, Boland is a vital tie to Hopkins' past as the only remaining on-field link to the Blue Jays' 2007 title team and a substantial part of its postseason hopes. The second-seeded Blue Jays (12-3) meet Maryland (10-5) in an NCAA quarterfinal Saturday in Annapolis.
And thanks to following his brother's career from 2001 to 2004, it more than just seems like he's loitered around Homewood forever. He basically has for more than a decade.
"It almost feels like he's a member of the staff," coach Dave Pietramala said. "You feel like you talk to him differently because he's been around so long. You reference championships and what it takes, you find yourself referencing Chris as the guy who knows because he was there."
Name a possible development, and Boland's probably experienced it at Hopkins. He played sparingly as a freshman. He took the spring semester off in 2008 as he dealt with academic issues and the need to mature. Then came the ACL tear in 2010.
The Blue Jays would rely on a nucleus of freshmen and sophomores the next year, and Boland couldn't participate in fall ball as he recovered. Still, he was a presence.
"I think it was a really critical moment for us in our team's development was when he was out, all those young guys were there and the pile of chips were just in a mess and he actually started to stack them a little bit," Pietramala said. "He really became a coach, a leader, a friend. He became a lot of different things."
Even now, he is the Blue Jays' only senior starter on offense. That makes Boland, who had seven points in Hopkins' tournament-opening rout of Stony Brook, a vital conduit for the Blue Jays.
"Sometimes I forget that I probably lean on him too much," Benson said. "You can't figure out why he's not doing everything exactly right. But he's been remarkable with those guys. At this point, you almost expect him to be perfect every day because that's how he kind of carries himself."
It wasn't always that way. The 2008 season remains a pivotal time of reflection for Boland. While he wasn't in school, he still visited friends on the team throughout that semester and also received weekly phone calls from Pietramala.
That strengthened a bond crucial to the relationship between the staff and this year's team.
"I feel like Chris and I have gone through the washing machine together a bunch of times, and each time we become a little bit better, a little bit closer and with a little bit better understanding of one another," Pietramala said. "I think Chris each time has come through with a better understanding of who he should be."
Boland also possesses an appreciation of potential symmetry. Hopkins won a national title in his first season. He'd like it to be that way in his last as well.
"It could certainly end the way I want it to end, a storybook ending if you look at it," Boland said. "That's something I look at every day."
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