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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University February 25, 2008 | Vol. 37 No. 23
Blue Jays Ready for Battle

On a snowy pre-season day, Coach Dave Pietramala puts the lacrosse team through its paces on the basketball court.
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS

With opponents gunning for them, 2007 NCAA lacrosse champs begin defense of their title

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

On the eve of the 2008 men's lacrosse season, Blue Jays head coach Dave Pietramala pulled the team inside on a snowy Baltimore day to practice on the O'Connor Recreation Center's basketball courts. With Homewood Field covered in the white stuff, Pietramala didn't want to risk an injury with just three days to go before the opener.

He said the players were also "a little tired and beat up" from a grueling pre-season practice schedule. With every team in America gunning for them, there can be no real rest for the defending national champions.

Pietramala said that the team focused that Wednesday afternoon practice on stick work and walkthroughs of the game plan. He wants his players in shape, but he also wants them mentally sharp.

"The team has worked hard in the pre-season but not really performed up to snuff yet," said Pietramala, now in his eighth season as head coach. "What we have to work on is the mental thing. The physical part is there."

The Blue Jays entered the season, which began on Saturday against Albany, ranked No. 1 in the nation in both the USILA Coaches poll and Nike/Inside Lacrosse Media poll. As in previous years, the team faces a monster schedule, peppered with nationally ranked teams like Virginia and Duke. It gets tough quick. The first two opponents in the lineup are a team that advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals last season and perennial powerhouse Princeton. Johns Hopkins will square off against the Tigers at 2:30 p.m. in the Konica Minolta Face-Off Classic, to be held on Saturday, March 1, at M&T Bank Stadium. (The earlier game, at noon, pits Virginia against Syracuse.)

The 2008 season marks the 125th anniversary of the Johns Hopkins men's lacrosse program and, to honor the milestone, the players will wear commemorative patches on their uniforms.

By even Johns Hopkins' high standards, the 2007 team stunned many in the lacrosse world with a nine-game season-ending winning streak that resulted in the program's ninth NCAA championship and second in three years. This year, the team looks well positioned to make a run at back-to-back titles, a feat that hasn't been accomplished since 1998, when Princeton won its third consecutive championship.

The Blue Jays return eight starters and nine of the top 10 scorers from last season's 13-4 team. In particular, the team sports a lethal midfield, led by seniors Paul Rabil and Stephen Peyser. Rabil fired home 27 goals and added 26 assists last year. Peyser, in addition to his 16 goals and 10 assists, served as the team's top face-off specialist. Add to the mix sophomore Michael Kimmel, who totaled 23 goals and seven assists in his freshman season.

While the team returns many of its top players, it certainly will miss goalie Jesse Schwartzman, who graduated in May. Schwartzman excelled on the big stage, and to prove it he owns two national championship rings, a pair of Final Four MVP awards and a 10-1 record in the NCAA Tournament.

In his place steps sophomore Michael Gvozden, who saw limited time as a freshman last season.

Pietramala said that Gvozden certainly has big shoes to fill, but he thinks the player is up to the challenge.

"We have a young man who we think is very talented," Pietramala said. "He is just inexperienced now, but there was a time when Jesse was inexperienced. We are pleased with how Michael has worked and how much time he has put in this off-season. He's shown he wants to improve."

Pietramala said that, overall, his players have shown him a willingness to work hard and a fighting spirit.

As for the prospect of winning back-to-back championships, Pietramala said that the question has come up repeatedly and he just wants his team to focus on the upcoming opponent, not on its place in history. There's a whole new mountain to climb, he said, and Johns Hopkins starts like every other team, on the bottom.

"We worked so hard to earn that championship last season. But all you want to do now is move beyond that," he said. "It's a new team, a new dynamic. Our chemistry is good, but it's a different leadership. I told them to put last year behind us and focus on the challenge ahead."

That challenge is to again reach the Final Four, which this year will take place on Memorial Day weekend at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.

Pietramala said that there is more parity than ever in Division 1 men's lacrosse, and plenty of talented and senior-laden teams stand in the way of the goal.


Tickets for Saturday's Face-Off Classic

The university has sold out its allotment, but tickets are still available for the 2008 Konica Minolta Face-Off Classic on Saturday, March 1, at M&T Bank Stadium.

All seats are reserved. To order, call the Baltimore Ravens box office at 410-261-RAVE or go online to or Tickets are $15 for lower level seats and $25 for club level seats; parking passes are $15.

The four teams facing off have won every NCAA championship since 1991. The Syracuse- Virginia game begins at noon and the Johns Hopkins-Princeton game at 2:30 p.m.

For the Blue Jays' complete season schedule, go to


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