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  The Rivalry

For six days in April, the Blue Jays prepped for their historic 100th battle against the Maryland Terrapins. Go inside the locker room and onto the field with the men's lacrosse team.

By Dale Keiger
Photos by Mike Ciesielski

At 8:09 on a Saturday evening in April, Kyle Harrison approaches the large blue H painted on the turf of Hopkins' Homewood Field. Harrison is a lithe young man, swift and quick as light, tough and durable and possessing the preternatural grace and balance of an extraordinary athlete. He wears on his Hopkins lacrosse jersey an 18, the same number worn by his father, Miles, when he played football for Morgan State University. All eyes are on the younger Harrison. It is his job to start the game by winning the face-off, winning the ball.

In front of the Hopkins bench, some of his teammates jump up and down, discharging a little of the tension and excitement that has been building all week. They know they are on national cable television, they know sportswriters from major publications will be writing about what Sports Illustrated has called one of the greatest rivalries in all of college sports, and they can hear the roar from the capacity crowd, 10,555 people in a stadium that seats 8,500. The Jays rank first in the country, the most talented, if not always the most focused, team in NCAA lacrosse. They are sick of hearing about tough Maryland, bruising Maryland, hard-working Maryland. They are tired of drills and game film and coaches hollering at them. They are ready to go.

Harrison clamps down on his mouth guard and crouches over the ball that rests on the red face-off X that tonight is the epicenter of college lacrosse. On the sideline, Hopkins head coach Dave Pietramala, A&S '90, folds his arms across his chest and waits to see if over the last five days he's prepared his team. He'll soon know.

Day One

On the first day of preparation, Pietramala goes over scouting reports with his team. Hype for the Maryland game began before the turn of the year. If you visited the Hopkins athletics Web site say, last November, you found a banner that counted down the hours: Greatest Rivalry in Lacrosse Faces Off in 140 days, 12 hours, 37 minutes. To the Hopkins coaches, the hoopla surrounding the game looks less like fun and more like a host of distractions for young players who have been subject to lapses in concentration during their first eight games. Yes, the Jays are ranked No. 1, but three times they have escaped with one-goal victories. Maryland is talented, hungry, and more than ready to walk onto the turf of Homewood Field and smack the Jays hard.

An hour before the week's first practice on Monday, Hopkins assistant coach Bill Dwan, A&S '91, sits in a cramped office, watching tiny lacrosse players battle each other on his computer screen. Dwan is scrutinizing digitized video of an earlier Maryland game, his right hand poised on the computer's mouse. The teams face off after a goal; Dwan clicks the mouse and marks the face-off, creating a separate computer file of that one play. He does this for every face-off, every Maryland goal, every defensive stand. When he's done, he'll be able to assemble video cassettes that show everything individual Maryland players have done for the past six games. Hopkins players will study these cassettes all week.

As he watches Maryland score, Dwan talks to himself. "Sheez, what happened there? Unbelievable!" Outside Dwan's office, Pietramala dictates scouting reports on each Maryland player to the lacrosse secretary, Kathleen Wisner: "Number 7 [Maryland goalie Tim McGinnis]. . . tendency to cover up low on inside shots and shots coming around goal. . . steps out to cut down angle. . . need to get in his face quickly. Number 44 [Maryland defenseman Chris Passavia]. . . good size, strength, and excellent athleticism. . . hunts the ball carrier. . . most aggressive of all the Maryland defenders. . . hates playing off-ball, so he slides. . . looks for the big hit."

The big hit. Lacrosse is a violent game, and violent games can turn on heightened emotion. Coaches have to stoke the fervor of their team, carefully building intensity so that by game time the players are not depleted or exhausted, but at an emotional peak. In the locker room later that afternoon, 5 days, 3 hours, 39 minutes before the greatest rivalry in lacrosse faces off, Pietramala sets the attitude for the week ahead: "I'll be damned if I let them walk in and take a win in our house."

The lacrosse locker room includes a VCR and large-screen television for viewing game films. As the Jays watch Maryland's only loss, to Navy the week before, Pietramala stresses how hard they will have to work to beat the Terps, how Maryland is going to come into Homewood angry from their loss to Navy, a defeat that has dropped them to No. 3 in the rankings. The game will be rougher than their last outing against Duke University. "You think Duke was a bully? You haven't seen anything until you've seen these guys. If the ball is in the air, they're coming after you. If the ball is on the ground, they're coming after you."

The players watch intently. Whenever Pietramala makes a point about something on the game tape, he says, "You understand?" and the team responds in unison, "Yes." Some of the players make notes on their copies of the scouting report. After Navy scores the game's first goal, Pietramala pauses the tape. "This is what you do to a bully," he says. "You punch him in the mouth."

Day Two

Around 3:30 in the afternoon, 4 days, 4 hours, 39 minutes before the greatest rivalry in lacrosse faces off, a Blue Jay defensive captain named Greg Raymond jogs past Pietramala on the playing field and says, "Gonna be a good one, coach! Gonna be a good one!"

Players practice on a cold, foggy Wednesday afternoon.

Hopkins and Maryland first played lacrosse in 1895. The Jays won, 10-0. It took Maryland six years to score its first goal against Hopkins, eight years to win a match. But as the Terps became more competitive, the series became a rivalry. Before the NCAA first sanctioned a Division I tournament in 1971, the national championship was decided by poll. Hopkins-Maryland used to be the last game of the season, and several times in the 1950s and 1960s, the outcome of their game decided the national championship.

Over the years, the schools have traded opportunities to ruin each other's season. In 1957, the Jays stopped a 31-game Maryland winning streak with a 15-10 victory. In 1995, one of the best Blue Jays' squads ever took a No. 1 ranking and undefeated record into the NCAA semifinals, only to be throttled by Maryland, 16-8. The next year, the Jays exacted revenge, sending the Terps home from the NCAA quarterfinals, 9-7. The last three regular-season games, 2001-2003, had been decided by one goal each, the last two in overtime.

Quint Kessenich, A&S '90, an all-American goalie at Hopkins, recalls playing undefeated Maryland in his first year. He especially remembers the first shot: "The ball wedged in my face mask. I mean wedged. I remember taking off my helmet and smiling and just thinking, Wow, this is an incredible game." Brian Dougherty, the Maryland goalie who in the 1995 national semifinal game choked off the most prolific offense in Hopkins history, recalls, "Hopkins was by far our No. 1 rival. It was the first game on the schedule that we circled."

Jays warm up before commencing drills. The Hopkins coaches know that the 2004 Maryland team thrives on turning unsettled situations into goals: turnovers, fast breaks, ground balls scooped up and turned into quick shots. So after his team warms up, Pietramala launches them two-by-two in pursuit of ground balls. Today's workout will be full speed from beginning to end. He tells his assistants, Dwan and Seth Tierney, A&S '91, "Find me someone who doesn't want to work today, Coach Dwan. Find me somebody who doesn't want to work today, Coach Tierney." The implication is that anybody unprepared to go full out is in for a long day.

The offense and defense take opposite ends of the field and run play after play. Practice is carefully scripted, with prescribed minutes allotted for warm-up, ground balls, offensive plays, defensive sets, a five-on-five scrimmage. As a grey, chilly day turns to rain, the coaches ride the players and the players ride each other. A rugged defensive midfielder and team captain named Cory Harned struggles on one drill. When Pietramala hollers at him, the frustrated Harned turns his back on the coach. Chris Watson, another of the captains, barks at him, "You turn around and look!"

Practice ends with line drills. The players start at the 45-yard line, sprint 17 yards, turn and sprint back, then repeat, back and forth, back and forth, 17 times within one minute on the clock. After the drill, the Jays are bent over, gasping for air, and one of them gets bad news. Joe McDermott, a tall, perpetually smiling senior who has spent the first part of the season recovering from a shoulder injury, has twice missed the line. That means he has to run the entire drill again. As he begins sprinting back and forth, teammates in ones and twos voluntarily run by his side. As he nears the final sprint, captains order the entire team to line up and run it with him.

Pietramala pronounces the practice average. "Up and down," he says. "Consistency is a problem." Tomorrow will be harder.

Day Three

Wednesday could not be more miserable. The temperature is in the 40s, wind whips a cold rain into everyone's face, and a thin fog is settling in. The team's student trainers, Tyler Bratten and Barbara Badman, who note with good humor that they've been called "water wenches," huddle inside hooded windbreakers on the sideline. The players, in shorts and T-shirts, are soaking wet within minutes, but laughing and razzing each other as the drills commence. Pietramala watches and says, "They're loose. A loose bunch. That's not my way, but if it works for them . . ."

In the Jays' locker room is a prominent sign that reads, The Tradition of Hopkins Lacrosse Will Not Be Left In the Hands of the Weak and Timid. For 90 minutes, the coaches drive the players through another full-speed, full-contact workout. The players go after each other relentlessly. The coaches shout commands — "Raven!" "Falcon!" "Twenty-one!" — and the players slide into different defensive sets. They practice penalty situations with the defense playing a man down and the offense a man up. Jake Byrne, a freshman who has already tallied seven goals on the year, says, "We figure that if we can win on Tuesday and Wednesday — [that is] if we work harder in practice than our opponents — then we'll win on Saturday."

In lacrosse parlance, when a player gives his all, diving for a loose ball or absorbing a punishing hit, he "sells out," or "sells out his body." As practice concludes in the wet cold and the murk, Pietramala gathers his team, 3 days, 2 hours, 30 minutes before lacrosse's greatest rivalry faces off. "I haven't said much about this, but . . . 100 years. For 99 years they have played this game, and Saturday night you have to sell out for every guy who has ever worn a Hopkins uniform. It isn't about whether we win or lose. If we play hard, if we give it everything, that's all we can ask of ourselves."

After practice the team assembles to watch more game film. They file into the locker room with ice bags taped to various battered joints; the ice machine may be the most valuable piece of equipment in the athletic department. A week ago, Pietramala had recited a casualty list: Cory Harned, knees. Joe McDermott, shoulder. Peter LeSueur, shoulder. Tom Garvey, shoulder. Kevin Boland, ankle. Benson Erwin, shin. Frank Potucek, knee. Jake Byrne, foot. All of them hurt. All will play Saturday night. Another of the locker room's signs reads, Pain is Weakness Leaving Your Body.

Day Four

Practice is carefully scripted; Pietramala assigns the next drill, dispatching players to various parts of the field. Two days, 4 hours, 42 minutes before the greatest rivalry in lacrosse faces off, the wind is blowing harder than the day before, but the sun is out and the players are in high spirits. Pietramala barely cracks a smile. He says this has been a harder year for him as coach, and he's not sure why. Maybe it's helping to care for twin baby sons. Maybe it's tragedies that have hit the lacrosse community. Division I schools field 238 football teams. There are 327 D-I schools that play basketball. Division I lacrosse programs number only 54, most of them east of the Appalachians. Everybody knows everybody else. This year has been tough, with the on-field death of Cornell senior George Boiardi, a player recruited by Pietramala in the coach's last year at Cornell before coming back to Hopkins, and the loss of the young son of Ohio State coach Joe Breschi in a traffic accident.

Nor has the Hopkins coach enjoyed the buildup to the 100th Maryland game. The presence of sports writers this week has been a concern. Pietramala is wary of a player saying something that disparages Maryland, something that might first end up in tomorrow's newspaper, then on the bulletin board of the Terrapins' locker room. Lacrosse is a game of speed and finesse. But it's also a game of channeled fury. In the days before a game, the coaches seize on anything to make an opponent the object of their players' wrath. Pietramala has made sure that every player receives a copy of an interview that Maryland's aggressive defenseman Chris Passavia gave to the Long Island newspaper Newsday, in which he said that he'd decided to play for Maryland because Hopkins would have been too much like his high school, where lacrosse was the only sport that mattered. What he actually meant by the remark is immaterial. As far as the players are concerned, Passavia has likened Hopkins, Johns Hopkins, to high school. On Saturday night, he'll pay for that.

On the practice field, the players, for all their happiness at the reappearance of the sun, are tired and sore and impatient to play the game. This shows when the offense goes against the defense, practicing game situations: One minute to go with a one-goal lead . . . what do we do? As play heats up, players carp at each other and exchange shoves. Frustrated on one play, Conor Ford, the Jays' leading scorer, whacks the goalie's arm with his stick, then turns away from his cursing teammate. Tierney, who played for Hopkins from 1988 to 1991 and coaches the offense, watches and says, "This week is like drinking nails."

Day Five

If you play lacrosse for Johns Hopkins, the coaches watch your every move. No mistake in a game goes unnoticed. Nor does any lapse in concentration or effort during practice. Players have to record the student part of their student-athlete lives — their grades — in a logbook. When one reports to Pietramala that he's gotten behind on an assignment for a class, the coach instructs him to send the professor a note promising to complete the work. "Copy me on the note," he adds. In the locker room one afternoon, a player tries on a cap. Pietramala spots him and growls, "We don't wear hats inside the building."

The players now and then find ways to get a little back. Every day at the end of practice, for example, lacrosse balls litter the periphery of the field. While the coaches chat on the blue H at midfield, players retrieve the stray balls. They could gather them in buckets, or collect them in the corners of the field. But they prefer to roll them at the coaches. One day as Pietramala stood with folded arms, defenseman Watson slyly extended his long stick and deposited a ball in the crook of the coach's elbow.

Sunny weather finally greets the Jays on Thursday.

Today Pietramala is on the prowl, hunting whoever is responsible for a prank. Earlier, he had driven a golf cart across campus to an appointment with a vice president and parked it on one of campus's brick walkways. When he came out, he found the cart was now sitting on the grass, adorned with some sort of picture that he doesn't specify. He's convinced some of his players are responsible. "Hey, Byrne!" he says. "Come over here a second. Did you move my golf cart today?"

The freshman attacker shakes his head as he backs away. "I didn't touch a thing!"

"Don't you walk away from me! Did you move my golf cart?"

"I did not move your golf cart." Pietramala just looks at him. "I did not move your golf cart! I'm looking you straight in the eye. I did not move your golf cart."

"You absolutely did. Who was it? You and who? Don't give me the big eyes! Go away. I know you did it. I know."

Byrne laughs. "Fine! I'll take credit! I did it!"

"They're a good group," Pietramala says. "They're good boys. They're a pain in the ass sometimes, but that goes with the territory. Best part is, they like each other. That's the best part. I like them. I love them."

Practice today is light, to give the players some time to rest their muscles and treat their bruises and battered joints. No running. No hitting. The team walks through various game situations, to reinforce the game plan. After an hour or so, the coach calls them together. "Yesterday we got a little snippy with each other. That's okay. We're ready to play. I don't need to sell you on the excitement of this game. It's gonna be great. It's gonna be awesome." He pauses. "Let's go get this game, huh?"

They walk off the field 1 day, 5 hours, 10 minutes before the greatest rivalry in lacrosse faces off.

Game Day

Two hours before game time, Hopkins players have begun strolling in. The coaches mandate jackets and ties for the players. Some are sharp in stylish suits. Joe McDermott, befitting his easygoing personality, sports a bright purple shirt and a chartreuse flowered tie. When they run onto the playing field, they'll be wearing commemorative throwback jerseys from the 1970s. On his way out of the locker room, each one will reach overhead and slap a sign mounted above the door: I Will Give My All for Johns Hopkins University.

By 8 p.m., fans have squeezed into every seat and every bit of space along the fence around the field. Reporters from USA Today and Sports Illustrated, from every lacrosse publication and Web site, from all the Baltimore and Washington newspapers, watch from the press box and the sidelines. Photographers and television cameras train their lenses on the center of the field, where a referee waits as Hopkins' Kyle Harrison and Maryland's Dave Tamberrino crouch for the opening face-off. A jittery Tamberrino lifts the end of his stick and starts forward before the whistle. Harrison glances up, but the referee has no intention of starting so big a game with an illegal procedure call. He waits for them to settle in again.

On game night, during a time-out, Tierney coaches his offense. As the players reset, Harrison slips his shoulder just a bit lower than Tamberrino's. When the whistle sounds, he uses the leverage this gives him to nearly turn Tamberrino around, and sweeps the ball out to his left. He runs it down, scoops it up, and the crowd roars as Hopkins goes on attack first.

Behind the Maryland goal, Jays attackman Peter LeSueur cradles the ball and spots #44 in red, Passavia, Maryland's star defender. Said the scouting report: Hates playing off-ball, so he slides. Sure enough, as LeSueur circles, Passavia slides toward him. LeSueur whips the ball to midfielder Kevin Boland, who spots attackman Kyle Barrie breaking toward the goal. Boland rifles a pass to Barrie, Passavia can't adjust fast enough, and Barrie whips a shot into the Maryland net. Barely a minute has elapsed and Hopkins leads 1-0.

Coach said, You punch a bully in the mouth. Twenty-one seconds later, Barrie scores again. A minute after that, sophomore Greg Peyser makes it 3-0 Hopkins. A fast start is a beautiful thing, but the coaches know that 57 minutes of game-time remain, and the Jays have acquired a reputation for letting their minds wander. In the huddle after that third goal, Pietramala says, "Hey! No ebbs and flows, no peaks and valleys. Just keep climbing that mountain." Thirty-seven seconds later Hopkins midfielder Matt Rewkowski beats McGinnis, the Maryland goalie, to his left. A minute after that, McDermott takes a pass from LeSueur, steps into a patch of open space, and fires. Goal. Four minutes have elapsed and the Blue Jays already lead, 5-0. Hopkins players dance before their bench and sports writers and photographers exchange looks. No one has expected this. If Maryland doesn't regain its footing soon, it will be run right out of the stadium.

Hopkins continues to press the attack. In the Terrapins' defensive end of the field, the ball arcs into the air, and Maryland's Passavia extends his arms and begins to leave his feet, stretching in an attempt to snare the ball. In the newspaper, Passavia compared Hopkins to high school. A few feet away, Conor Ford of the Jays sees his chance. He closes fast, lowers his shoulder, and drives the exposed Maryland defender into the ground. Passavia scrambles to his feet in time to battle for a loose ball on the sideline, and Ford nails him again.

The Jays are relentless. Halfway through the opening period, Barrie notches his third goal. Six minutes later, Kyle Dowd dodges and scores on a jump shot. Maryland's only answer is a goal by Brendan Healy. As the period ends, the scoreboard reads 8-1 Jays. Less than two minutes into the second quarter, Hopkins' Rewkowski beats his man from 12 yards out and makes it 9-1. But the Hopkins coaches know that Maryland will not quit. The Terps are too good and too tough for that. A counterattack is coming.

A capacity crowd fills every vantage point at Homewood Field.

Sure enough, in the second quarter, Maryland scores twice, and Tierney tells his team, "Deep breath. Deep breath. Now let it out. Let's get the next goal." But two minutes later, Justin Smith scores to bring the Terps within five, 9-4. Pietramala said, Consistency is a problem. Suddenly, Hopkins' defenders stop racing to meet the Maryland attack, stop pressuring the ball carrier, stop communicating on the field and leave Maryland's gunners with too much time and open space. Joe Walters, a sensational sophomore who is the Terps' leading scorer, takes a pass, finds himself all but undefended, and zips a shot into the corner of the net: 9-5. Maryland's fans rise to their feet, sensing a shift in momentum.

Pietramala looks at his team and knows he needs to jolt them back into the game. He needs a spark. So he pulls his goalie, sophomore Scott Smith, who has struggled, and sends in a freshman, Jesse Schwartzman, younger brother of Andrew Schwartzman, who is playing midfield for Maryland. Within minutes, the younger Schwartzman comes out of the goal crease and hits his big brother, breaking up a shot. Moments later he makes a key save. This is what Pietramala wanted.

After the victory, Kyle Harrison (18) and Kyle Barrie (5) meet the press. With less than a minute to go in the half, Hopkins leads 10-5 and has the ball. Tierney wants his offense to use up the remaining time. From the sideline he shouts for Greg Peyser to restrain himself. Peyser somehow hears him over the noise of the crowd, holds the ball, and steps into the offensive zone, then backs out. He does this again. Then one more time. Finally, as the last seconds of the half tick off, Tierney tells him to go, and Peyser dodges a Maryland defender, spots an open Joe McDermott in the center of the zone, and fires a perfect pass. McDermott catches the ball and as he cocks his stick to shoot Tierney shouts, "There ya go!" A second later, McDermott whips a shot into the Maryland net. Hopkins goes into the locker room leading 11-5.

At halftime, the coaches remind the players of the defensive lapses in the second quarter and talk about what Maryland might do in the second half to get back in the game. Thirty seconds into the half, Ford scores for the Jays, who now lead 12-5. But a minute later, Maryland puts the ball in the net and Pietramala looks disgusted with his defense, holding his hands out, palms up. The teams trade goals: 13-6, 13-7. After the seventh Maryland score, a furious Pietramala is so in the face of McDermott, he knocks his own cap off on McDermott's face mask.

They're a pain in the ass sometimes, Pietramala said, but I like them. I love them. With 6:10 left in the third period, Jays' defender Tom Garvey scoops up a ground ball and turns to race upfield. Three Maryland players converge on him, and after he passes the ball, one of them belts Garvey to the ground. The referee does not whistle a penalty for a late hit, and Pietramala flies into a murderous rage. He storms down the sideline, roaring at the ref, demanding some protection for his player, who at the next time-out needs a trainer to patch a cut on his chin.

I'll be damned if I let them walk in and take a win in our house. Maryland shows its mettle by battling back to 13-8, but Hopkins keeps its composure. With three minutes left, the score stands at 14-9, and Tierney glances at a sideline reporter and says, "Almost home." Maryland scores a meaningless goal with 26 seconds left. Time expires and Hopkins celebrates a 14-10 victory, its 63rd of the series. On the field, Pietramala points out to a trio of sportswriters that after the Jays' remarkable five-goal outburst in the first four minutes, Maryland actually outscored them, 10-9. He's careful to praise the Terps, because he knows Hopkins might well encounter them again in the NCAA tournament. And he says, "I couldn't be happier this game is over."

In a joyous Hopkins locker room, Pietramala tells his team, "This game wasn't won tonight. This game was won Tuesday in that first ground-ball drill." Some of the players have returned from the showers; angry red welts scar their arms and torsos. They are weary but very happy. Coach tells them, "You should be unbelievably proud."

The players will have Sunday off. On Monday they will watch film of the mistakes they made against Maryland. On Tuesday, there will be a new round of ground-ball drills, more five-on-five scrimmages, more line drills. The Game of the Year, the Greatest Rivalry in Lacrosse, is history. Hopkins' schedule is relentless. Next up is Navy. Navy, who is ranked No. 2 and believes it should be No.1 instead of Hopkins. Navy, who has already beaten Maryland. Navy, who is sick of losing to the Jays 29 games in a row, and who this year will be playing at home in Annapolis before a partisan crowd of more than 18,000 people. Lacrosse commentators are calling this one the Game of the Decade. The players know what Pietramala means when he turns off the television and tells them, "Say good-bye to Maryland."

Dale Keiger is a senior writer for Johns Hopkins Magazine.

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