As usual, Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala didn't gather his team to watch the NCAA tournament selection show Sunday night.
Usually, there was no suspense for the Blue Jays. And really, there wasn't any Sunday, either.
Only this time, Hopkins' wasn't among the teams included in the postseason field for the first time since 1971.
"In the end, we have no right to be surprised," Pietramala said. "I told our team that we'll hold out hope and we'll keep hoping until someone tells us no. But we need to understand what happened and that we had plenty of opportunities to make this a non-issue."
Hopkins (9-5) ended its 41-year postseason streak with a veteran team that on paper looked like it would peak this year. The nucleus that began to play significantly during the Blue Jays' 7-8 season in 2010 --- a year in which they snuck into the NCAA tournament as one of the final at-large teams --- established a history of stellar regular seasons only to stumble in the quarterfinals the last two years.
Instead, there was little predictability this spring. A rolling set of suspensions probably didn't help continuity, but it was hardly the only problem facing Hopkins. The Blue Jays had moments of brilliance, such as their demolition of Virginia in late March. But they also had frustrating miscues along the way.
There were one-goal losses to North Carolina and Albany in the middle of the season that were obvious lost opportunities. With its postseason fate clearly in the balance, Hopkins managed only four goals in an April 27 loss to Loyola.
"We couldn’t be more blessed to have a finer group of young men and guys that represent us that are just enjoyable to coach," Pietramala said. "For whatever reason, and you can point to whatever you want, we just never put it all together. Look at early in the season. We’re playing well offensively and putting good numbers, extra-man is ranked No. 1, we’re winning faceoffs and we're playing OK defense and then as the year unfolds, we play some pretty outstanding defense in the last five games. Offensively, we were just not up to snuff and we just never put it all together."
Hopkins won its first three, then never managed another three-game winning streak the rest of the season. More strikingly, the Blue Jays reached double figures in just one of their last five games.
"When you look at it, it was not game to game to game to game," Pietramala said. "It was one game here, another game there. We have no one to look at other than ourselves. We're going to handle this in a classy fashion. I don't blame the criteria. We've been the beneficiaries [in the past]. We did not earn our way in. The committee stated that and I don't think we can argue."
Hopkins arguably finds itself at a bit of a crossroads at this stage. Its long-running NCAA streak is over, and it will miss the final four for the fifth consecutive season. A senior class of long-time contributors such as goalie Pierce Bassett, defensemen Tucker Durkin and Chris Lightner, midfielders Lee Coppersmith, John Greeley and John Ranagan, attackman Zach Palmer and faceoff man Mike Poppleton departs.
The Blue Jays will look different next year, and there won't be the slightest bit of inevitability that they're destined for the postseason. Not anymore.
"2014 began the minute that last team was announced," Pietramala said. "I received a number of messages from our returning players about the same thing. I think sometimes you need something to re-center you. We'll reinvent ourselves and keep our philosophy on how to conduct ourselves and we'll get back to work."
--- Patrick Stevens