The manner in which it pounced on the United States Naval Academy, the defending national champion of lacrosse, makes it clear that Johns Hopkins is once again ready to dominate the sport that it cherishes almost as much as the intellectual freedom of the Homewood campus. Hopkins never trailed in last Saturday's 9-6 victory over the Midshipmen, who had won 33 college games in a row and were out for their eighth straight title. Now the Blue Jays only need to defeat Maryland this weekend to win their first since 1959, and Bill Bilderback, who coaches the Navy and ought to know, doesn't expect them to fail. "They are," he said, "so much better than last year that I hate to think about it. I thought all along we could catch them in the fourth period—just like we used to—but we couldn't."
The difference in the two superb, unbeaten teams was not the marvelous stickwork of Hopkins, for Hopkins always has been superior to the Navy in finesse. What brought the victory, before about 12,000 homecoming fans at Homewood, was the fact that the Blue Jays are ("at last," sighed Coach Bobby Scott) almost as big as the magnificent physical specimens of the Navy, who congregated like drifting battleships at midfield and around their net. Scott has brought to Hopkins the same type of player—fast, smart and quick with a stick—that Homewood always has had, and now they are powerful enough to give as much punishment as they receive. And what makes the future so bright for Hopkins lacrosse is that most of Scott's biggest players are among the squad's youngest, as well.
John Cardillo, a defenseman who ran the length of the field Saturday to score a breakaway goal that helped Hopkins to an early 2-0 lead, weighs 195, and Midfielder Charles Goodell is 190. Joe Cowan, an attackman, is the best of the sophomores—and one of the best in the country. A pulled thigh muscle, heavily taped, slowed him against Navy, but he still managed to set up four goals, including three of the four scored by junior Phil Kneip. Cowan might have done even more damage to Navy, but he needed frequent rest. "I could hardly breathe out there sometimes," he said. "I was in bed from Wednesday night to Saturday morning, and I simply couldn't keep up part of the time." Throughout, however, Cowan was the man Hopkins looked for when it needed the big play. Scott is already calling him the best all-round player he has ever coached.
Scott's recruits are somewhat inconsistent with the image Hopkins usually presents in athletics. There has not been a winning team on campus in another sport for years. The basketball team has not had a winning season in 20 years, the baseball team in 14 and the football team in six. A ripple of anticipation swept through Homewood this year when the basketball team, trying for its ninth win in 17 games, led Towson State College by one point in overtime. But a Hopkins player committed a two-shot foul at the gun, Towson converted both free throws and won the game 84-83. The baseball team came just as close. It was tied going into the ninth in a game that would have pushed it over .500 at the season's end. Alas, Hopkins gave up a run and lost again. "Actually," admits one Hopkins student, "our teams are quite spirited and dedicated, but they just happen to be awful, too."
That makes everybody love lacrosse all the more. Baltimore's prep schools produce expert stickmen, who have played the game since they were big enough to carry a crosse. And many of them chose Hopkins out of convenience and because they can live at home. This was particularly true in the years when the Blue Jays were collecting 25 national championships, 24 of which were acquired before 1959. That was the year that the naval academy, 23 miles to the south, decided to become gung-ho about lacrosse and promoted Bilderback from plebe to varsity coach. He took over with a flourish, bringing numerous Midshipmen football players out for lacrosse in the spring and installing them at positions where they could do the most damage. Navy's aggressiveness, strength and depth nullified the Hopkins stickwork. After they upset the Blue Jays in Bilderback's first year the Middies set out on their own streak of national titles.
As the losses to Navy accumulated, Scott and his staff spent more and more time recruiting throughout Maryland and in New York's Long Island. "We simply had to get the bigger men who could handle a stick, too," he says.
"However, they can't help us if they don't have the grades," insists Athletic Director Marshall Turner Jr. As he spoke, Turner was leaning back in his office in a gleaming $2.5 million field house that suddenly cropped up next to the lacrosse field in 1965. Named the Newton H. White Jr. Athletic Center, after a naval captain who endowed many scholarships at the university, the complex houses a basketball court, swimming pool, handball courts and the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame. "The place is magnificent," says Scott, "and it sure hasn't hurt our recruiting."
Indeed it hasn't. It may be only a coincidence that players like Cowan, Cardillo and Goodell were graduated from high school just as the complex was finished. But many other prospects took one look at Captain White's memorial and decided to stay, including some members of this year's Baby Jays, Hopkins' unbeaten freshman team.
Still no one knew just how good the varsity was until the Navy game. Jack Kelly, former All-America and one-man public-relations agency for the sport, who travels the country for his Lacrosse Newsletter, was one expert doubter. "I guess you have to go with Navy," he said, "until they're beaten."
The Blue Jays had opened their season with an impressive 10-4 win over Mount Washington, a club comprised mostly of former collegiate All-Americas that usually handles the best of the college teams. There were those who said Mount Washington was not in condition for Hopkins, and this opinion was strengthened when the clubmen later defeated Navy 9-8. So Kelly's was the prevailing impartial view on Saturday morning.
Jerry Schnydman, co-captain of the Blue Jays, who sees the world from only five feet above his shoe tops, had put in a miserable week. "I couldn't sleep. Food had no taste to it," he said. "To me, this game is more important than life itself. Most of us feel that way, I know."
Scott was hardly a comforting influence. "I think about how one goal—just a little ball going into a big net—can ruin everything or make it wonderful," he said. "I just want to get it over with."
Hopkins, carrying the attack to Navy from the outset, took a 1-0 lead on Kneip's goal and boosted it to 2-0 on Cardillo's shot. Then suddenly the Hopkins defense collapsed for a spell and repeatedly failed to clear. Navy quickly tied the game at 2-2. But Kneip's second goal, completing a marvelous pass play from Cowan, put Hopkins ahead for good. The Blue Jays took control of the contest and ran up a 7-3 margin.
Far from cracking in the fourth quarter, the Blue Jays maintained their dominance. "I couldn't believe we had won," said Schnydman, "until I heard the announcer say there was a minute to play when we were ahead 8-6. Then I started thinking about Maryland."
Kelly wandered through the locker rooms, congratulating the winners and consoling the losers, and all the time he was shaking his head. "I don't think I've ever seen a defense like the one Hopkins threw at them today," he said. "They're all big, strong and smart. I don't really know when they'll lose." If they don't this weekend, a lot more lacrosse fans will be wondering the same thing.