(Photo Courtesy of Cornell Athletics)
Being the guy after “The Guy” is one of the toughest situations to be in as a head coach in any sport. But what’s even tougher is being the guy after “The Guy” and being tasked with bringing that program back to the level of its glory days.
This is exactly the situation facing Peter Milliman as he enters his first season as the head coach of the once proud, nine-time NCAA champion Johns Hopkins Blue Jays. And Milliman might just be the one guy in college lacrosse who is capable of getting the job done.
Facing a top-10 schedule nearly every season, Milliman went 28-10 in three seasons at Cornell, leading the Big Red to an Ivy League title and NCAA Quarterfinal appearance in 2018, and a 5-0 start and top-three ranking in 2020 before the season was cancelled. Before he took over the reigns in 2018, which was his interim year, the Big Red had completed two consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 1998.
Milliman left Cornell better than he found it, taking them from the bottom to the top of the Ivy League and the national picture in a very, very short period of time. He was able to tap into the talent on the roster and help them reach their full potential, and recruit at a high level.
The situation he is walking into at Johns Hopkins is eerily similar. And if he has done it before, he can certain do it again. And while it may take longer due to the the impact that the Coronavirus outbreak has had on the college sports world, and programs with first-year head coaches in particular, Milliman has all the tools in place to turn the the tide at Homwood and lead the Blue Jays back to the top of the Big Ten and the college lacrosse landscape, in general.
Coming into 2021, the Blue Jays are coming off of a shortened 2020 season which saw them go 2-4, beating up on an eventual winless Towson squad and edging Mount St. Mary’s in overtime to secure their two wins. They lost a close one to Loyola and were, essentially, blown out against North Carolina, Syracuse, and Princeton.
On the offensive side of the field, new offensive coordinator John Grant Jr. has plenty of weapons to work with as he tries to improve a unit that ranked in the bottom half (52nd) in scoring offense last season. Attackman Cole Williams (11G/6A) will be back for a fifth season, while three of their other top five scorers from a year ago will also be back, including junior attackman Joey Epstein (5G/5A), who dealt with lower body injury early in the year.
In addition to the two studs in Williams and Epstein, Johns Hopkins also brings in freshman Brendan Grimes. A highly-rated prospect, Grimes was ranked as the No. 10 player in the 2020 class, per Inside Lacrosse and could have an immediate impact for the Blue Jays.
While serving in the same role at Air Force the past two seasons, John Grant Jr. revitalized the Falcons’ offense. Junior’s influence on the Air Force offense were especially seen this past season, as the Falcons did much more work in the two-man game, using picks, and more “box” principles. With what many would argue is better talent across the board at Johns Hopkins, Junior should be able to get the most out of this Blue Jay offense. And if he does fully achieve that in year one, things could be looking pretty exciting at Homewood for years to come.
Perhaps even more exciting than the possibilities of the Blue Jays’ offense under John Grant Jr. are the possibilities of the Blue Jay defense under Jamison Koesterer, who is a Hopkins alum. During his four years (2017-2020) at UMBC in the same position, Koesterer built one of the best and most consistent defensive units in college lacrosse.
During his first season in 2017, the Retrievers defense finished the season as the 19th-best scoring defense in the nation, allowing 9.14 goals per game. The year prior they were 59th in that category. That is a 40-place jump in one season. UMBC featured a top-20 scoring defense in two of the other four years that Koesterer was at the helm of the Retrievers’ defense, being ranked 1st in 2018 (7.77) and 6th in 2020 (8.40).
At his alma mater, Koesterer will have young, talented guys like junior defenseman Owen McManus (6GB/4CT) and sophomore LSM Hunter Jaronski (8GB/4CT), in addition to multiple other returnees to work with. The Blue Jays also bring in three talented freshman poles in Scott Smith, Patrick Deans, and Kaden Brothers. All three could find themselves contributing significantly in 2021 on the back end.
In goal, the Blue Jays bring back senior Ryan Darby (47%), who was their primary starter last season, and bring in grad transfer Josh Kirson from Ohio State. Kirson was the Buckeyes’ full-time starter for the past two seasons.
At the faceoff dot, the Blue Jays return senior Kyle Prouty. He went 76-for-124 (.613%) last season and should take another step in the right direction in 2021.