Johns Hopkins' opponents have learned to keep a close eye on Joel Tinney.
The junior midfielder has managed to confound defenders -- and even a few TV cameras -- with his craftiness on the lacrosse field. In the process, the Blue Jays have firmly put themselves in the hunt for a 10th NCAA national championship.
Twice this season, Tinney scored game-changing goals by hiding the ball in his stick, a trick play that has gone viral and been shown nationally by ESPN. After missing last season because of a violation of undisclosed NCAA rules, Tinney is back with a vengeance and embracing his opportunities.
"It's been a long time coming," Tinney said. "Last year was tough, but I was able to get through it with the support of the coaching staff and my teammates. Ever since the summer, it's been about the 2017 Jays."
Tinney, a Innerkip, Ontario, native, was a highly touted recruit when he committed to Johns Hopkins from lacrosse powerhouse Culver Academy in Indiana. He ended his high school career with 220 goals and 148 assists, leading the Eagles to an 80-8 record during his tenure.
Tinney also made an immediate impact at Johns Hopkins as a freshman. He finished fourth on the team in scoring with 28 goals and 10 assists. He also earned third-team All-American honors by the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association.
The 2015 Blue Jays went 11-7 and advanced to the NCAA semifinals, where they lost to rival Maryland, 12-11. That momentum, however, slowed the following year when Tinney was ruled ineligible.
Without Tinney in the lineup last year, Johns Hopkins went 8-6 during the regular season and lost to Brown in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Despite the setback, Tinney was in good academic standing and retained two years of eligibility beginning this season.
Blue Jays head coach Dave Pietramala firmly stood behind Tinney throughout the player's ineligibility. Tinney rewarded that loyalty by entering preseason camp focused, fit and determined to raise Johns Hopkins back to its accustomed lofty heights.
"I'm happy that Joel is back out on the field," Pietramala said. "He's a different young man today than he was over a year ago. He's paid his penance and waited a long time to get back out on the field. It was just great to have our most competitive guy out on the field."
Tinney wasted little time this year putting his mark back on the program.
In the season opener against Navy Feb. 7, Tinney appeared to flip the ball to fellow midfielder John Crawley to set the attack. As Crawley drew the attention of the defense, Midshipmen freshman goalie Ryan Kern
and a cameraman on the sidelines, Tinney actually kept the ball hidden in his stick. With the subterfuge, Tinney was able to fire a 30-yard shot into the goal, sparking then-No. 9 Johns Hopkins to an eventual 15-8 victory.
It was Tinney's first action since scoring a pair of goals in the NCAA semifinals against Maryland. He finished the game against the Midshipmen with career-high-tying totals of three goals, two assists and five points. Navy head coach Rick Sowell lauded Tinney's performance and said the talented middie was simply the main difference in the game.
"He's a special player, one of the best in our sport," Sowell said. "I'm sure they've got to feel real good having him back."
Two weeks later, against Charles Street rival Loyola, Tinney once again used deception to take over the game. This time, he appeared to flip the ball to fellow midfielder Patrick Fraser, who drew a pair of defenders. Tinney, however, held the ball and used the open space to fire a shot past Loyola sophomore goalie Jacob Stover from about 10 yards for a 14-13 overtime victory.
"We saw that they jumped the pick," Tinney said. "So when coach had called it in overtime, we had talked about faking it just because we knew they had been jumping picks all day, and they were getting us in the first half. They were jumping when we weren't quite ready for it and stuff like that. So we came out like that, and the attack happened to know what I was thinking and they had given me all this space, and it just happened to work out perfectly."
Tinney is the perfect complement to a well-balanced Blue Jays squad. Johns Hopkins is fully capable of scoring 15 or more goals a game and has a stout defense that has already locked down some of the nation's most high-powered attacks, most notably Loyola and North Carolina Feb. 25.
The Blue Jays' talented midfield and attack have created matchup problems throughout the 2017 season. In addition to Tinney, junior attackman Shack Stanwick (Boys' Latin) is widely regarded as one of the best players in Division I lacrosse. Crawley and senior attackman Wilkins Dismuke have also been a force this season. Freshman attackman Cole Williams (Loyola Blakefield) is making an immediate impact.
As a result, opposing teams have struggled to adjust to the number of playmakers for Johns Hopkins and the depth of its roster. Once again, the Blue Jays have the look of a dangerous team that appears to get better each week.
"Teams are having problems with Crawley on the attack. We're seeing double poles; we're seeing different zones and designated slides," Tinney said. "Cole Williams has been a great up-and-comer as a freshman for us. So it definitely causes problems. I feel we're faster this year and we're more prepared. We have a lot more experience on the offense. With the guys and how we're playing right now, we should be able to cause matchup problems for other teams."
Issue 231: March 2017