Joey Epstein plans to double-major in political science and philosophy at Johns Hopkins.

That also mirrors his approach to lacrosse — focusing on the technical aspects of the game while thinking outside the box to become an exceptional player.

The Blue Jays’ sophomore is already widely regarded as one of the top attackmen in college lacrosse. Last season, Epstein set Johns Hopkins freshmen records with 48 goals and 73 points, which also led the team. He earned first-team All-Big Ten and third-team USILA All-America honors and was the conference’s Freshman of the Year.

“Joey did a nice job for us last season as he was able to step in and make a strong contribution as a freshman,” Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said. “His passion for the game and tremendous work ethic are contagious and have helped to inspire his peers to invest more on a daily basis. We are excited to watch him continue to develop as a player and team leader.”

That early success has only driven Epstein to work even harder throughout the offseason.

“I worked on every part of my game,” Epstein said when asked about what he had focused on this offseason. “That’s the only answer to that. I worked on my left hand, right hand, shooting on the run, step-down shooting. I tried to get stronger in the weight room. I wanted to get faster. Agility. Every piece of your game, you have to be constantly trying to improve.”

Johns Hopkins finished the 2019 season at 8-8, which included a late surge. The Blue Jays beat rival Maryland, 12-7, in the Big Ten tournament semifinals with Epstein scoring three goals and adding two assists. Johns Hopkins lost to then-No. 1 Penn State in the conference title game, 18-17, after an exciting shootout. Epstein scored seven goals and had two assists.

The Blue Jays then fell to Notre Dame, 16-9, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Epstein once again led the team with three goals and three assists. Despite Johns Hopkins making a record 47th appearance in the NCAA Tournament, Epstein does not deem last season a success. The Blue Jays entered this season ranked No. 13 in the nation by Inside Lacrosse.

“I think 8-8 is a failure,” he said. “First-round loss is a failure. Our goal is a national championship every year, a Big Ten championship every year. We fell a goal short in the Big Ten championship and we fell very short of a national championship. So, the goal here is to be national champions when it’s all said and done.”

Epstein prepped at Landon School in Washington, D.C., where he played under legendary lacrosse coach Rob Bordley, who stepped down in June 2018 after going 655-123 with 32 Interstate Athletic Conference titles and four national championships throughout 42 years.

Epstein was one of the most decorated players in the history of the Landon program. He finished as Landon’s career leader in goals (203), assists (133) and points (336) and earned a litany of local and national honors, including U.S. Lacrosse National Player of the Year as a junior.

Epstein credits his experience at Landon for helping him make the transition to Division I lacrosse.

“No doubt it was a huge boost,” he said. “Playing at Landon for Coach Bordley in such a prestigious program and playing in all of those big games against Georgetown Prep and Gonzaga definitely prepares you for the big stage. Academically, it’s a first-rate school just like Johns Hopkins.”

The jump from high school to college can be overwhelming for some players, but not for Epstein.

“The biggest thing was learning a new role in a new offense,” Epstein said. “In high school, you are used to getting the ball and dodging 20-plus times a game, often in my case. College is more about playing in that new offense and learning how to play with the guys around you. Then, you have to find your role in that offense to do what’s best for the team.”

“Playing in a place like Landon, you play against top defenders,” he added. “I usually had the best guy on the defense guarding me and a lot of those guys went to top-tier schools. That wasn’t a huge adjustment. At this level with Hopkins, there are no matchups that you’re licking your chops for. They’re all good defenders.”

The duo of Epstein and senior attackman Cole Williams (Loyola Blakefield) gives Johns Hopkins one of the most formidable attacks in the nation. Williams was second on the team in points (46) and assists (19) and third in goals (27) last season.

The Blue Jays will once again be tested early and often with one of the toughest schedules in Division I lacrosse. In addition to the Big Ten schedule, John Hopkins has non-conference games against six teams that ranked or got votes in the Inside Lacrosse preseason top 20 — Towson, Loyola, North Carolina, Princeton, Syracuse and Delaware. The Blue Jays’ Big Ten slate begins against Michigan March 28. Hopkins hosts Maryland April 25.

Epstein and his teammates embrace the challenge.

“I love it. That’s why you come to a place like Johns Hopkins — to be challenged week in and week out and to play the best competition,” Epstein said. “In the long run, it certainly helps teams. It keeps you battle-tested. When May comes around, those tough games in February can make all of the difference.”

Epstein is not concerned about personal accolades for his second year. The team always comes first.

“I am really trying to keep it to team goals,” he said. “That’s to win the Big Ten championship and national championship.”

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Johns Hopkins Athletics

Issue 261: February/March 2020

Originally published Feb. 18, 2020

Todd Karpovich

See all posts by Todd Karpovich. Follow Todd Karpovich on Twitter at @toddkarpovich