In the wake of his team’s win in the Konica Minolta Big City Classic on Sunday, Johns Hopkins head coach Dave Pietramala knew where it all started. As so many things do, the Blue Jays’ 10-9 victory against then-No. 4 Tar Heels started at the beginning.

“Maybe most important was the faceoff X,” Pietramala said. “We go 16-22 against one of the best kids in the country [North Carolina’s R.G. Keenan], and that’s a credit to the faceoff unit, and it’s a credit to Jamison Koesterer, who is our faceoff coach.”

The person who gets the most credit is a guy who likely would not have been considered a hero for the Blue Jays going into the season. Matt Dolente entered his senior season with a career faceoff percentage of .482, coming off a .464 season in 2010. However, Dolente has adjusted his game -- and it showed at New Meadowlands Stadium, with a career-high 16 faceoff wins. That star turn against the Tar Heels is the highlight (so far) of a senior season that currently has him second in the nation with a .688 win percentage at the X heading into Friday night’s game against Albany.

It’s important that you look past yourself and always keep the team first.
-- Matt Dolente

“I don’t think it’s lucky that he’s having a good year,” Pietramala said. “I think he’s put a lot of time, work and energy into it.”

Dolente won’t argue with that. The Outstanding Midfielder at the 2008 ILF Under-19 Championships put in the time in the offseason to improve his game, and it’s shown.

“I felt like I just turned the corner by putting the time in,” Dolente said, “working harder than I ever have. Working with coach Koesterer is great. He and I have different styles, so when we work together, he helps me work on what I’m not good at, and he allows me to use what I am good at. I think he’s really helped me a lot.”

Dolente’s improvement has been key for a Hopkins team that plays a disciplined, methodical style of defense that doesn’t result in many takeaways.

“We forfeit the time-of-possession game based on the way we play defense,” Pietramala said. “We don’t chase and check. We’re more disciplined and pack it in. When we’re forfeiting the time-of-possession game, if we don’t win faceoffs, that makes it 10 times worse. You look at us last year, it was an Achilles' heel for us last year. You look at us this year, and it’s been a huge part of our success.”

It almost wasn’t a part of the Blue Jays’ win in New Jersey, as Pietramala considered a change in strategy, but Dolente wasn’t interested in hearing it.

“I think if Matt could have hit me, he might have,” Pietramala said of the discussion. “We talked about maybe coming out for the opening faceoff with three poles, and facing off [sophomore defenseman] Tucker Durkin, who faced off a little for us last year and faced off in high school. We thought we might be able to send them a message, and make it a very physical game. When we brought that to Matt’s attention, if looks could kill ... ”

That combination of competitive fire and work ethic makes Dolente a strong choice as one of the Blue Jays’ three captains with classmates Chris Boland and Kyle Wharton. With coaches’ penchant for talking about how it all starts with leadership, and with the seniors, the presence of a senior captain at the X allows Dolente and the Blue Jays to put that talk into action.

“When you have a senior captain,” Pietramala said, “you expect them to act that way, to set a standard for your team, and all three of our captains have done that. Obviously, Matt has more of a chance to start things off for us, based on the position that he plays, but you expect your captains to be the first to practice and the last to leave. You expect your captains to set the pace in practice, to set the standard for work ethic, and handle things on the field, in the locker room and off the field, all three categories.”

For his part, Dolente certainly takes pride in wearing the “C” on his uniform, and has shown that in his leadership.

“At Hopkins, being a captain is a big honor,” Dolente said. “There’s a lot of great players that have been captains at Hopkins, and with such a young team, it’s important that you look past yourself and always keep the team first, and try to help these younger guys come along and feel comfortable and confident going into these big games.”

Having the chance to establish confidence with that opening faceoff doesn’t hurt either, and as he climbs Hopkins’ career faceoff wins list (he’s currently sixth with 345) and sets his sights on Greg Peyser’s single-season record of .670, Dolente will look to keep on helping the Blue Jays to a smooth takeoff.

“I think that’s one of the best parts about being a faceoff guy,” Dolente said. “You get to set the tone for the game. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to win the opening faceoff, but with the effort you put forth on the opening faceoff, it really allows you to set the tone and the momentum for the game.”

Thanks in large part to Dolente, the Blue Jays have plenty of momentum, and they’re set to see how far it will carry them.