Fleet, Unselfish Loyola Is No Secret Anymore
By Todd McElwee
In February, people may have doubted Loyola's viability as a player on the national stage.
In March, some hesitation still existed, but as of April 13, the Greyhounds were 10-0, and nobody was questioning their championship credentials.
Many expected a solid, but nondescript season from the Greyhounds, who were just a blip on the periphery of most analysts' preseason radar. Sure, they would finish somewhere near the top of the Eastern College Athletic Conference, but would they do enough to get into the NCAA tournament? Last May, Loyola was on the outside looking in, after dropping its ECAC semifinal matchup with Fairfield, 10-9.
"I thought coming into the season that we might be a little underrated," Greyhounds coach Charley Toomey said, "but I did not mind being in that position."
Loyola protected its unblemished mark April 7 with an impressive 8-6 victory at No. 14 Fairfield. The game was tied at 4 after three periods, but the Greyhounds outlasted their ECAC rivals during the fourth, tallying the game's final goals. They improved to 10-0 for the first time since 1999.
Last season, then-sophomore attackman Mike Sawyer netted 31 of Loyola's 110 goals. This year, Loyola is more potent and more balanced. Now a junior, Sawyer is still the Greyhounds' top gun, tallying 33 of the team's 120 scores -- only about a quarter of the total production -- as of April 13. By that point, four Greyhounds had already registered double-digit goals; only five did so in 2011. Sawyer also had seven assists.
Eric Lusby, a graduate student and Severna Park alumnus, was second on the team with 27 goals and nine assists. Sean O'Sullivan and Davis Butts also had 11 and 10 goals, respectively.
The Greyhounds move the ball with speed akin to their mascot. Fifth in the nation in assists per game at 8.20, Loyola had collected helpers on 82 of its 120 goals. Sophomore attackman Justin Ward, an Old Mill graduate, led the way with 17 assists.
That unselfishness has yielded results. As of April 9, Loyola was tied for eighth nationally in scoring offense at 12 goals per outing, and ranked fourth in man-up offense, converting 15 of 29 chances (51.7 percent).
The Greyhounds weren't shy about shooting either, cranking out 44.2 shots per game.
"We are sharing the ball well," Toomey said. "At the beginning of the year, [offensive coordinator Dan] Chemotti said that we wanted to play fast, and the guys have bought in to that. They do not care who is the one scoring the goals. Yes, Michael Sawyer and Eric Lusby are the two leaders in goals, but there are several guys who are stepping up at different times, in different ways."
Anchored by Jack Runkel in the cage, the Greyhounds owned the nation's fifth-stingiest defense, allowing just seven goals per game, as of April 7. They're also third in caused turnovers at 9.9.
"Defensively, we are playing hard, hustling and minimizing mistakes," Toomey said. "I have said throughout the season that I am not sure I would want to be a goalie for this team. We do not ask the goalie to make a ton of saves, but he is going to have to make some very difficult ones. We are doing a good job, as [defensive coordinator Matt] Dwan would say, taking away strengths. If a guy is a lefty, we want to make him use his right as much as possible, and we've been effective that way."
Loyola ranked eighth among Division I teams in faceoff efficiency with a 58.1 percent success rate, as of April 9.
Sawyer, Lusby and long-stick midfielder Scott Ratliff have all been named to the Tewaaraton Trophy Watch List.
Where Loyola goes from here remains to be seen. A visit to Denver, a visit from Johns Hopkins and the ECAC tournament back in the Mile High City loom on the horizon. Whatever the results, the lacrosse world knows Loyola is for real.
"I don't know if you ever think that you are going to have one record or another this late in the season," Toomey said. "It is a cliché, but we really do look at things one game at a time. The thing I can say is that I like the way that we approach games. Guys come in ready to practice, excited to practice. They are eager to watch film, and there is a sense that we have work to do every day."
The rest of the local outfits are also staring down an NCAA berth.
Johns Hopkins is one of the nation's premier teams, as illustrated by its 9-1 mark as of April 13, road victory against then-No. 1 Virginia March 24 and permanent status near the top of the polls. Thanks to goaltender Pierce Bassett, the Blue Jays are one of Division I's best defensive outfits, allowing just 6.60 goals per game. Junior attackman Zach Palmer's 34 points (15 goals, 19 assists) paced the club.
Maryland, 6-3 as of April 13, is still searching for consistency, registering quality wins against Villanova and Duke, but failing to mediocre UMBC. Joe Cummings (Loyola Blakefield) led the Terps in both goals (17) and assists (10).
Like Maryland, Navy, which was blown out by the Terps, 13-6, in College Park April 6, is searching for consistency. The Midshipmen are going to need to piece together a late-season run to get back to the NCAA tournament.
Towson has been one of the sport's biggest surprises. First-year head coach Shawn Nadelen has the Tigers at 7-4 as of April 13. The Tigers had won five games by two goals or fewer.
UMBC was 4-5 as of April 13, but still sat atop the lackluster America East conference.
Issue 172: April 2012