Earlier this season, Loyola University attackman Pat Spencer took a pass from sophomore midfielder Alex McGovern and deftly scored a behind-the-back goal against Navy.
That type of creativity and explosiveness has been a hallmark of Spencer's young career. The sophomore from Boys' Latin is meeting the lofty expectations that came with a record-setting season in 2016.
Teams have tried to adjust to Spencer by giving him different looks on defense and sometimes double teams. Nonetheless, he once again leads the Greyhounds in scoring and has earned at least a point in every game through the first two months of the season.
"I think that teams are quicker to slide this year than they were last year," Spencer said. "I have been looking to make the right passes and the right plays to help other guys score."
Against Colgate April 1, Spencer had one of his best games during the Greyhounds' 12-5 victory. Spencer continuously created matchup problems and tied a career-high with five goals. He also had an assist. For that performance, Spencer was named the Corvias Patriot League Offensive Player of the Week.
At the time, he was also ranked second nationally in assists and points per game.
Loyola head coach Charley Toomey likes to aggressively attack, and many teams have trouble keeping pace with the Greyhounds' quick transition. Spencer has been a main catalyst for the team's high-scoring offense and thrives in Toomey's system.
"That's our identity," Toomey said. "We want to be able to run. In order to run, you need to either pick up a ground ball on the defensive end or make a clean save. We're at our best playing in those unsettled situations."
In addition to Spencer, the Greyhounds have multiple players capable of setting the attack. However, Spencer remains the focal point of the offense. He has an uncanny ability to take advantage when a defenseman makes a mistake or doesn't slide quick enough to defend him. Spencer embraces the attention from opposing teams because it often allows his teammates to get open looks at the goal.
"It is always more fun to play aggressively because you get to play at your own pace and dictate how you want to play," Spencer said. "When you slow down, you give the defense a chance to settle in and maybe rest a little bit. It is a mix of ball movement and moving off ball, but you also have to be able to dodge and beat your one-on-one matchup and getting a slide. It also starts on the defensive side, getting a stop and running in transition."
Spencer wasted little time leaving his mark on Loyola.
Last year, he tied Gary Hanley (1981) for the Greyhounds' single-season record with 89 points. Spencer also led the team with 52 assists, one shy of the single-season record set by Justin Ward in 2014. In addition, Spencer tied for the team lead with 37 goals.
For that performance, he was named a second-team USILA All-American. Spencer also became the first player to win the Patriot League Offensive Player and Rookie of the Year honors outright.
When asked whether there is any added pressure to follow up on his sensational freshman campaign, Spencer said: "Each year is a new year, and it's a new team. We have the same goals and same expectations for our success."
Nonetheless, Spencer is showing even more versatility this season. Some of the highlights:
- He broke the Patriot League single-game record with nine assists during a 16-9 victory against Holy Cross March 4.
- He scored five goals during an 18-5 victory against Lafayette in the Patriot League opener Feb. 25.
- He had a goal and four assists during an 11-7 victory against in-state rival Towson March 1.
- And he tallied three goals and four assists during an 18-7 win against league rival Navy March 18.
Despite the success, Spencer has remained solely focused on team-wide goals, including a Patriot League championship and another deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
"I didn't have individual goals, but our team goals were to be two games better than last year," Spencer said. "Individually, that meant doing what I needed to do in order to get better and accomplish that. My friends and family might look at numbers, but I don't pay close attention to them."
The Greyhounds advanced to the NCAA semifinals in 2016 and lost to eventual champion North Carolina. Toomey put together another tough nonconference schedule to keep his team battle-tested. In addition to the tough Patriot League schedule, Loyola has played Virginia, Duke, Johns Hopkins and Georgetown.
Spencer and his teammates have embraced the challenge.
"It definitely prepares us," Spencer said about the schedule. "It can be frustrating to us that it is at the beginning of the year, because we were not playing our best lacrosse. It does prepare us, though. We can go into film or into a practice session and look at what we need to improve on, what we need to refine to get better."
Prior to enrolling at Loyola, Spencer was a stellar student-athlete at Boys' Latin. As a senior, Spencer was named an Under Armour All-American and earned all-state honors from the Maryland State Lacrosse Coaches Association. He also played a key role in Boys' Latin's 2014 MIAA "A" conference title and championship.
This year, Boys' Latin and St. Paul's will play the 100th game in their esteemed rivalry. Spencer's most memorable game was the conference championship game in 2014, when Boys' Latin topped the Crusaders, 17-11, and finished 18-0. Spencer had a goal and an assist during that game.
"The entire season leading up to that game, and we got to play our rival school in the championship game, and it led to us being national champions," Spencer said. "The tradition that each school has, and the fact that it goes back so long, makes it special. Being a part of anything that is that big makes it really exciting."
Issue 232: April 2017