In most big-time Division I college sports, a relatively small school like Loyola University Maryland doesn't have a chance. It has fewer than 4,000 undergraduate students, and the Jesuit school puts an emphasis on academic excellence, not training future pro athletes.
No major television contracts, no rich alumni out offering no-show jobs to recruits — it's not even the best-known school in the U.S. with "Loyola University" in its name.
But what Loyola University Maryland does have is a lot of really good and well-coached lacrosse player who this past weekend brought home from Foxborough, Mass., something the school has never seen before — a men's lacrosse national title.
The Greyhounds' 9-3 mastery of the University of Maryland doubtless raises a lot of mixed feelings in Maryland. The Terrapins have their followers, too (as does the Johns Hopkins University, which lost in the semi-finals; and even Notre Dame, which lost there, too).
What's truly unique about lacrosse in Maryland, however, is that the divided loyalties hardly end there. Each team in the final four had a substantial number of Maryland-born and -bred players. In the final game, the two teams could have fielded all-Maryland squads (along with a bench, since it takes 20 to play the men's game and the two teams together had 33 from the Old Line State).
Does any state in the union dominate a major college sport to that degree? To root for Loyola University or most any other national contender is not so far removed from cheering at the fields of Gilman and Calvert Hall or even the public schools in Hereford or Bethesda.
At its best, lacrosse demonstrates what major college athletics ought to be about. It's not money, and it's not endorsements (the Washington Redskins' RG3 may copyright his initials, but don't expect the same from Loyola's EL — Eric Lusby, who scored 17 goals in four games). It's certainly not about future careers as pro athletes or even ESPN commentators.
The Greyhounds attend a school where it's not considered corny at all to talk about spirituality or service to the world. Such is the Jesuit tradition, where certain ideals are upheld — among them "liberal arts education and the development of the whole person."
Lacrosse has taken some unfair criticism in recent years, mostly for the bad behavior of a few who do not represent a sport with such proud traditions. The slaying of Yeardley Love by George Huguely, a former University of Virginia midfielder who was convicted of second-degree murder three months ago, gave the game a terrible black eye.
Loyola's success is not only a victory for small schools or Catholic schools or private schools but for Maryland schools and for lacrosse. Attackman Lusby, who now owns the NCAA record for most goals in the tournament (17) and most in a season at Loyola (54) attended Severna Park High School, where he twice helped the school win state championships.
That the University of Maryland made it to the finals is not a bad story either, since the team wasn't even highly ranked before the tournament. It was the first time two Maryland schools were in the men's national finals since 1979.
Lacrosse continues to be regarded as the nation's fastest-growing team sport (as measured by youth league, high school and college participation) blending elements of basketball, soccer and hockey. A recently released Hollywood movie, "Crooked Arrows," that features lacrosse and its Native American roots may help broaden the sport's audience even more.
And how fitting, then, that the game's origin can be traced to a Jesuit missionary, Jean de Brebeuf, who in 1636 documented the game played by members of the Huron tribe in Ontario. It's now known that dozens of other tribes played a similar sport in much of the U.S. and Canada. It was in 1867 that W. George Beers standardized the game and set the basic rules — 15 years after Loyola University Maryland was founded in Baltimore.
A coincidence? Perhaps not. In 2012, Charles Street bragging rights go to Loyola, not Hopkins, for once. And in the sport of lacrosse, the state of Maryland can still boast of its stature as the cradle (or is it crease?) from which great college lacrosse players emerge.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun