Here is the fifth installment of a series that checks in with the seven Division I programs in the state to give a glimpse into the past and the future. Teams are scheduled to appear according to the chronological order in which their seasons ended. Thursday’s visit was with Navy. Friday’s visit is with Loyola Maryland.
The good: The Greyhounds’ 15-2 record included an 8-0 run through the Patriot League in which they became the fourth team in the last five year to win the regular-season and conference championships. Despite this being its first season in the conference, Loyola convincingly made itself at home against the likes of Army, Lehigh and Colgate.
“There were expectations at the beginning of the year to challenge and compete for the Patriot League championship, and they did just that,” coach Charley Toomey said. “They ran through the league, they won the regular season, they defended the Patriot League [title] in the tournament at home, and they just kept getting better week to week. I wouldn’t ever want to say that they surprised us, and it’s hard to say that they even exceeded our expectations, but they just kept getting better.”
**Defenseman Joe Fletcher did not win the Tewaaraton Award – college lacrosse’s version of the Heisman Trophy – but that does not diminish his career accomplishments. The graduate became only the second defenseman to be named a finalist (the first was Virginia’s Ken Clausen in 2010) and was selected as winner of the William C. Schmeisser Award as the nation’s Outstanding Defensive Player. The national praise only confirmed what his teammates and Toomey had known for a long time.
“We all knew what we had, but I’m so glad that on the grand stage, the world of lacrosse knows what Loyola had over the last three years,” Toomey said. “It was very difficult to be challenged week in and week out by an opponent’s No. 1 attackman, and he did everything from limiting guys’ looks on cages to multiple times of having guys’ points streaks broken. Nobody prepares the way that Joe prepares, in my opinion, or pays as much attention on and off the field. He’s hopefully leaving a legacy for future Loyola players.”
**The program had five players named All-America in Fletcher (first team); attackmen Justin Ward, goalkeeper Jack Runkel and short-stick defensive midfielder Pat Laconi (second team); and attackman Nikko Pontrello (honorable mention). It’s the most All Americans since seven earned that status after the 2012 season.
“I think it just showed that this was a team that kept getting better, and those accolades are team accolades,” Toomey said. “Those guys were a special group of guys – along with the ones that ran on their lines but didn’t receive the accolades. This group was a very giving group. They shared the ball, and they enjoyed in each other’s successes.”
The bad: The Greyhounds’ 15-game winning streak – the longest in program history – was bookended by a 14-13 overtime loss to Virginia on Feb. 6 and a 13-6 setback to Albany in an NCAA tournament first-round game on May 10. Shortly after the loss to the Great Danes, Toomey took to the road to recruit.
“Getting out on the road and getting into your car and recruiting future players, that kind of helps you to move on rather quickly,” he said. “But it was a little bit of frustration, too, because I think to a man, we all look at ourselves and think, ‘We picked the worst day to play our worst game of the season.’ I think that’s kind of the taste that is left in your mouth. Obviously, we’re hoping that’s going to be something that’s going to fuel the team coming back next year to put themselves in a position to get back to the tournament and to rectify this taste that we’ve got in our mouths.”
**The 11-member senior class graduated with the 2012 national championship in its pocket, but this was a group that included five starters and four more major contributors.
“It’s disappointing because you just wanted to give these seniors what they deserved, and what that truly is, is a possibility to play in the Final Four,” he said. “… I thought this team was certainly built to make run and to have that early exit is certainly disappointing. And we’re going to use that to fuel Loyola for a while.”
Personnel changes: Offensively, Loyola has to replace attackman Brian Schultz (36 goals and 14 assists) and midfielder Matt Sawyer (19 G, 7 A). But the biggest hole to fill on that side of the field is finding a quarterback like the one attackman Justin Ward (18 G, 53 A) had been in the past two years. Carefully emphasizing that he does not expect a player to duplicate Ward’s skills and performances, Toomey said there is potential within the roster.
“I’ve been every excited by the development of three guys that were freshmen this year in Zack Sirico, Matt Cunningham and Jordan Germershausen,” he said. “Though they didn’t get a ton of minutes because of the guys that were in front of them, we really felt like they were coming on, and we’ve got great competition in a very young group of guys. We’ll fill that role next year.”
**As discussed above, filling the void created by Fletcher’s departure will be an arduous assignment. Junior defensemen Pat Frazier (17 ground balls and 15 caused turnovers) and David Manning (24 GB, 6 CT) are back, and the development of freshman long-stick midfielder Ryan Fournier (4 G, 2 A, 32 GB, 9 CT) has Toomey considering shifting sophomore Jason Crane (18 GB, 4 CT) from long-stick midfield to close defense.
“We have two returning in David Manning and Pat Frazier, and we’ve got to fill that void,” Toomey said. “We’ve got to put the best people down there to compete for that, and I think Jason Crane has done it at the high school level and has done it pretty well. He probably played a little bit out of position for us these last couple years.”
**Almost as important as Fletcher was, goalkeeper Jack Runkel was a three-year starter who posted career highs in goals-against average (7.20) and saves percentage (.611) this past spring. Cultivating a new starter will be a priority in the offseason.
“I think when we line up on Sept. 1 for our first practice, [junior] Pat McEnerney who kind of landed in that second role all year long gets that first opportunity,” Toomey said. “But between [freshman] Sam Beazell and Pat McEnerney and a freshman coming in, Grant Limone, I think between the three of them, it’s going to be a great competition for that spot.”
Outlook for 2015: Partly sunny. For the second time in three years, the Greyhounds were saddled with an underwhelming preseason ranking and low expectations. And as they did in 2012, they converted that lack of respect into motivation to top the polls and earn the No. 3 seed in the NCAA postseason. But the defense had no answers for Albany’s Thompson-infused offense, and the offense was stuck in neutral. Certainly, the cupboard is not bare at Ridley Athletic Complex in Baltimore. But there are some considerable holes to fill, and Patriot League rivals like Army, Lehigh and Colgate will be eager to reassert themselves as contenders for the conference title and return the losses that they absorbed from Loyola this spring.