Each week, The Baltimore Sun publishes a Q&A with a college lacrosse player or coach to get you more acquainted with the player and his/her team. Today's guest is Loyola senior attackman Mike Sawyer, who recorded 52 goals and 10 assists en route to being named the university's first Tewaaraton Award finalist in 2012.
The team captured the university's first Division I national championship of any kind. What drives you and your teammates now?
Everyone's gunning for us. Everyone's going to give us their best shots. Everyone's going to come out and try to play us as hard as they can. Everyone wants to upset the No. 1 team. It's a good spot to be in, and it also gives you a little boost. You hear people talking and saying that we shouldn't be No. 1, that we lost [fellow attackman Eric] Lusby and don't belong at No. 1, that we don't have what it takes and don't know how to repeat. That also gives you a little bit of a boost.
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Who is saying that?
I've heard it from just people saying that Loyola has no idea what it takes, that we've never been here before. We also were never at final four weekend before last year.
So what do the Greyhounds do for an encore?
I wish we knew. I've never done anything like what we did last year, and I've never tried to do anything that we're attempting to do this year. We're just trying to be prepared as much as we can each week. You can't think ahead or anything else like that.
Lusby's graduation means the removal of 54 goals and 17 assists he posted last season. Does that put more pressure on you to carry the scoring burden?
I really don't feel much pressure. That's not my style. I just black it all out and play. I'm a lot more relaxed when I play. Replacing Eric, we've got a lot of different options, and we've got new lefties in our lineup with [fifth-year senior] Harry [Kutner] in the midfield and [sophomore] Nikko [Pontrello] down low. It alters our style a little bit, but it's obviously a different team. We don't have Eric and me on the wings. Now it's maybe Nikko and [junior Brian] Schultz on the left side. So you just take their strengths and try to create offense with them. You don't try to replace Eric.
Are you concerned that your play will scrutinized all year?
The fact is, [junior] Justin [Ward] is stepping up his game, I'm stepping up my game a little bit, and Nikko's stepping up his game. Other guys are stepping in. It's not like just one person has to step in. Everyone is stepping up together, and we're a new team.
After scoring five goals in the first round of the NCAA tournament, you managed just two goals and two assists in three more games. Did you feel like you were in a slump?
When your team's winning, even if you're not scoring, it's really not bothering you. It didn't bother me that people were saying that, because during the games there were other things going on. When you press out on the right side, it opens up the left side. And Lusby did play real well in the postseason, and I missed some shots that I might have been able to score. I was getting limited [chances], especially in the Notre Dame game [in the NCAA semifinals]. … That made it tough just to score.
Did Denver, Notre Dame and Maryland really extend out to contain you?
Yeah, I think so. That ended up opening Lusby up for a lot. He did make a lot of plays for himself, but I think people were conscious of the right side. That's why we were so good. You couldn't cover just one side. You had to cover up both sides.
After being named the Eastern College Athletic Conference's Rookie of the Year in 2009, you took a year off. In hindsight, how did that benefit you?
I think it was a great thing. It gave me a lot of time to mature. It made me a little bit older for my grade, which helped out. It made me a little bit smarter off the field because I did do some coaching that year. I got to see another side of it. So I'm really grateful that happened.
Was there any concern that you were letting family and friends down by not returning for your sophomore year?
Initially, I thought I was letting down a lot of people. But when I went home, everyone was supportive and making sure that I was doing the right thing there. My high school coach, after we coached that season, five coaches gave me a wooden stick with a plate on it that said, 'Finish what you started.' I really feel like I came out and did that.
Did you foresee yourself sitting here as a member of a national championship team and a Tewaaraton Award finalist?
I really didn't see it coming. When the coaches are recruiting you and telling you that this is their plan, you buy into it. But once you really start seeing the potential, it's just amazing. But I didn't really see it.