By Edward Lee, The Baltimore Sun
6:13 PM EST, February 7, 2013
To the victors go the spoils, but those accolades mean little to the Loyola men's lacrosse team.
In the aftermath of the Greyhounds' 9-3 victory over Maryland in last May's NCAA tournament final, the program turned down a few rewards associated with bringing home the university's first Division I national championship.
Coach Charley Toomey said the team declined an invitation in June to ring the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange. And when a few players traveled to Florida with duffel bags printed with "2012 National Champions" for an exhibition against Team USA earlier this month, they were admonished by teammates and coaches alike.
"We turned down a lot of things that we probably had an opportunity to do," Toomey said. "We told our team that we're chasing something new the minute they showed up. So it really hasn't been about 2012. It's all about 2013."
That approach sums up Loyola's mindset heading into this season. Despite being widely regarded as the No. 1 team in Division I by many media outlets, the Greyhounds said no one in their locker room is mentioning the word "repeat."
"I don't think we've heard it very many times. You don't hear it from any Loyola people," senior attackman Mike Sawyer said. "I just don't think that's what we're thinking about right now. It's in the back of our minds. That's where we want to be in May. But we still have to get through everything now to get there."
While the players and coaches might not be openly discussing joining Johns Hopkins, Syracuse, Princeton, North Carolina and Cornell as the only programs to capture back-to-back NCAA titles, the team may not be able to escape scrutiny from the outside. That's what happens when you graduate just two starters from a roster that opened 2012 with 12 consecutive wins and finished the campaign with an 18-1 record.
Loyola certainly won't fly under the radar as it did for the first half of last season when it was unranked in the preseason. Because of the label as reigning national champions, the Greyhounds will arguably be the most important opponent on 14 teams' schedules.
"The fact that they're coming off a national championship year just gives it that much more excitement to see how they're going to perform and how we're going to perform against them," Towson coach Shawn Nadelen said of his team's meeting with Loyola on Feb. 20 in what will be the 55th game between the two sides. "They didn't really lose too much. So we're looking forward to getting out there. We laid a big egg over there [in a 13-6 Greyhounds win]. So I know that's in the back of our guys' minds."
UMBC coach Don Zimmerman is quite familiar with the situation awaiting Loyola. He was the architect of Johns Hopkins' NCAA title campaigns of 1984, 1985 and 1987, and Zimmerman said the Greyhounds won't get a day off from their opponents.
"You go from being the hunter to the hunted," he said. "I know that's a cliche, but that's what it is. You may sneak up on somebody one year, but once that's occurred, it's probably not going to happen again. You can't live in the past, you can't rest on your laurels. You have to go out there and understand that in college, every team every year is different. Every team is unique. You lose some guys and you bring some guys on. So with that in mind, you've got to understand that this year is a different year, and you've got to work hard to play to your ability. So I think that's probably what Loyola is looking at."
The Greyhounds said they are fully aware of that sentiment. Senior short-stick defensive midfielder Josh Hawkins said the desire to avoid losing to a lesser opponent is a motivation.
"I would say what drives us is we're going to be expecting every single team that matches up against us to want to take us out," he said. "So we have to hold strong and fight harder and prove to everybody else that we belong at the No. 1 spot. That's what's going to drive us."
Last season, Loyola's spurt was fueled by its exclusion from Top 20 rankings in the preseason, frequently employing that snub to ratchet up its intensity and focus. But with the absence of an underdog label, what will inspire the Greyhounds now?
"The drive is getting back to that final four and getting back to that Championship Weekend," senior long-stick midfielder Scott Ratliff said. "For all the sophomores, juniors and seniors that got a taste of that last year, it's like going to Ruth's Chris [Steak House] and eating steak. Once you do it once, you've got to go back because it was too much fun and it happened too fast."
Toomey heard Ratliff's steakhouse analogy and didn't disagree with it. But he and the coaching staff have emphasized to the players that getting to Memorial Day weekend will require effort and sacrifice.
"We've talked about it being a journey, and you can't get to Ruth's Chris Steak House without taking the same dirt road that you took to get there," he said. "We've got to continue to take that dirt road. We can't take that expressway, because we took that dirt road last year."
With 26 of the 46 players either juniors or older, Toomey knows he can rely on the team's more experienced players to keep others from straying off the path. He said he has noticed that the players have policed themselves about their attitudes toward the upcoming season and are saying and doing the right things in practice and in the meeting rooms.
"We were No. 1 for a few weeks at the end, and we became the hunted and we handled it," he said. "That's what we need to do. We just need to outwork our opponent every day and not worry about being a target or worry about having that label on our backs. We need to worry about the label on the front, and that label is Loyola."
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