The strain on Loyola coach Charley Toomey and Maryland coach John Tillman isn't limited to determining a winner and loser in Saturday's showdown between the top-ranked Greyhounds and the No. 3 Terps. For the past week, the close friends have mutually agreed to refrain from contacting each other.
"The one thing that I do miss when you play against your friend is that we don't talk that week," said Toomey, who has coached Loyola (2-0) since 2007. "We don't talk X's and O's, we don't wish each other luck, we don't do things midweek. We both know that we want each other to have success — not at our expense, though."
Added Tillman, who is in his third season at Maryland (2-0): "It's nothing that's negative. You just don't interact as much. After it's over, it's almost like the smoke clears and it's business as usual and then you move on. It's an interesting dynamic."
Saturday's contest is a rematch of last year's national title game, in which Toomey and Loyola defeated Tillman and Maryland, 9-3, and secured the university's first Division I NCAA championship. This week's game has sparked interest nationally in the lacrosse community, but in at least one household, the feeling is conflicted.
Sara Toomey, Charley's wife of 17 years, and their daughters Emma, Sophie and Lyla are naturally rooting for the Greyhounds. But they are also very fond of Tillman, who has been a regular guest at family dinners and a de facto handyman when Charley Toomey isn't around.
"Saturday is a tough one," Sara Toomey said. "It's as tough as it was on the day they played each other in the championship game. My girls don't like to hurt anybody's feelings. So we've sort of talked about Saturday, and they've agreed to dress in green and gray — like they always do — and maybe wear a hint of red for Uncle Tills. Maybe the red won't show, but they'll have it on. My oldest girl is 14, and she probably wears her Loyola lacrosse shirt as much as she wears her Maryland lacrosse shirt. And she's told her dad, 'I love you and I support you, but I also want Tills to know that I support him, too.' "
Both coaches can't remember the first time they met, guessing that their paths most likely crossed at a lacrosse camp. Toomey and Tillman kept in touch over the years, but their friendship blossomed when Tillman became an assistant coach at Navy in 2002 and then moved into an Annapolis neighborhood that included the families of Toomey and then-Midshipmen head coach Richie Meade.
Soon after, Charley and Sara Toomey began inviting Tillman over for dinner. And Tillman helped the Toomey family remove standing water from their basement after a hurricane and pick up a fallen Christmas tree.
"It's Sunday and Sara would call and say, 'Why don't you stop over for dinner?' " said Tillman, who has family in Corning, N.Y. "That was certainly a lot easier than maybe having to drive [to a restaurant]. She was always great with extending the invitation, and Charley, too. They were very welcoming and really nice people. Very easy to talk to, positive and fun to be around. It was nice for me because I obviously didn't have a ton of family in the area, and they certainly made me feel like I was family."
The coaches' friendship took center stage last May when Loyola and Maryland met in the NCAA final. The relief at game's end was palpable, and Sara Toomey and her daughters sought out both coaches.
"At the end of the match, we went down and gave Charley a big hug and immediately found Tills," Sara Toomey recalled. "The girls ran up to him and said, 'We love you. We're proud of you.' And he just said to them, 'Your daddy deserved it. He's a wonderful coach, and it was his time.' It was emotional."
Both Toomey and Tillman said their relationship remained unchanged after that game — they hit the recruiting trail together two days after Memorial Day — and Meade, who now coaches at Furman, said he would have been surprised if the outcome would have affected either man.
"I don't think it was overly difficult," Meade said. "I think they both were probably very excited about having the opportunity to win, and when you play a game like that and you're playing against a friend, when you win, you just feel relieved. It feels great and everything, but you're just relieved that it's over. And when you lose, you feel the way you feel when you lose, but you kind of take a deep breath and go, 'If I had to lose to somebody, why not him?' At the end of the day, you look across the field and can say, 'That guy deserves to win just as much as me.' "
Much as they did in the day leading up to last year's championship game, both Toomey and Tillman insist that nothing between them will change after Saturday. In fact, both agree that the contest is beneficial for their players, their employers and their alums.
"Maryland playing Loyola is a great game for both universities," Toomey said. "It's [a Rating Percentage Index] game, it's a strength-of-schedule game, and it just happens to have one of my closest friends with that program. I really feel like when the whistle blows, that's one of those games where I just don't look down the sideline and worry about the other coach or some of the things they're doing as a staff. I just worry about my kids and what's happening on game day."