Preston: Loyola attackman Pat Spencer's evolution as a player is complete

Soon after the 2017 season ended Loyola Maryland coach Charley Toomey and coordinator Marc Van Arsdale had a meeting to evaluate and improve the offense.

The top solution was simple: Attackman Pat Spencer had to shoot and score more. If he did, that would open up the offense for everyone else. To be blunt, Spencer needed to take over games.

In 15 this season the junior attackman from Boys’ Latin has become the Greyhounds’ go-to player. It wasn’t that way his first two seasons on the Loyola campus. Spencer was always a great passer, but he appeared tentative and at times would disappear in the final minutes of games.

Now, after some innovations by Van Arsdale — who is in his second season with Loyola — it has become Spencer’s offense.

“We wanted him to be more aggressive with the ball in his stick and not just be an assist guy,” Toomey said. “We asked, ‘Where could we turn the corner and take his game?’ We needed more goals, better shot selection out of the team and better passing.”

Whoa, that’s a lot to ask.

But so far this season Spencer has scored 31 goals and collected 55 assists compared with 28 goals and 55 assists last season. That doesn’t sound like much of an improvement, but the Greyhounds have a better shooting percentage compared to a year ago (.359 to .301), shots on goal percentage (.644 to .587) and are averaging 13.6 goals a game compared with 12.4 in 2017.

Add all those things up and Loyola appears ready to make a deep run into the postseason as opposed to not being much of a threat like last year.

“Pat is willing to do whatever is needed to help this team be successful and he is remarkably selfless for such an accomplished player,” Van Arsdale said. “We needed to be slicker this season, rely more on ball movement and shot selection instead of putting the ball in [midfielder Brian] Sherlock, [attackman Zack] Sirico and midfielder Romar Dennis’ stick and saying, ‘Go beat your man.’ ”

The Greyhounds have moved Spencer out of the wings more to make defensemen feel uncomfortable. They put him at the top to run the extra-man offense. It’s interesting to see how defenses will try to stop Spencer. Some will play him man-to-man and then slide double teams early to force him to get rid of the ball, and other teams will attempt to shut him off completely.

Some teams try an assortment of zones, but nothing has worked. And there isn’t much Spencer hasn’t seen.

“Our design varies game to game,” Spencer said. “We have become more vocal on offense and there is better communication as far as trying to figure things out.”

Spencer is the team’s quarterback. Last year, he had three strong dodgers to work with in Sirico, Sherlock and Dennis. This year, he has two freshmen on the attack in Aidan Olmstead (19 goals, 18 assists) and Kevin Lindley (33 goals, four assists). Olmstead is more of a complete player while Lindley is a better finisher.

Spencer has made both of them better while they have taken some of the pressure off him.

“We expected Kevin and Aidan to be good players, but they have exceeded what we thought,” Van Arsdale said. “It’s good to see that improvement in the middle to late this year instead of as sophomores.”

Van Arsdale compared Spencer to attackman great Steele Stanwick, whom he coach at Virginia from 2009 through 2012. Both, according to Van Arsdale, have high lacrosse IQ’s and great vision, which is why Stanwick had 143 career assists and 126 goals.

Spencer has 96 career goals and 162 assists.

Stanwick was a better shooter and finisher while Spencer has more athleticism. When it came to toughness, there hasn’t been an attackman tougher than Stanwick in recent years.

“Pat is Steele with [Johns Hopkins great] Kyle Harrison’s athletic ability,” Van Arsdale said. “Steele was a better shooter at this stage than Pat, a ruthless finisher. Pat is a tough guy. He takes a lot of punishment. It’s just that his 6-foot-3, 190-pound frame can handle it better.”

Spencer just likes to be in the conversation. As far as athleticism, he’s a lacrosse player with a point guard’s game and mindset. He is an assistant basketball coach at Boys’ Latin and Toomey said he wished he shot a lacrosse ball more in his spare time than a basketball.

But at the same time, if the Greyhounds needed the ball and a stop on the defensive end late in the game, Toomey would send Spencer over to get the ball back.

“It’s an honor,” Spencer said of the Stanwick comparison. “It’s incredible because he has a national championship under his belt. I always looked up to him when I was younger, just trying to be like him in terms of seeing the field and able to break a field down. He can do it all.”

And so can Spencer.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

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