Loyola surrendered 14 and 11 goals in the first two games, resulting in one overtime loss to No. 8 Virginia and one overtime win against No. 11 Penn State. Since then, the defense has given up just four goals each to No. 19 Towson and Holy Cross.
The unit’s recent play is a promising sign for a defense that had to replace three starters in defenseman Reid Acton (22 ground balls and 18 caused turnovers), long-stick midfielder Scott Ratliff (77 GB, 29 CT) and short-stick defensive midfielder Josh Hawkins (25 GB, 13 CT).
Junior David Manning (5 GB, 3 CT) has joined senior Joe Fletcher (17 GB, 8 CT) and junior Pat Frazier (4 GB, 3 CT) on close defense, and senior short-stick defensive midfielder Pat Laconi (3 GB, 6 CT) anchors a Rope unit that includes senior short-stick defensive midfielder Kyle Duffy (12 GB, 1 CT) and sophomore long-stick midfielder Jason Crane (3 GB, 1 CT).
And senior goalkeeper Jack Runkel has improved, lowering his goals-against average from 12.97 after the first two games to 7.80 and raising his save percentage from .405 to .565.
“I think we’re settling down, getting to know each other,” coach Charley Toomey said Monday. “There are some new faces out there. We’re giving Jack the ability to make a save from 12 yards versus the first couple games when they were right on top of him. The better that we play defensively, the easier it will be for Jack to get his feet under him. So that’s really been the biggest difference. We’re gelling on defense, and it’s coming together. It’s still a work in progress, but I think they’ve proven that if they’re playing at a high level and they’re giving Jack a chance to make saves, that’s part of how we want to play offensively, and it just helps us on both sides of the field.”
Another difference appears to be a change in the mindset of the defensive midfield. Ratliff, Hawkins and Laconi combined for 29 goals and 12 assists last spring, but Crane, Laconi and Duffy have totaled just three goals so far.
That’s not necessarily a negative considering their first priority is preventing their opponents from scoring, but Toomey said the Rope unit has the green light to turn defense into offense.
“We certainly feel that they are very capable,” he said. “In fact, Pat probably has half as many goals in his first four games as he did all of last season. The difference might be that we’re not getting as much production out of our long pole, but he’s growing. He’s in a new riole. We don’t want to put him in a position to fail. Right now, he’s got to learn defense, and when that next step happens, it will happen. Certainly when Jason and [freshman] Ryan Fournier get their opportunities, they will take them. But I think it’s so early, and it’s a work in progress for that group as well.”