Loyola Maryland clashed with Colgate for the first time ever March 29 and emerged with a 10-8 decision. As the top seed in the Patriot League tournament, the Greyhounds are looking for their first conference tournament crown since winning the Eastern College Athletic Conference tournament in 2012. The fourth-seeded Raiders are seeking their first league tournament championship since 2008.
Colgate (9-5) finished fourth in the Patriot League and edged Bucknell, 10-9, in double overtime in a conference tournament quarterfinal Tuesday. The Raiders are seeking their fifth appearance in the Patriot League title game and first since 2012. Junior midfielder Matt Clarkson – who recorded two goals and two assists, including the game-winning tally against the Bison – scored three goals in the first meeting with Loyola.
No. 1 Loyola has won 12 straight contests since falling, 14-13, in overtime at Virginia in the season opener Feb. 6. The Greyhounds are looking for their first appearance in a tournament final since 2012, when they defeated Fairfield for the Eastern College Athletic Conference championship.
After finishing the regular season with 14 goals and eight assists, redshirt freshman midfielder Brian Sherlock was named to the All-Patriot League first team.
Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Ridley Athletic Complex on Friday at 4:30 p.m.
1) Colgate’s Ryan Walsh vs. Loyola’s Joe Fletcher. One critical storyline of the Greyhounds’ win against the Raiders last month was the play of Fletcher, a senior who shut out Walsh. The junior attackman failed to register a goal or an assist for the first time in 43 career games. Despite that hiccup, Walsh leads Colgate in goals (27) and points (40), and he should probably anticipate seeing a lot of Fletcher on Thursday.
“The one constant is that Fletch is going to be on a pretty talented player,” Greyhounds coach Charley Toomey said. “Not that you can hope to hold people to zero and zero. If you get that, that's a bonus. But I feel like for us to be at our best, we have to have all of our guys firing on all cylinders, and for Joe, that means defending a tough matchup, getting five to six ground balls per game, helping us in the clearing game, and just his leadership in settling us down on that side of the field. When things don’t go well, we need his leadership and poise.”
2) Colgate’s Brandon Burke vs. Loyola’s offense. The Raiders defense is anchored by goalie Burke, the Patriot League Rookie of the Year. He ranks sixth in Division I in goals-against average (7.82) and 16th in save percentage (.551) and made 12 saves in that first game against the Greyhounds. Loyola appears to have rediscovered its freestyle philosophy on offense. After averaging 8.5 goals in wins against Army, Georgetown, Colgate and Navy, the unit averaged 14.0 goals in victories over Boston University and Bucknell.
“We’ve felt we were playing faster in the last two games,” Toomey said. “We went through a period of time when we might not have been playing the way we were hoping to offensively, almost playing at the pace of some of our opponents. If we’re going to start without the ball and have to defend a long possession, we can’t worry about going down and having a quick shot because we might not see the ball again. We’ve got to play fast, and we’ve got to be who we are and take our opportunities when they’re given to us.”
3) Colgate’s Alex Kinnealey vs. Loyola’s Graham Savio. The Greyhounds’ close call against the Raiders could be partially traced to their problems on faceoffs. Kinnealey, a junior, won 13 of 22 draws and collected eight ground balls. He outdueled Savio, a freshman who won 8 of 18 and scooped up five ground balls. Kinnealey won 19 of 23 faceoffs and picked up 17 ground balls in the win against Bucknell, and Toomey said Loyola intends to spend some time diagraming remedies against Kinnealey.
“It’s something that we’re concentrating on,” Toomey said. “We started off without the ball. So we almost had to get a stop to get to play offense. Their kid is very good. For a young man to go 19-of-23 at the X, that’s a pretty good day. And he had 17 ground balls yesterday. That’s record-breaking. We know we’ve got our hands full. We’ll challenge our guys and we’ll have a plan to make it a 50-50 ground ball. But we’ll also have a plan if we have to start defensively.”