Loyola’s long line of strong faceoff specialists – from Dan Kallaugher to Tim McDermott to John Schiavone to J.P. Dalton – has not continued this season.
Sophomore Blake Burkhart has won 50 percent (80-of-160) of the draws he has taken, and junior Brendan Donovan has won 47.1 percent (49-of-104). The No. 8 Greyhounds (9-3 overall and 5-1 in the Eastern College Athletic Conference) are winning 49.5 percent (137-of-277), and the team’s uneven results showed up in last Saturday’s 13-12 overtime loss to top-ranked Denver.
In that setback, Loyola won 10-of-28 faceoffs, but just 3-of-13 in the first half. Not coincidentally, the Pioneers (10-2, 5-0) outscored the Greyhounds, 8-3, in that half. And Burkhart appeared to win the opening draw of overtime, but overran the ball, and senior midfielder Cameron Flint pounced on the ball and scored just 16 seconds into the extra session.
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Still, Loyola coach Charley Toomey said he has not been dissatisfied with the play of Burkhart and Donovan.
“There have been games that we’re very happy with, and there are games that we’ve felt we left a few out there. I think those guys are giving us everything that they can,” Toomey said Wednesday. “I think they’re disappointed in some of the draws they might win and don’t pick up, and we’re trying to address that on a daily basis. But where there are games where the wing play can be effective, I feel like we’ve given ourselves a chance. But in games where these guys are asked to do it on their own, that’s been a little bit more of a challenge, and we know that. That’s something we’re addressing and working on, and I have no doubt that we’ll continue to have great effort from Donovan and Burkhart. And if we’re really in a jam, we’re prepared to throw [seniors] Davis Butts or Scott Ratliff out there and really take a defensive posture if we need to.”
As significant as faceoff wins are, teams have enjoyed success this season despite winning fewer than 50 percent of their draws. No. 11 Albany (9-3), No. 17 St. John’s (7-4) and No. 18 Bucknell (10-3) each have faceoff percentages lower than the Greyhounds’ success rate.
Still, faceoff wins usually translate to offensive possessions, and Toomey said he and volunteer assistant coach Steve Vaikness, who is in charge of faceoffs, are willing to try several measures to improve their efficiency in that area.
“We’re prepared to win games with a workmanlike effort if we have to start defensively every time,” Toomey said. “That’s not something we like to do. We’d like to win 50-50 battles, but we’re prepared, and that’s in our thought process at times, that we’re just not going to win faceoffs and Coach Vaikness does a good job of putting us in a defensive posture and we’re going to have to start with a defensive stop.”