In hindsight, it seems perfectly appropriate that four of the five Loyola players named to the 2012 All-Tournament team start on defense.
Junior long-stick midfielder Scott Ratliff, junior short-stick defensive midfielder, sophomore defenseman Joe Fletcher and sophomore goalkeeper Jack Runkel played a pivotal role in the top-seeded Greyhounds defeating Maryland, 9-3, in Monday’s NCAA tournament final at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.
The defense did not allow the Terps to score a goal over the final 40 minutes, 40 seconds, and the three goals Maryland scored were the fewest in a title game since the NCAA organized a tournament for the 1971 season.
Coach Charley Toomey agreed with one reporter’s query that the team’s defensive performance was one of the greatest efforts he has been a part of.
“Absolutely a team win,” Toomey said. “Whether or not they were in a man or in zone, they protected each other. When there was a letdown, Jack Runkel stood as tall as I’ve ever seen him. They took care of clearing the ball first time and getting it back to our offense.”
Fletcher, senior Dylan Grimm and junior Reid Acton surrendered a combined one assist to the Terps’ starting attack of senior Joe Cummings and juniors Owen Blye and Billy Gribbin, and senior midfielder Drew Snider, who had scored 10 goals in his first three tournament games, took just two shots and was otherwise blanketed by Ratliff.
“We were able to just talk to each other the whole game,” said Fletcher, who discouraged Blye from taking a single shot. “It sounds crazy, but talk is the biggest thing on defense. We were able to do that right and just have each other’s backs and work off of each other.”
Maryland coach John Tillman said his offensive players couldn’t move fast enough to force the Greyhounds’ defensive players to slide.
“I think individually they won the majority of the matchups,” he said. “We had a tough time getting leverage. That was one of our concerns coming into the year. We aren’t the fastest team. That’s one of the reasons why we have to have high attention to detail. We have to play at a good pace. We have to be strategic with picks to gain leverage, because one-on-one, we're not the greatest dodging team.”
Runkel was most effective in his last two games. After registering a career-high 15 saves in Saturday’s 7-5 decision against No. 4 seed Notre Dame in the semifinal round, he made five of six stops in the second half against Maryland.
“It's a dream come true,” said Runkel, who overtook junior Michael Bonitatibus as the full-time starter in the fourth game of the season. “But honestly, if you told me that at the beginning of the year, I wouldn’t have an answer for you who would have been starting. The outcome of this year would have been the same if Boni was playing. He’s just as good a goalie as I am, and credit to him. He pushes me in practice and makes me who I am.”
Fletcher said the defense thrived off Runkel, whose easygoing nature rubbed off on the players.
“He just makes the game fun,” Fletcher said. “Sometimes you get lost in a game, but he just makes you take a step back and realize that you’re playing lacrosse because he’s enjoying it and he has a smile on his face and he tells you that he loves you. He makes it a fun experience.”
*After scoring five goals in a 17-5 rout of Canisius in the first round, junior attackman Mike Sawyer scored just once in a 10-9 decision against Denver in the quarterfinals and posted just one assist against the Fighting Irish. But rather than fret about his numbers, Sawyer – who had broken Tim Goettelmann’s school record for goals in a single season – said he leaned on others to fill the void. “We have lots of people that can make plays, and it was OK if I had a bad game or an off game,” he said. “So I wasn’t worried about it at all. All the Tewaaraton stuff with the postseason, that was the last thing on my mind. It was a team thing, and winning a national championship comes first. So none of that really mattered to me.” Only once in the 11-year history of the Tewaaraton Award has the honor gone to a player who did not help his team advance to the championship final. Although Sawyer’s statistics in the tournament weren’t eye-opening, history would seem to be on Sawyer’s side. “That would be great,” he admitted. “I obviously didn’t have the postseason numbers that Lusby might have had, but we’ll see what comes.”
*Hawkins finished with two groundballs and two caused turnovers. Not startling numbers, but significant considering that he was dehydrated Saturday and needed an IV that night. But Hawkins made his usual start on defense and wings for faceoffs, and his presence was welcomed by Toomey. “Josh dug in for us like nobody's business today,” he said. “When the ball hit the ground on the offensive end, I kept looking to the sideline and knowing. He kept looking at me like, ‘I’m ready, I’m ready.’”
*Toomey was the starting goalie of the last Loyola team to advance to an NCAA tournament final, but Syracuse walloped the Greyhounds, 21-9, on May 28, 1990. While Toomey said the coaching staff took pains not to mention that squad to the current group of players, Ratliff and fifth-year senior attackman Eric Lusby said the team played with Toomey in mind. “We talk a lot about returning this program to its glory days when Coach was playing here,” Ratliff said. “He’s like a second dad to all of us. He really sets the tone for the team every game. He gets our minds ready. He was more ready to go than anybody else today. Wouldn’t rather play for anybody else.” Added Lusby: “It’s been an unbelievable journey, and I wouldn’t want to be doing it with anybody else besides Coach Toomey.”
*Lusby was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player and joined his four defensive teammates on the All-Tournament team. Maryland was represented by Cummings, Snider and junior long-stick midfielder Jesse Bernhardt. Duke senior long-stick midfielder C.J. Costabile and Notre Dame junior goalie John Kemp also made the team.