Towson at Loyola: Three things to watch

The two programs meet for the 56th time in another installment of their contentious rivalry, which is the longest-running series for both schools. Loyola has a slim 28-27 edge over Towson, but the Greyhounds have won the last six meetings.

No. 18 Towson began the 2014 campaign with an 11-8 win against High Point, but fell to 1-1 after getting blasted, 15-8, by No. 12 Johns Hopkins on Saturday. While the offense struggled against the Blue Jays, junior goalkeeper Tyler White turned in a career-setting performance with a personal-best 18 saves. The Tigers have lost their last three road contests with their last victory away from home coming against Drexel in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament final at Penn State.

No. 13 Loyola bounced back from a season-opening 14-13 overtime loss to No. 10 Virginia with a 12-11 overtime decision against No. 14 Penn State. Three players recorded hat tricks against the Nittany Lions, including junior attackman Nikko Pontrello who scored the game-winning goal just 19 seconds into the extra session. Dating back to last year’s NCAA tournament first-round exit against eventual national champion Duke, the Greyhounds have played in three straight overtime contests.

Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Ridley Athletic Complex in Baltimore on Wednesday at 3 p.m.

1) Denying DeNapoli. Three different Tigers lead the team in goals, but the most dangerous option is senior attackman Thomas DeNapoli. After recording 41 goals and 19 assists last spring, DeNapoli has posted four goals and two assists thus far, but he was limited to zero goals on five shots and just one assist by Johns Hopkins senior defenseman Jack Reilly. Loyola senior defenseman Joe Fletcher would seem to be the logical choice to shadow DeNapoli, who score four goals on seven shots in last year’s meeting, but coach Charley Toomey said the defensive game plan for DeNapoli would be a collaborative effort. “I think that’s going to be something that we have to do by committee because they do such a terrific job of fading him out, they force you to slide off of him and that frees up his hands to catch and shoot,” Toomey said. “It might not be just one player that has to take custody of DeNapoli. It may be a few guys.”

2) Watching Ward. The Greyhounds aren’t exactly toothless on offense and have their own quarterback in senior attackman Justin Ward. He leads the team in assists with four and is in a three-way tie for second in points with five. Towson can send either senior defenseman John Fennessy or junior defenseman JoJo Ostrander to mark Ward, but Tigers coach Shawn Nadelen said one possible tactic could involve denying Ward the ball. “I’d like it for him not to get the ball,” Nadelen said. “The more we can limit his touches, in regards to him even receiving the ball or not allowing a lot of things for him to look at for the feed for the goal or trying to get him to transfer it to the adjacent player. We have to play tough defense in front of him. That’s obviously a huge priority for us.”

3) Forging a way on faceoffs. Both teams have encountered troubles on draws. Towson has won 43.5 percent (20-of-46), while Loyola has succeeded on 45.5 percent (25-of-55). Both teams struggled in their most recent games, but Greyhounds freshman Graham Savio has won 52.8 percent (19-of-36), while Tigers sophomore Conor Pequigney has won 45.5 percent (20-of-44). Pequigney succeeded on just 37.5 percent (9-of-24) against the Blue Jays, but Toomey said the team can’t afford to underestimate Pequigney. “Facing off is such a matchup-driven part of the game,” Toomey said. “You really can’t look at it and say, ‘Well, they struggled against Hopkins. So we should be able to have success.’ You really have to get out there and let the game kind of play for a couple faceoffs to see what the best matchups are, and that’s where Coach [Steve] Vaikness [the team’s volunteer assistant coach in charge of faceoffs] does a terrific job. We think we have a good plan for them at the X, but Towson’s so scrappy. Certainly coming off the wings, I don’t think it’s going to be easy for either team to go forward and create that offense. I think we’re both looking to try and gain possession and have good, smart offenses.”

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