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Review & preview: Loyola Maryland men’s lacrosse

Here is the fifth installment of a series that checks in with the seven Division I programs in the state to give a glimpse into the past and the future. Teams are scheduled to appear according to the chronological order in which their seasons ended. Thursday’s visit was with Towson. Friday’s visit is with Loyola Maryland, which finished with a 13-4 overall record and a 7-1 mark in the Patriot League.

REVIEW

The good: Another year, another Patriot League tournament crown for the Greyhounds, who captured their fourth in the past five years and improved to 4-0 in final appearances. They have been the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament three times and are 8-1 overall. The value of a Patriot League championship is not lost on coach Charley Toomey.

“We expect that, and not to put that towards anybody else, but we talk about that from Day One, that it’s a priority for us because it’s a road to the [NCAA] tournament,” he said. “But then we also talk about the strength of our out-of-conference games and the importance of winning those games, and certainly this year, we’ll be able to go back and look at games that challenged us to get better. Look at the Bucknell loss at home [12-11 on March 24], and quite honestly, I think we needed that to move forward and to be a better team. So I think it’s a true accomplishment.”

» The offense was supposed to be in rebuilding mode after the graduation of midfielders Brian Sherlock and Romar Dennis and attackman Zack Sirico. But the unit in 2018 was even more productive than last year’s , averaging 13.1 goals per game (sixth in Division I) after 12.4 goals in 2017 (11th in Division I).

Naturally, it helps to have a two-time Tewaaraton Award finalist in junior attackman Pat Spencer, the Boys’ Latin graduate who set Patriot League records for career assists (166) and career points (266) en route to being named the sport’s top college attackman. But Toomey appreciated how much everyone bought into offensive coordinator Marc Van Arsdale’s system.

“Guys were stepping into meaningful roles for us and really listening to what Coach Van Arsdale was asking them to do,” Toomey said. “It’s a team that is better when we pass-pass-play and get the offense going and get the ball moving, and if it ends up in Pat’s stick and you’re moving off the ball, you’re going to get a good look, and they bought into that. We’re not the type of team that’s going to just individually dodge to score. We don’t have those type of players. We’ve got small, quick players with good skills, and I thought they really bought into that.”

» Individually, Spencer set school records for career assists as well as assists and points in a single season. With 41 goals, senior Jay Drapeau became the top-scoring midfielder in program history. And junior goalkeeper Jacob Stover (McDonogh) ranked 11th nationally in goals-against average (8.54) and 16th in save percentage (.533). Toomey tipped his cap to senior defensemen Foster Huggins (46 ground balls and 52 caused turnovers) and Ryder Harkins (17 GB, 14 CT), who helped the defense rank 13th in the country (8.7 goals allowed per game). Huggins, a first-team All-American with Spencer, led all Division I players in caused turnovers (52) and caused turnovers per game (3.1).

“Those guys were like Batman and Robin down there,” Toomey said of Huggins and Harkins. “They just pushed each other to get better and allowed us to play a defense in a way that we were really comfortable with in terms of looking away from matchups, knowing that those guys were going to take custody of their men. That’s exactly what they did.”

The bad: Loyola appeared to have all the ingredients to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament as the No. 6 seed. But after a 14-12 win against Virginia in the first round May 12, the team suffered an 8-5 loss to No. 3 seed and eventual national champion Yale in the quarterfinals May 19. Toomey conceded that he had greater aspirations.

“I think when you’re invested in it and you look at your team and you feel like you’ve got a team that can go a little bit further than you do, it’s always a little disappointing at the end because I felt like this was a team that was capable of possibly playing on a Monday should things go our way,” he said, referring to the Memorial Day when the NCAA final is held. “… To advance in the tournament, to win a Patriot League championship, we don’t take those things lightly, and that’s a true feather in your cap. But it is disappointing that we didn’t put our best game together and show as well as we think we’re capable of showing as we did [against Yale].”

» The Greyhounds joined Massachusetts, second-seeded Albany and fourth-seeded Duke as Bulldogs victims in the NCAA tournament. Loyola tied the score twice — at 2 and at 3 in the first quarter — but could not catch Yale in the second half. The offense was held to a season low in goals, and Toomey acknowledged that the Bulldogs were the better team that day.

“Give Yale credit. They’re a physical team defensively, and they asked a lot of their middies,” he said. “They played two midfields about 50 percent, but they certainly asked their two-way middies to play two ways. They’re grinders, and in a game where the conditions were a little difficult, it wasn’t the type of game where you were going to be able to play fast and move the ball quickly. You needed somebody to run by somebody and create a slide, and it just wasn’t happening for us on the offensive end that day.”

» Drapeau and junior John Duffy (26 G, 9 A) were the primary producers from the midfield, but the drop-off after those two was severe. Junior Alex McGovern managed just nine goals and three assists after posting 24 goals and 20 assists as an attackman last spring. Junior P.J. Brown (11 G, 5 A) and sophomores Peter Swindell (8 G, 1 A) and Riley Cox (4 G) made up the second midfield, but Toomey said the overall unit labored to produce steady numbers.

“We felt like John Duffy was a known, and certainly Jay Drapeau was a known,” he said. “But then it was always that next group of guys, bringing them along and instilling that confidence in them that not only did we need them to be a little more consistent on the offensive end, but we also needed them to create plays and go for theirs. I thought that was the constant message in our locker room, and it got better, but it’s certainly something that we’re going to challenge our guys with next year.”

PREVIEW

Personnel changes: After losing three starters a year ago, the offense gets a slight reprieve this season with only one starter gone. But that player is Drapeau, whose team-high 41 goals will be difficult to replicate.

Brown, Swindell and Cox are the top candidates for a promotion to the first midfield with Duffy and McGovern. But more important, Toomey said, is that every player produce a little more to help replace Drapeau’s output.

“As you lose Drapeau, you have to make up 50 points somewhere,” Toomey said. “Not that one guy is going to do that, but we’re going to ask for a little more from each guy. … I think the future is very bright on that side of the field.”

» As mentioned, the defense will lose Huggins and Harkins, who were a calming influence on that side of the field. Junior Bryce Carrasco (St. Mary’s) and freshman Kyle LeBlanc are candidates to compete for starting jobs, and sophomore Alex Johnson (9 GB, 4 CT) and junior Lucas Jackson could shift from their long-stick-midfielder positions. The unit does return junior Paul Volante (18 GB, 8 CT) as a starter, but Toomey said he won’t dump all the pressure on him.

“That is what our challenge is going to be, and I don’t think it’s as simple as moving Paul Volante down low and expecting him to be a one-cover guy,” he said. “What we need to do is develop some guys and see what our freshmen look like and really challenge our guys to get a little bit better. We recognize that we may not be able to throw the ball out during scrimmages as much in the fall. We’re probably going to have to do a lot of six-on-six and we’ll see where it goes.”

» Graduation also took a toll on the defensive midfield. Long-stick midfielder Zac Davliakos (32 GB, 9 CT) figures to be replaced by sophomore Ryan McNulty (53 GB, 15 CT, 4 G, 2 A), and sophomore Matt Higgins (14 GB, 9 CT) will be counted on to fill the short-stick role Brian Begley (35 GB, 10 CT, 5 G, 3 A) occupied. Replacing the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Jared Mintzlaff at short stick, though, may be harder from a physical standpoint.

“What we have to figure out is the size aspect,” Toomey said. “We lost Jared Mintzlaff, and he was a guy that could defend physical dodgers with size. That’s where we’ve got to look at who we’ve got coming in. [Freshman] Matt Benus got some reps during games. He was actually out on the field late in the game against Yale. We think he’s a guy that’s going to step in and fill the void, for sure.”

Outlook for 2019: Partly sunny. As long as the Greyhounds still have Spencer to spark the offense, they will be a favorite in the Patriot League and remain in the conversation for an NCAA title. And it helps that he will have many familiar faces with him. The team will have to fix its defense — beginning with finding a shutdown defenseman — and improve a faceoff unit that won only 42.6 percent of its draws. In Stover, Loyola has a reliable safety valve in the cage.

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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