Friday's entry is the first of a series taking a look at each of the seven Division I programs in this state according to their order of finish from last season. The Baltimore Sun's men's lacrosse preview is scheduled to be published on Friday, Feb. 5. This is Loyola Maryland's turn.
Overview: Repeating their unblemished run to the Patriot League regular-season and tournament crowns in 2015 proved to be too difficult of a task for the Greyhounds, who labored to a 7-8 overall record and a 5-3 conference mark that ended with a home loss to Army in the league tournament quarterfinals. Loyola missed qualifying for the NCAA postseason for the first time since 2011, and being left out of the tournament does not sit well with a proud program that captured the national championship in 2012.
Reason for optimism: The team graduated just five seniors, which means there will be plenty of familiar names on the roster this spring.
Then again, that experience doesn't automatically translate into wins. Still, there is some comfort for coach Charley Toomey in knowing that just two starters departed from last year's squad.
"Hopefully, it's a more mature team," he said. "A lot of faces are back. I think you've got to remember 2015 to have the type of team you want in 2016. You've got to remember the narrow losses, the one-goal losses and remember that anybody can beat you in your league, and you've got to show up and you've got to compete for 60 minutes in every league game as well as the games out of your league. I think we have to hold onto that, and as coaches, we've talked about that with our team. We've tried to use it to motivate us."
Reason for pessimism: A defense that surrendered an alarming 10.3 goals per game (worrisome by Greyhound standards) will be as good as its short-stick defensive midfielders are.
The unit lost the services of junior Dan Simonetti who has decided to transfer. Fifth-year senior Mike Kutzer (10 ground balls and seven caused turnovers) and sophomores Jared Mintzlaff (13 GB, 11 CT) and Brian Begley (19 GB) are joined by freshman John Duffy, but Toomey isn't sure whether the short-sticks have progressed enough for the long-poles to avoid sliding as much as they did last season.
"We think that they're a year more developed," he said. "I think what 2015 taught us is that you don't want to be caught in a position where you all of a sudden have to implement a new defensive package in the middle of the year because what you tried didn't work. We're doing a lot of things. We are sliding, we are recovering, we are looking away from a couple matchups. We're trying to figure out what exactly is the best way to play for this defense and put them in the right positions to have success, and they've embraced all of them."
Keep an eye on: Senior Zach Herreweyers (47 goals and four assists in 2015) and junior Zack Sirico (11 G, 18 A) are locks as starters on attack. But the third and final spot is still up for grabs.
Junior Jordan Germershausen (2 A) has the experience and familiarity in offensive coordinator Ryan Moran's system to step in right away. But freshman Pat Spencer has demonstrated the kind of promise that made him an Under Armour All American as a senior at Boys' Latin.
"Pat brings that basketball mentality," Toomey said. "He's got great vision, and he can stretch a defense and has good skills. Jordan brings a very strong left hand. He's quick. His decision-making is getting better, his finishing is getting better. He's started games for us. So we kind of have an idea of how he's going to react when a Virginia defenseman runs toward him. You just don't know what you're going to get when you throw a freshman out there. But more importantly, just the development that we've seen from Jordan has kind of put him into that mix for sure."
What he said: The Greyhounds' path back to the NCAA tournament begins at Virginia on Feb. 13, followed by a three-game homestand against Johns Hopkins on Feb. 20, Patriot League foe Lafayette on Feb. 27 and Colonial Athletic Association champion Towson on March 2.
It's an arduous opening, but one that will help Toomey figure out the mettle of his players.
"We know we have to play very good lacrosse when you open your season with Virginia and Hopkins," he said. "But more importantly, those games are going to set us up for the competition in the Patriot League. I don't think this team is looking at this as a year when we have to get back to the NCAAs. What we have to do is, we really have to take care of business in the Patriot League, and we didn't do that last year. We have to continue to develop, understand the league, and really embrace it practice to practice to give ourselves the best opportunity we can on any given Saturday."