There's a lot at stake when Fairfield and Loyola meet in a showdown between Eastern College Athletic Conference rivals. The visiting Stags are 5-4 overall, but more importantly, they are 2-1 in the conference, which is good enough for second place behind No. 12 Denver. The No. 20 Greyhounds have a better overall record at 5-3, but they are 2-2 in the ECAC – a half-game behind Fairfield. A win would give either side more footing in the race for the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament. Here are a few factors that could influence the outcome at Ridley Athletic Complex in Baltimore on Saturday.
1) Midfield production. Loyola's attack has fueled the offense, but the midfield has been underwhelming. Graduate student Chris Palmer is listed as a midfielder, but he scored five goals in last Saturday's 12-9 victory over Ohio State as an attackman. In fact, according to Greyhounds coach Charley Toomey, no offensive midfielder scored against the Buckeyes. "So we're looking at our middies this week and challenging them to step up their games," Toomey said. "That's going to be the motive all week, to get these guys prepared. But we don't care where the goals come from. We're going to look at the scoreboard at the end of the day, and for the last two weeks, we've been able to get that 10-plus mark, and that's always a goal whenever we step on the field."
2) Early start. Prior to last Saturday, Loyola had trailed at halftime six times and been tied once. Toomey is hopeful that a 3-0 start against Ohio State can lead to similar beginnings for the remainder of the season. "I think the last two weeks, we have," Toomey said in response to whether the team has overcome its spate of slow starts. "We've come out of the locker room, and I think we scored three goals in the first five minutes of the game [last Saturday]. And then we came out in the second half and off the first faceoff, we go down and have a great look at the cage and score. Whether or not we've figured out how to come out of the locker room, our challenge again now is to play the full 60 minutes and to a man, I think our guys recognize that."
3) Historical significance. The Greyhounds are 10-1 against Fairfield, which has claimed just one win in this series (2006). But the Stags boast the eighth stingiest defense in Division I (7.2 goals per game) and a solid midfield anchored by sophomore Sam Snow, the team's leading scorer at 19 points who moved from attack, gets even better with the return of junior Brent Adams (six goals and four assists). "With Brent Adams coming back, I think their first midfield is very dangerous," Toomey said. "They moved Snow to midfield, and looking at them on attack, two of the three guys [senior Doug Kuring and junior John Snellman] have played together for just about two years now. They're capable of hurting you. They play like a team that's got juniors and seniors all over the field."