Here's the fourth 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. Thursday's visit takes us to Loyola.
The good: After bidding farewell to Collin Finnerty and Cooper MacDonnell and losing Eric Lusby to a season-ending knee injury, the Greyhounds needed to replenish the attack. In stepped sophomore Mike Sawyer, who recorded 31 goals and 5 assists. "We needed him to," coach Charley Toomey said of Sawyer, the Eastern College Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year in 2009 who returned after withdrawing from school last year. "With injuries and graduation, we lost 90 goals. So we knew we needed to have a presence on that right-hand side. I think going into the year, we might've hoped that Michael could play some attack and maybe some midfield, but we just needed him down low. He did surprise the coaches with the velocity at which he could shoot the ball." … A defense that graduated defensemen Steve Layne and Kyle Cottrell didn't miss much of a beat after inserting junior Dylan Grimm and sophomore Reid Acton into starting roles. This year's unit surrendered 8.1 goals per game after allowing a 7.9 average last season. "We certainly had [senior] Jake Hagelin back in the cage but with Kyle Cottrell and Steve Layne gone, we had put up good numbers on the board," Toomey said. "We were real happy with our defensive production in being able to hold teams to the number we're always shooting for. That was something that we felt very, very good about. With the core of the group coming back, we're excited about the possibilities of next year." … Towards the latter half of the season, sophomore midfielder Davis Butts began to assert himself as an initiator. His numbers (10 goals and 5 assists) were modest, but he consistently drew opponents' long-stick midfielder. "I thought Davis Butts really grew up as the season went on," Toomey said. "Every team's got a guy like [Johns Hopkins sophomore John] Ranagan, a guy that you really depend on to start the offense. He became that guy in the midfield for us. He really put it on his shoulders to take that next step, and we saw him grow up as the year went on. So we're excited now. He did that as a sophomore, so we've got him for two more years. That's something that we're really happy about."
The bad: After capturing the ECAC championship in 2008 and a share of the title in 2009, Loyola hasn't reached the promised land in the last two seasons, falling to Denver in the conference tournament final in 2010 and losing to Fairfield in the semifinals this past spring. The Pioneers have clearly established themselves as the team to beat, but that doesn't concern Toomey. "People said the same thing about Georgetown in this league," said Toomey, who has guided the team to four consecutive wins against the Hoyas. "The stakes have been raised, and we know it." … After senior attackman Matt Langan and midfielder Chris Basler combined for 33 assists, no other player had more than five assists. Toomey said he'd like to see Sawyer develop as a playmaker. "Now the challenge is to become a little more dynamic, and that's what our parting shot with Mike was," Toomey said. "He's going to need to lead now as opposed to sitting back at the corner and letting Matt Langan do all of the work. He's going to have to really step his game to another level." … After Sawyer and Langan, the attack missed a consistent third starter for the first half of the season until senior Chris Palmer was shifted from the midfield. Sawyer and Lusby are expected to start at attack, but who among a pool that includes sophomore Patrick Fanshaw and freshmen Justin Ward and Matt Sawyer will emerge? "We've got some guys in the hopper that we think are going to lead us, but that's definitely going to be a challenge," Toomey said. "We need to have a third attackman that's ready to carry the ball and distribute it at the Division I level."
Personnel changes: For the first time in four seasons, goaltending will be a question mark for the Greyhounds. Senior Jake Hagelin was a steady presence in the cage and veteran voice on defense. Incoming freshman Pat McEnerney could surprise, but junior Michael Bonitatibus and freshman Jack Runkel have the inside track. "Right now, I'd be looking at Michael Bonitatibus and Jack Runkel," Toomey said. "Each week this season, we would say, 'OK, Michael, you're the backup,' and then, 'Jack, you're the backup.' That's a credit to them, but we need one of those guys to separate. That was the message when they went home. I can't have two goalies. I'm not playing halves. I don't feel comfortable doing that. I want one of them to separate and come back and take this spot over." … In addition to Hagelin, the defense loses senior defenseman Steve Dircks, who ranked second on the team in caused turnovers. Moving junior long-stick midfielder Kevin Moriarty to close defense is an option, but Toomey said freshman Joe Fletcher is a candidate to moving into the starting lineup. "We really felt that Fletcher really came on as the season progressed," Toomey said. "He may have been one of our best ground ball guys. So we're very happy with Grimm, we're very happy with Acton, and replacing Steve Dircks with Joe Fletcher is a possibility. But we know we've got a strong and capable athlete in Kevin Moriarty who can create some competition there. And there are guys behind them that are ready to step in and help us, too. Guys like [freshman Pete] Bowes and [freshman Derek] Zook and [junior] Alex Yackery." … The starting midfield is wide open. Aside from Butts, the other two starting roles are up for grabs between junior Pat Byrnes, sophomore Phil Dobson, freshman Austin Rogusky, North Carolina transfer and junior Chris Layne and even incoming freshman Jeff Chase of Boys' Latin. "It's going to be a year where there's going to be not only tryouts, but competition in that spot," Toomey said.
Forecast for 2011: Partly cloudy. Graduation will not be kind with Loyola, which must find a new quarterback on offense, a third attackman, a top defenseman and a goalie. The hits on defense are especially turbulent, but Toomey sounds hopeful the right replacements are on the roster. An influx of new talent in Layne, Chase and McEnerney could give the Greyhounds an injection of adrenaline, but will it be enough to catch Denver, which reached the Final Four for the first time in school history?