The wait is over for the Loyola College men's soccer team. After a five-year absence, the Greyhounds are headed back to the NCAA Division I tournament.
The 32-team, single-elimination tournament begins this weekend, when the Greyhounds will play host to James Madison. The day and time of the game will be determined today.
"I'm finally coming down to earth," said Loyola coach Bill Sento, after waiting nervously for the news yesterday. "It feels like a long, long time since we've been there. We've had some successful teams with exceptional talent that didn't get in. I'm especially happy for the seniors who have worked hard for four years and are finally getting a chance."
The 17th-ranked Greyhounds (18-2-1) are coming off their fifth consecutive Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship, are unbeaten in their past 11 games and have not lost at home in two years.
James Madison, ranked ninth, has a 19-1-1 record. The Dukes have not played Loyola since 1987, when Loyola beat them, 2-1, to improve its record against them to 5-1. That was the last time the Greyhounds went to the tournament, when they lost in the quarterfinals to North Carolina.
This weekend's game presents an intriguing matchup. Both teams have impressive speed, offenses that average nearly three goals a game and strong defenses led by superb goalkeepers.
Marc Harrison, one of five players who have scored in double figures for the Greyhounds, leads Loyola with 12 goals and five assists. Brent Bennett (13 goals, five assists) and Mark Mathewson (11, four) lead the Dukes.
Both goalkeepers have spent most of the season ranked nationally among the top five. Loyola's Zach Thornton (John Carroll) has a school-record 16 shutouts and 0.36 goals-against average. Brian Bailey (Hammond) has nine shutouts and has allowed 0.61 goals per game.
The Greyhounds also should be healthier on defense than they've been recently. Billy Harte will return after missing last weekend's MAAC tournament with a hip injury. And Sento expects Bill Heiser to return after missing several weeks with a knee injury.