Think of Bobby Horsey as the senior who has always been there, doing something to keep the winning lacrosse tradition alive at Loyola College, while typically taking a back seat to bigger stars on the team without a complaint.
Think of Horsey as the workaholic who battled through a horrendous, early-season shooting slump this spring and is now one of the hottest scorers on the Greyhounds' roster.
When Loyola coach Dave Cottle thinks of Horsey, he sees a talented midfielder with an upbeat personality befitting a man who plans to teach elementary school children and figures to end up on the sidelines as a coach. Cottle sees a player who never met a task he did not attack.
"When you have a kid who cares as much and works as hard as Bobby does, good things are going to happen to him," said Cottle, whose seventh-seeded Greyhounds enter their 14th consecutive NCAA tournament today with a first-round matchup against unseeded Georgetown at UMBC.
"He's one of our best defensive middies, he's captain of our extra-man [offense], he faces off when we need him. He knows the clears, he knows the rides," Cottle added. "This is a young man who is going to be an outstanding coach. He's been a great four-year player."
And Horsey has picked a fine time to go on the best offensive tear of his career.
Horsey finished the regular season ranked second on the team in goals (23) and tied for fourth in scoring with 28 points. He has produced 18 goals in the past six games.
It all started with one of the bigger moments of his Loyola career, and one of the key shots of the season. A week after the Greyhounds had dropped a 19-14 decision to Towson, Loyola was reeling and in desperate need of a victory over visiting Syracuse on April 7.
That day, Horsey sent a bounce shot past goalie Rob Mulligan to tie the game with 27 seconds left and force overtime. Eighty-nine seconds into the extra period, fellow midfielder Michael Sullivan scored to give Loyola a 14-13 win.
Horsey's recovery fueled the resurgence of a Loyola attack that could not find the net in the season's early going, when Horsey was as guilty as anyone. Six games into the year, he was making fewer than 10 percent of his shots.
"I just lost my niche," he said. "I was getting my shots earlier in the season. My problem was I was shooting to the same spot every time, and goalies were ready for it. I just worked extra before or after practice on shooting to different spots and finding my niche again."
That Syracuse goal provided the spark of confidence Horsey craved. It ignited a 15-for-21 shooting streak, including a six-goal day against Butler that pushed him toward a career high for goals scored in a single season, bettering last year's 20. It forced defenses to cover him with a long stick, which was not the case earlier this season."[Horsey] is constantly working on his game. Now, goalies pretty much have no idea where he's coming from," said senior midfielder Gavin Prout, Loyola's leading scorer, who shared the spotlight last year with since-graduated Tim Goettelmann and Mike Battista.
"Bobby was known as a role player before. He got his minimal shifts per game. He's the guy who set picks to get the marquee guys open. He wasn't used to being a leader like he is now. No matter how much he's being yelled at, he's always got a smile on his face, even while he's doing pushups. It doesn't seem like he's ever in a bad mood."
And it never bothered Horsey that people notice him as a lacrosse rarity - an African-American player. He grew up outside of Philadelphia, and his mother, Diane, still teaches physical education at West Chester East High, from which Bobby graduated. Diane coached the school's women's lacrosse team there for many years.
"I would go out with a girls stick when I was 6, practice with the girls team, run around and be a pest," said Horsey, who started playing organized lacrosse in the fourth grade.
Horsey, 5 feet 9, 185 pounds, was a Division I-AA running back prospect who was recruited by Delaware, Rutgers and Rhode Island. But the day he tore a knee ligament in his junior season was the day he decided lacrosse was his game. He turned down North Carolina to come to Evergreen.
After running with the second midfield for two seasons, he cracked the starting lineup eight times as a junior. This year, Horsey has started all but one game.
Now, he's determined to help the Greyhounds shed their label as letdowns in May. Loyola has not gone past the NCAA quarterfinals since 1990. Last year, it lost in the first round to Notre Dame.
"It's the truth and we all know it," Horsey said. "Every senior lives with that [reputation]. We're not living a lie by making that statement. We have to get over the hump."
Men's Division I tournament
What: First-round games
Where: UMBC Stadium
No. 6 seed Towson (12-3) vs. Duke (11-5), noon
No. 7 seed Loyola (9-3) vs. Georgetown (11-2), 3 p.m.