Army and Loyola Maryland have split four all-time meetings with the former winning the last game, 12-11, in the Patriot League tournament quarterfinals on April 21, 2015. The winning team of this contest between the Black Knights, who are 3-1 on the road, and the Greyhounds, who are 4-2 at home, will earn the No. 2 seed and a bye to Friday's semifinals of the Patriot League tournament. The losing team will be forced to play in Tuesday's quarterfinals.
No. 20 Army (8-4 overall and 5-2 in the conference) has dropped two of its past three games, including an 11-10 overtime loss to No. 7 Navy on Saturday. The sixth-stingiest defense in Division I has been anchored by the play of goalkeeper A.J. Barretto. The freshman ranks seventh in the country in goals-against average (7.16) and 10th in save percentage (.562).
No. 11 Loyola (9-3, 6-1) is riding a five-game winning streak capped by a 13-12 decision against Boston University on Saturday. The offense continues to be fueled by attackman Pat Spencer (Boys' Latin). The freshman ranks third in the nation in assists per game (2.6) and eighth in points per game (4.3).
Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Ridley Athletic Complex in Baltimore on Friday at 7 p.m.
1) Scooping up ground balls. Army ranks third in the nation in ground balls per game at 35.3, which is five more than what Loyola has averaged. The Black Knights' prowess for picking up loose balls is linked to their ability to win 63.5 percent of their faceoffs (179 of 282). Junior Dan Grabher (62.9 percent on 90-for-143) and senior Alex Daly (64.7 percent on 75-for-116) have powered Army, which means the Greyhounds duo of junior Graham Savio (51.3 percent on 100-for-195) and sophomore Mike Orefice (50.7 percent on 35-for-69) will have to hold their own on draws.
"We've got to match the intensity they're going to bring to the table for 60 minutes, and we have to figure out a way to make the faceoff X a 50-50 [situation]," Loyola coach Charley Toomey said. "[Junior long-stick midfielder] Ryan Fournier can pick up a ground ball as well as anybody and so can [sophomore long-stick midfielder] Zac [Davliakos]. So we've got to get those guys in there and give them the ability to pick it up and not just allow Grabher and Daly to make it a quick whistle into a ground ball that they pick up themselves."
2) Running on fast breaks. During Loyola's five-game winning streak, the team has capitalized on transition opportunities. Fifth-year senior short-stick defensive midfielder Mike Kutzer and sophomore defenseman Foster Huggins have each assisted a goal, and even freshman goalie Jacob Stover has gotten into the act with an assist. But the key cogs have been Fournier, who has scored seven goals, and Davliakos, who has scored twice. Toomey would love to see the Greyhounds run and get Fournier and Davliakos involved in the scoring.
"They're not just going to take their opportunity with a step-down shot like most poles do," he said of his pair of long-stick midfielders. "They're willing to go inside and handle and dip and dunk, and that's what makes them a little unique."
3) Tightening the defense. Loyola is expecting sophomore short-stick defensive midfielder Brian Begley to return after sitting out Saturday's win against Boston University. That should be a boost for a defense that surrendered 12 goals to the Terriers, who caught the Greyhounds napping a few times for passes to players open on the interior. ESPN analyst Paul Carcaterra said Army will pounce on those chances if given the opportunity.
"Loyola has to play excellent off-ball defense," the former Syracuse midfielder said. "That has kind of plagued them at times. They've had a lot of guys in and out of the lineup. So defensively, they've had some letdowns in the past, and I think Army is a team that under coach Joe Alberici has always been good in their six-on-six sets and moving off-ball. So to me, Loyola has to play great team defense and has to match the intensity in the middle of the field."