Despite the graduation of its top defenseman and offensive quarterback from a team that finished fourth in the Patriot League, Loyola Maryland was voted to finish first in the conference's preseason poll, which was released Jan. 27.
Since then, however, Navy, which is ranked No. 18 in the Cascade/Maverik preseason poll, defeated Air Force on Saturday and extended No. 6 Johns Hopkins to double overtime Tuesday before falling. That's why Greyhounds coach Charley Toomey isn't so sure his team is the top target in the Patriot League.
"I think the word within the league is there's parity," he said. "If you watched Navy play – and I'm sure every Patriot League coach did [Tuesday] night – everybody recognizes that Navy is for real. Our guys have a tremendous amount of respect for everybody in our league after last year. You have to remember that if you don't play your best, anybody can beat you. And if you play your best for three quarters, that might not be good enough either. You've got to play 60 minutes in this league."
Loyola ran through the conference in 2014, becoming the first team in league history to go undefeated in the regular season and capturing the tournament championship. That campaign mirrored the 2012 season in which the program captured its first NCAA title in that the 2013 and 2015 squads struggled with the increased scrutiny and attention, according to Toomey.
"Handling that target on your back, I don't know if we did it as well as we would have liked to," he said last month. "In 2014, our first year in the Patriot League, our kids played with a chip and worked really hard. The ball bounced our way a few times, but we had great leadership and our kids felt like they had something to prove in the Patriot League.
"In some ways, I think that winning the league and going undefeated in the league, you almost put your target back on your back again, and I don't know that as coaches, we did a great job of emphasizing that part of it. Obviously, the league has gotten better. There are talented coaches and players in the league. But I think that we would really have to look back on 2015 and hold onto the fact that [against] a BU and a Holy Cross and a Lafayette, you better show up every day. When we first came into the league, we probably had our eyes set on Lehigh and Bucknell. If you do that, you're going to get beat by a lot of other programs."