The unease that dogged Loyola in the offseason and preseason involved an offense that graduated a combined 76 goals and 32 assists from four starters in attackman Mike Sawyer and midfielders Chris Layne, Sean O'Sullivan and Davis Butts.
But through the first four games of the current season, the No. 13 Greyhounds (3-1 overall and 1-0 in the Patriot League) are one of the most productive teams in Division I. Thus far, they rank fourth in the country with 15.3 goals per game.
Senior Brian Schultz has recorded seven goals and six assists as the third attackman, and the first midfield has consisted of redshirt freshman Brian Sherlock (six goals and four assists), sophomore Tyler Albrecht (8, 0) and senior Matt Sawyer (3, 2). Schultz and Sawyer combined for four goals and two assists last season while Albrecht's campaign was cut short by injury, but coach Charley Toomey said those players have seized their chance to perform.
"We've got good players in our locker room that have waited for their time," he said Monday morning. "When they're coached the right way and they believe in each other and they get the right opportunities, these guys happen to be making the most of their opportunities. I do think that we're finding kids that are hungry. It might go back to later recruiting. They're still developing skills and are kind of hitting that growth spurt in their junior and senior years. These guys that are finding the field for us are certainly kids that we're going to continue to need to make plays if we're going to have the success that we're hopeful of this year."
The development of this year's offense has been aided by the presence of senior attackman Justin Ward, who led the team in assists in 2012 and 2013 and is doing so again in 2014 with 11 helpers.
"No. 1, we've got the quarterback of the offense returning in Justin Ward, and Justin Ward's doing just that," Toomey said. "He's still distributing, and we just have new finishers on the other end. The game, as a senior, is slowing down for him. And he's making better decisions now than he did as a freshman or a sophomore. For us, I think the pleasant surprise has been our ability to get to good space and make Justin's job easier. I think our middies are working well together and running good sets. They're attacking matchups and they're just playing well. It's not any one guy that has had to bear the load. It's been a combination of guys that we have put out there that have seen successes at different times."
This year's offense has scored 61 goals in four contests, which have included three ranked opponents in No. 10 Virginia, No. 14 Penn State and No. 18 Towson. Last year's unit compiled 54 in its first four games, but only one in No. 3 Maryland was ranked.
But Toomey said it's too early to make any conclusions about the current group.
"I think you really have to kind of see where things go as you get into a few more games," he said. "Right now, things certainly are clicking, and I just think there's a lot of lacrosse to be played with certainly [No. 16] Lehigh, who is the [Patriot League] champion over the last two years. We'll know more after this weekend with Lehigh and [No. 1] Duke in the headlights."
Speaking of the Mountain Hawks (4-0), they rank 10th in the nation in defense, allowing just 6.3 goals per game thus far. Toomey knows how formidable a Lehigh unit anchored by junior goalkeeper Matt Poillon (6.03 goals-against average and .597 save percentage), but the Loyola coach said the offense will stick to its principles.
"Our mantra has been to play fast and push transition over the past couple years to get some easy looks, and we need to do that," he said. "We don't see ourselves adjusting to Lehigh, and I don't think that Lehigh is going to adjust to Loyola. We're going to go out and we're going to try to play fast and be who we've been."