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Division I lacrosse preview: Loyola Greyhounds

Thursday's entry is the third installment of a week-long series taking a look at each of the seven Division I programs in this state according to their order of finish from last season. Check back on Friday for a preview of Mount St. Mary's, and The Sun's lacrosse preview is slated to be published on Friday, Feb. 17. This is Loyola's turn.

Overview: Under coach Charley Toomey, the Greyhounds have never finished with a sub-.500 record by finishing 8-5 in 2011. But the team fell to Fairfield in the semifinals of the Eastern College Athletic Conference tournament and has now gone two years since winning the league in 2009. Loyola has re-loaded for another run at the crown, but Denver, which has captured the last two tournament championships and reached the Final Four last season, is heavy favorite for adding a third trophy.

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Reason for optimism: Ordinarily, a first midfield that returns just one starter (junior Davis Butts) would sound an alarm, but the unit could thrive courtesy of two transfers. Junior Chris Layne played his first two years at North Carolina, but sat out last spring after transferring. Junior Sean O'Sullivan scored 16 goals for Army in 2010. Toomey sounded optimistic about the all-junior group. "We'll know more this weekend when we have an opportunity to see them against Maryland, but right now, they've kind of been the consistent group that has played together this spring, and they're playing well," he said. "They complement each other, and they give us some athleticism between the lines. Those guys kind of look like old-school middies in the sense that they're two-way middies. They can play defense and run to the offense and stay on the field. So we're real excited about the development of that group."

Reason for pessimism: The Greyhounds offense struggled at times last season, but got numerous chances courtesy of the play of faceoff specialist John Schiavone. Schiavone won 57.1 percent of his draws (133-of-233) and collected a team-high 70 groundballs in 2011. For his career, Schiavone won 58.8 percent of his faceoffs (459-of-781) and scooped up 239 groundballs. With Schiavone having graduated, sophomore Brendan Donovan, who went 14-of-39 (35.9 percent) at Robert Morris last spring, and senior J.P. Dalton, who won 17-of-32 (53.1 percent) in a backup role to Schiavone, are fighting for the right to succeed Schiavone, which is not an easy task. "It's a tough one," Toomey acknowledged. "We've got guys that are working really hard. I think the one thing that we felt like we had with John was that we knew he could win a faceoff clean, that he was going to win it out to himself. Now what we're very comfortable with is our wing play. We really feel like we've got some athletic wings with good sticks."

Keep an eye on: An attack unit headlined by junior Mike Sawyer could be even more potent if Eric Lusby's surgically-repaired right knee holds up to the duress of playing lacrosse. The fifth-year senior played in just two games in 2011 while waiting for the torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments to heal, but he did post 20 goals and five assists in 2010. "He actually looks more athletic now than he did before he got the injury," Toomey said. "We're very excited to have him back. He's moving very well. He actually gives us that flexibility that he gave us as a junior to move him into the midfield. We haven't done that, but he looks athletic enough that he could run in the midfield."

What he said: Unfairly or not, a good portion of the scrutiny surrounding Loyola centered on the play of goalkeeper Jake Hagelin. Now that he graduated, the race to start in the net when the team opens the season against Delaware on Dec. 18 is essentially a two-horse race between junior Michael Bonitatibus and sophomore Jack Runkel. The contest is too close to call at this point, but Toomey isn't likely to go with a rotation. "Personally, I have a hard time with it," he said. "I want one guy, and I want him to settle into that role."

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