Penn State is 26-24-1 all time against Loyola Maryland in their series, but the Greyhounds have won the past five meetings, including a 12-11 overtime victory Feb. 15, 2014.
The Nittany Lions opened the season with a convincing 15-8 victory over Vermont a week ago. Redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Connor Darcey, who succeeded 2013 first-team All-American Austin Kaut, made 15 saves in the first start of his career and was named the Big Ten Conference's Defensive Player of the Week.
The No. 7 Greyhounds began their season with a one-goal loss to No. 9 Virginia for the second year in a row. The team failed to take advantage of dominant faceoff play from sophomore Graham Savio, who won 67.9 percent (19 of 28) of his draws and had a team-high nine ground balls. The 19 faceoff wins and 28 restarts taken were both career bests.
Here are a few factors that could play a role in their game at noon Saturday at Ridley Athletic Complex.
1) Assisting Pontrello. Senior attackman Nikko Pontrello returns as Loyola's leader in goals (51) and points (63) and had a goal and two assists in the 13-12 loss to the Cavaliers. But sophomores Jordan Germershausen and Matt Cunningham, the other two starting attackmen, combined for just one assist, one shot and two turnovers. Coach Charley Toomey acknowledged that the offensive burden on Pontrello is heavy.
"You can't feed the ball to yourself, and we're kind of asking him to do that," Toomey said. "We're asking him to be [2014 offensive quarterback] Justin Ward, and we're asking him to be Nikko Pontrello. Right now, what I think we need more of is five other guys that are stepping up. Whether or not it's stickwork or running our offense at full speed, we need Nikko to settle into the game and not have the ball in his stick the whole possession."
2) Helping McEnerney. Toomey told my colleague Mike Preston that senior goalie Pat McEnerney will make his second consecutive start against Penn State. McEnenery surrendered 13 goals but also made nine saves, including three Preston called "spectacular." Toomey, a former Greyhounds goalkeeper himself who could have gone to freshman Grant Limone, said last month that one of the biggest qualities he looks for in a goalie is leadership.
"We need somebody to lead," Toomey said. "When things are going crazy, he needs to settle the defense down and get them organized. He needs to understand that we're going to give up goals. So we have to be organized and make sure that we fix it in that small window where you get together defensively after a goal and make sure there's no finger pointing. Whether or not you're the captain, you have to be the captain. You don't need a 'C' on your chest, because the goalie naturally has one."
3) Aiding the short sticks. The Greyhounds struggled against Virginia's first midfield. Cavaliers junior Greg Coholan had four goals and an assist, sophomore Zed Williams posted three goals and two assists, and senior Ryan Tucker added a goal and an assist. The short-stick defensive midfield trio of senior Mike Kutzer, freshman Jared Mintzlaff and sophomore Dan Simonetti had trouble staying with their assignments, and that forced their defensive teammates to slide, which CBS Sports Network analyst Evan Washburn said contradicts the team's traditional defensive philosophy.
"I know that in the past, what Charley and Loyola have wanted to do defensively is that their schemes are based on the success of those short-stick D-middies," Washburn said. "They don't have to slide. They can stay home. That's been their philosophy. If who they have now to replace [Pat Laconi and Kyle Duffy] can't do that, that changes their philosophy on defense, where they are going to have to slide quicker. They are going to have to rotate, and that provides opportunities on re-dodges."