Here is the sixth installment of a series that checks in with the seven Division I programs in the state to give a glimpse into the past and the future. Teams are scheduled to appear according to the chronological order in which their seasons ended. Friday's visit was with Towson. Monday's visit is with Loyola Maryland.
The good: After a 2015 campaign in which the Greyhounds' year ended on April 21, they rebounded in spectacular fashion this past spring. The team responded to a 4-3 start with 10 consecutive wins en route to a 14-4 overall record and a 7-1 Patriot League mark. The players captured their second conference tournament championship in three years, earned the No. 7 seed in the NCAA postseason, and advanced to tournament semifinals for the first time since 2012 when that squad went all the way to the university's first Division I national title. Coach Charley Toomey acknowledged the difficulty of getting to the Final Four.
"I don't know that I ever anticipate getting to championship weekend," he said. "What I did anticipate was trying to win a league championship and trying to advance in the tournament. I think you have to get a little bit lucky. I think [eventual national champion] North Carolina proved that. Things have to go in your direction a little bit, but you need to play your best lacrosse at the end of the year. That's what you saw. You saw the most consistent team of the season in Maryland, but you saw a couple teams that were just playing pretty well at the end of the year. And Brown was pretty consistent throughout the year, too. So I felt real good that we were coming out of our league with some confidence."
**The offense was fueled by a potent attack, but got considerable support from two midfields. The starting trio of redshirt junior Brian Sherlock, senior Tyler Albrecht and junior Romar Dennis combined for 57 goals and 22 assists, and the second line of sophomore Jay Drapeau, freshman John Duffy and senior Jeff Chase accounted for 21 goals and eight assists. The evolution of that second midfield was a significant lift for Loyola, according to Toomey.
"I couldn't be more proud of those guys developing," he said. "They each have their own identity in what we were asking them to do out there, and I thought it was good to have more parity. In 2015, we were relying on one midfield to have 70 percent and then 30 percent for the other midfield. It was much more of a 50-50 split."
**The Greyhounds took a chance on opening the season by starting freshman attackman Pat Spencer, but their foresight proved prognostic. The Davidsonville resident and Boys' Latin graduate compiled 37 goals and 52 assists, setting a program record for assists and tying the mark of 89 points established by Gary Hanley in 1981. Spencer, whose wizardry on the field impressed opposing coaches, was inexplicably left out of the race for the Tewaaraton Award and was denied a chance to become the first freshman to earn All-American first-team status since Syracuse's Mikey Powell in 2001. But the lack of recognition did not dull the luster of Spencer's accomplishments.
"Pat had an amazing year for Loyola, and I think Pat's best lacrosse is still ahead of him," Toomey said. "Pat would be the first one to give credit to the people around him, but Loyola needed the ball in someone's stick, and Pat behind the goal became our quarterback, became our chief decision-maker, and really put a lot of pressure on opposing defenses. He just didn't make a lot of mistakes back there. I credit the guys around him because as we got better in running clean sets and becoming a little more dangerous away from Pat, Pat became better in his own right. So it was really a combination of a lot of things. But I'd be hard-pressed to tell you that I thought Pat was going to come in and put almost 90 points on the board as a freshman. That's just a special year."
The bad: Loyola's trip to the national semifinals was short-lived as North Carolina sprinted to a 12-2 advantage just a little more than three minutes into the second quarter on May 28. The team surrendered the game's first three goals, gave up four more after a goal from senior attackman Zach Herreweyers, and then allowed five more after a tally from Sherlock. Although the Greyhounds outscored the Tar Heels, 8-4, in the second half to make the final score 18-13, Toomey is fully aware of the opportunity that slipped through the team's grasp.
"When you get to that grand stage, you just wish you hadn't stubbed your toe in whatever moment it was, and for us, it was a quarter," he said. "I felt like the first quarter got away from us. As disappointed as I think we all were at that moment, I'd be hard-pressed to tell you that I wasn't proud of our effort. To try to battle and make it a game is something I think we will grow from, but when you don't get there every year, you recognize the hard work that goes into it. I think our guys now recognize what it takes, but every team takes on its own personality, and there's no guarantee that anybody in that locker room will get there again. So yeah, it's a missed opportunity but hopefully one we're going to learn from."
**Like many of his peers who fell short of the ultimate goal, Toomey has replayed that loss to North Carolina on the screen and in his mind over and over again. Loyola won just 7-of-21 faceoffs in the first half, and a defense that had surrendered an average of 7.3 goals during the 10-game win streak was dissected for nine in the first two quarters. Perhaps the biggest regret for Toomey was a defensive strategy that did not quickly adjust to sophomore attackman Chris Cloutier, who tied an NCAA tournament mark for goals in a single contest.
"I think every coach that watches the weekend looks at things and says, 'Maybe that's one I didn't plan for,'" Toomey said. "I probably would have switched the matchup on Cloutier and pressed him out and slid early when the ball was in his stick. He had a special couple games. He wasn't that kid throughout the season. He didn't play at that level in my opinion through the course of the season. He played at a high level, but I think a lot of people keyed on [senior attackman Steve] Pontrello. Hats off to him and hats off to that program. They got hot, and they've got kids that really stepped up at the right time."
**Unlike last season, the corps of short-stick defensive midfielders fared well. Sophomores Jared Mintzlaff (17 ground balls and nine caused turnovers) and Brian Begley (32 GB, 3 CT) grew into their roles and helped the defense reduce last year's average of 10.3 goals to 8.6 this season. Their progress on defense came at the expense of their development as fastbreak igniters, but it was a sacrifice Toomey was willing to make.
"I felt like there were opportunities that maybe we didn't push as much that in years past, we would have," he said. "I still think our short-sticks are developing that confidence to do that. I think this year, you saw more transition probably out of [junior long-stick midfielder] Ryan Fournier than you did out of Jared and Begs. But I think that confidence is coming."
Personnel changes: Herreweyers (37 goals and six assists) wrapped up his career with 103 career goals – a total that ranks ninth in program history – and posted a hat trick in 21 of 42 games. With Spencer operating behind the net and right-handed junior Zack Sirico (19 G, 14 A) on one side, the attack could use a left-handed shooter. likeJuniors Johnny McNamara and Nick Mazza and incoming freshman Wiley Bonham fit the bill, . Butbut right-handedjunior Jordan Germershausen (Calvert Hall), who accrued 10 goals and two assists in 16 games including four starts, has the inside track to start.
"We've expressed to Jordan that it's his job right now, but we need to see that next step in his development," Toomey said. "We know what he can do coming off the bench and getting a spot start, but is he ready and is his body ready for the grind? That's what it's going to take in his senior year, and I know Jordan and I know that he will be. But he's got some other guys that are here and that are going to try to compete for that spot."
**The graduation of Albrecht (18 G, 4 A) opens the door for Drapeau (10 G, 3 A), Duffy (6 G, 3 A) or Chase (5 G, 2 A) – who has another year of eligibility – to join Sherlock and Dennis as starters in the midfield. The issue might be trying to replicate the chemistry that Albrecht, Sherlock and Dennis shared as two-year starters.
"It's always difficult when you lose a guy and certainly a captain who has meant so much to the program as Tyler has," Toomey said. "But we know the guys are ready to step up. We know that Jeff Chase still has a chance to come back next year. … He's a guy that has run on the first line and the second line. We've got guys that we can plug in, and the good news is I know that Brian and Romar can attack a pole and chances are that whoever's out there with them won't have the pressure that those first two guys will have."
**The third and final starter to replace is defenseman David Manning, who accumulated 21 ground balls and 14 caused turnovers. But more than the numbers, Manning was the vocal leader on the defensive end who directed traffic in front of freshman goalkeeper Jacob Stover (McDonogh) and patrolled the interior of that unit. Toomey said sophomore Ryder Harkins (5 GB, 3 CT in 17 games including two starts) appears poised to join sophomore Foster Huggins (24 GB, 23 CT) and junior Jack Carrigan (37 GB, 22 CT).
"He's gotten meaningful starts," Toomey said of Harkins. "Obviously, that group started to gel together with David there. So the minutes kind of diminished a little bit. But he looked really good out there from my vantage point, chasing guys around and trying to put the ball on the ground late in the game when things were a little out of hand with UNC. I know he's ready. I know he's chomping at the bit to get his opportunity and he'll come back loaded for bear. I don't see him coming back and wanting to give up that opportunity that is waiting for him."
Outlook for 2017: Sunny. Loyola has the ingredients to ensure that this season's run to the NCAA tournament semifinals will be duplicated for the next three years. As long as he can avoid the dreaded sophomore slump, Spencer is already a candidate for the 2017 Tewaaraton Award, and the offense under him, Sherlock and Sirico should continue to hum along. Manning's departure is significant, but the defense returns six other starters including Stover, who finished the campaign ranked sixth in the country in goals-against average (7.80) and eighth in save percentage (.569). The team should expect some opposition in the Patriot League from the likes of Army and Navy, but the Greyhounds certainly have found the formula to contend once again.