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Review & preview: Loyola Maryland men's lacrosse

Review & preview: Loyola Maryland men's lacrosse
Loyola (Md.)'s Nikko Pontrello (18) celebrates his unassisted goal with Zach Sirico at Ridley Athletic Complex. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

Here is the first installment of a series that checks in with the seven Division I programs in the state to give a glimpse into the past and future. Teams are scheduled to appear according to the chronological order in which their seasons ended. Monday begins with a visit with Loyola Maryland.

REVIEW

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The good: The Greyhounds (7-8 overall and 5-3 in the Patriot League) ranked 20th in the country in offense after averaging 11.2 goals, and when they needed a goal, they frequently turned to Zach Herreweyers. After sitting out most of the 2014 campaign because of academic ineligibility, the junior attackman scored a team-high 47 goals, which tied Gary Hanley (1981) for fifth-most in a single season in school history. Herreweyers, who used his shooting accuracy and velocity to finish with nine hat tricks, was a mainstay on the right wing of the offense.

"We felt like Zach Herreweyers put up great numbers for us this year," coach Charley Toomey said. "We didn't ask him to dodge an awful lot because he was a finisher for us."

** The graduation of three-year starting goalkeeper Jack Runkel paved the way for senior Pat McEnerney to begin the year as the starter in the cage. But after four starts, McEnerney eventually gave way to Grant Limone, and the freshman started the last 11 games. He posted a 9.93 goals-against average and a .538 save percentage and gave the program a glimpse of the future.

"We thought we had a good one, and we thought he was going to develop," Toomey said. "To finish with the numbers that he finished with, they're All-American-caliber numbers. So as a freshman, that's pretty impressive. I just wish we played better defense around him because I think he would have taken another step that we needed to take with him. Our rope unit was very young, and we gave up some shots that were uncharacteristic of our defense over the last couple of years.

"We asked him to stand on his head when we won our big games -- 18 against Army [on March 14], six against Lehigh [on Feb. 28 in his first start], and 17 against Boston [on April 11]. So I felt like we asked an awful lot of a freshman when we should've just allowed him to grow up and see shots that he should see."

** After a solid debut season with a 55.6 faceoff percentage (169 of 304) and 5.2 ground balls per game in 2014, sophomore Graham Savio rose to 13th in the nation with a 59.2 faceoff percentage (167 of 282) and 17th with 5.5 ground balls. He played especially well against top competition, winning 57.7 percent (15 of 26) against Navy sophomore Brady Dove and 56 percent (14 of 25) against Army sophomore Dan Grabher. Toomey said Savio's numbers could have been better with consistent play from his teammates on the wings.

"I felt like he did it without the kind of wing play that we've been accustomed," Toomey said. "We were throwing some new guys out there on the wings. Without [former midfielder Pat] Laconi coming off the wing and [former midfielder] Kyle Duffy, we were growing up there, and I thought he did a really good job of picking up ground balls and winning faceoffs by himself and giving us possessions."

The bad: One year after going undefeated in the Patriot League and capturing the tournament crown to gain automatic entry into the NCAA postseason, the Greyhounds whiffed on a chance to capture the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the conference playoffs. A 12-11 loss to Army in the league tournament quarterfinals eliminated Loyola from consideration for the NCAA postseason. The Greyhounds failed to protect an 11-6 advantage in the final 11 minutes, 51 seconds of the fourth quarter against the Black Knights. The Greyhounds' inconsistencies were revealed during a 12-game stretch in which they alternated wins and losses, going 6-6 over that span.

"We would do enough to get a big, emotional win, but whether it was Maryland on a Wednesday or Georgetown on a Wednesday, we just couldn't get over that hump," Toomey said. "That's what we've got to fix. We were right there. That record is something that we're not very proud of because we know that in our heart of hearts, there's enough talent and confidence and work ethic that we can come back and turn around some of those [six] one-goal losses."

** The graduation of Laconi and Duffy as short-stick defensive midfielders was more devastating than expected. With Laconi and Duffy, the close defensemen and long-stick midfielders didn't feel the need to slide, and the defense maintained its structural integrity. But without Laconi and Duffy, the long-poles were forced to slide more often and opponents took advantage, scoring 10.3 goals per contest. The rotation of senior Mike Kutzer and sophomore Dan Simonetti soon added freshmen Jared Mintzlaff and Brian Begley, but the position was a work in progress all spring.

"We put a lot of pressure on our offense that every time down, they had to score to keep us in it," Toomey said. "We just couldn't get that push. We couldn't suffocate a team defensively, and that's what we have to develop. Luckily, they're coming back, and they know what's expected. It's tough being a freshman short-stick. Everybody takes their cracks at short-stick, but now there are freshman short-sticks. We needed to take a step there, and I wholeheartedly believe that we will."

** Loyola's starting six on offense of Herreweyers (47 goals and four assists), senior Nikko Pontrello (20 G, 27 A) and sophomore Zack Sirico (11 G, 18 A) on attack and sophomores Brian Sherlock (29 G, 19 A) and Romar Dennis (17 G, 13 A) and junior Tyler Albrecht (23 G, 5 A) in the midfield accounted for 87.5 percent of the goals, 82.7 percent of the assists and 85.7 percent of the points. After that group, no other player finished with more than six goals, five assists or nine points. The second midfield of freshmen Jay Drapeau (6 G, 0 A) and Begley (2 G, 2 A) and sophomore Mike Perkins (2 G, 1 A) clearly missed the presence of junior Jeff Chase (10 G, 5 A in 2014, but out for 2015 with a torn ACL in his right knee).

"What we didn't see early in the year was probably what we expected because you try not to throw two freshmen out there with Mike Perkins being a sophomore and getting his first minutes there," Toomey said. "We're going to take some time to develop, and they certainly did."

PREVIEW

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Personnel changes: Pontrello's graduation opens the door for sophomore Matt Cunningham and incoming freshman Patrick Spencer (Boys' latin) to perhaps start on the left wing next season. But the more pressing question is finding an offensive quarterback. Pontrello led the Greyhounds in assists with 27, but his forte was scoring goals. Toomey was hoping that Sirico would succeed 2014 graduate Justin Ward as the primary playmaker, and the coach saw some flashes of that potential. But Toomey said Sirico has room to assert himself as the offensive leader.

"We need Zack to take another step," Toomey said. "He's got to take the Justin Ward essence. He's got to become our leader. We're very confident in his stick skills and his ability to make the right decisions down there. But we really need him to take a step up on the offensive end and take control of the offense, and that was our challenge to him. I think he's going to respond to that."

** After graduating the country's top defenseman in Joe Fletcher in 2014, the program bids farewell to another shutdown defender in defenseman Pat Frazier. Frazier ranked second on the team in ground balls (49) and caused turnovers (15) and added two goals and one assist. The good news for Loyola is defenseman David Manning, who started all 17 contests in 2014 and posted 24 ground balls and six caused turnovers, is scheduled to return for his redshirt senior campaign after sitting out this past spring because of a torn meniscus in his knee.

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"I'd be hard-pressed to say that David's not going to step into a role down there," Toomey said. "… I would say that he's probably going to be on the inside because he was our communicator. He's the organizer. So we're going to need [junior defenseman] Jason [Crane] to kind of fill a different role. But we've also got competition there from a couple of other guys like [freshmen] Ryder Harkins and Foster Huggins and [sophomore] Adam Monticollo. So we're comfortable with the competition that we're going to see down there."

** Savio was so solid that he rarely got pulled. But a hamstring injury did sideline him for two contests, which enhanced the importance of Brendan Donovan (Loyola Blakefield), who won 46.7 percent (35 of 75) of his draws. The fifth-year senior has since graduated, which leaves freshman Michael Orefice to prove he can move up the depth chart and back up Savio.

"I was talking to [assistant] coach [Steve] Vaikness the other day, and if we had to do it again, we probably would give Michael some earlier reps," Toomey said. "He's a dangerous faceoff guy with the ball in his stick. He's a kid who can kind of create early offense. We started to see it in practice, but we'll see. That's something that the better our wing play gets, the more it's going to allow for guys like Michael and Graham to compete for a ball."

Outlook for 2016: Partly cloudy. The Greyhounds did not lack talent, but they were unable to harness that potential and turn it into results. Losing to Army in the Patriot League tournament April 21 sent the team into the offeseason early and the coaches into some serious soul-searching. Loyola does return eight of 10 starters, but the need for an offensive quarterback, a productive second midfield, and steady short-stick defensive midfielders are questions the program must answer between now and next February. The Greyhounds figure to be a Patriot League contender once again, but Colgate, Army and Navy will make it a crowded affair.

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