Friday’s entry is the fifth of a series taking a look at each of the seven Division I programs in the state according to their order of finish from last season. The Baltimore Sun’s men’s lacrosse preview is scheduled to be published on Friday, Feb. 9. Thursday’s visit was with Johns Hopkins. This is Loyola Maryland’s turn.
Overview: Last spring, the Greyhounds went 10-6 overall and 6-2 in the Patriot League and captured their third conference tournament championship in four years. But the team’s postseason run ended with a loss to Ohio State in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Loyola was voted first in the league’s preseason poll for the fifth consecutive year.
Reason for optimism: A defense that finished 2017 ranked 10th in Division I in goals allowed at 8.4 goals per game returns six of seven starters.
The unit graduated only defenseman Jack Carrigan (51 ground balls, 29 caused turnovers), and junior Paul Volante (7 GB, 5 CT in 14 games, including five starts) is in line to join seniors Foster Huggins (36 GB, 17 CT) and Ryder Harkins (11 GB, 11 CT) as starters. And with the entire defensive midfield and junior goalkeeper Jacob Stover (7.74 goals-against average, .547 save percentage) back, coach Charley Toomey agreed that the defense enters the season as the team’s strength.
“Obviously, our rope unit is intact, and that’s an important piece for us because the short-sticks just get attacked constantly,” he said. “And even bringing back [sophomore short-stick defensive midfielder] Matt Higgins and now we’re putting a freshman [Matt Benus] up there, we feel pretty good about our rope unit. Obviously, with [senior] Zac Davliakos and [sophomores] Ryan McNulty and Alex Johnson, who got thrust into the mix last year with the injury to [Ryan] Fournier and McNulty, we’re as deep as we’ve been in a long time.”
Reason for pessimism: Tewaaraton Award finalist Pat Spencer (28 goals, 55 assists) is back for his junior season, but the Davidsonville resident and Boys’ Latin graduate will have two new faces on attack with him.
Freshmen Kevin Lindley and Aidan Olmstead, sophomore Logan Devereaux and junior Devin Shewell (a Syracuse transfer) are vying for the right to start with Spencer. However the competition pans out, Toomey said he understands there will be a period of transition for the new starters and Spencer.
“I think they’re going to go through some growing pains,” Toomey said. “They’re still learning each other’s strengths and weaknesses. That’s where playing a team like North Carolina really early [in a scrimmage on Saturday], it can prepare you, and you have that sense of urgency in practice and on Saturdays to play well together. And then our second test is Richmond this weekend. So we hope to continue to build on it.”
Keep an eye on: Whether Spencer and the rest of the offense will get a multitude of opportunities to match last year’s rate of 12.4 goals per game might depend on the development of the faceoff unit.
Senior Mike Orefice and freshman Bailey Savio are battling to succeed Graham Savio (57.8 percent on 204-for-353, 103 GB, 4 G) as the primary faceoff specialist. Orefice, who has won 42.9 percent on 57 of 133 faceoffs and scooped up 34 ground balls in three seasons, is more experienced, but Toomey said he would not be surprised if volunteer assistant coach Steve Vaikness rotated Orefice and Savio (the younger brother of Graham) liberally.
“It might not be an 80-20. Maybe it’s a 60-40 or even a 50-50,” Toomey said. “That’s where as you get into the season, you start to see who’s gelling with the faceoff wing play and the communication there. It’s a very matchup-driven position where somebody could be struggling one day, and another man comes off the bench and has an absolutely great day against the same guy. It’s one of those ones where quite honestly Coach Vaikness does his job and I get to just say, ‘Get us the ball.’ Coach Vaikness is good at what he does.”
What he said: Toomey is one of many coaches who do not put too much stock in scrimmages. But he was encouraged to see the Greyhounds commit only six turnovers against North Carolina on Saturday despite the graduation of versatile midfielders Brian Sherlock and Romar Dennis.
“We really shared the ball and didn’t make some mistakes,” Toomey said. “We’re just a little different in losing Romar and Brian. I don’t think you have those go-to guys where when the ball got into their sticks, everybody else just watched for them to make a play. Now we’re sharing the ball and moving it constantly and really trying to create good opportunities.”