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Army at No. 3 Loyola lacrosse: Three things to watch

These teams have met only once in their respective histories, with Army winning, 9-3, in 1943. But with Loyola Maryland now in the Patriot League, this game promises to be the first of many between the programs.

The Black Knights (4-2, 2-0) have won four of their last five games after opening the season with a 6-5 loss to Massachusetts. Junior attackman John Glesener is living up to the billing of being voted as the Patriot League’s Preseason Offensive Player of the Year. He leads the team in goals (15) and points (22).

No. 3 Loyola (5-1, 2-0) is enjoying a five-game winning streak – its fifth in as many seasons. Senior Jack Runkel was named the conference’s Goalkeeper of the Week for the third consecutive time after making nine saves in Sunday’s 14-7 victory over No. 6 Duke. In his last five contests, Runkel has surrendered a total of 20 goals.

Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Ridley Athletic Complex in Baltimore on Saturday at 1 p.m.

1) Army’s defense. The Greyhounds boast Division I’s third-most prolific offense at 14.8 goals. Their proficiency at scoring will get tested against a Black Knights squad that leads the country in defense, which has allowed just 5.3 goals so far. A unit headed by junior goalie Sam Somers (a nation-best 5.14 goals-against average) has given up 10 goals or more just twice since the beginning of 2013. Fortunately for Loyola, the offense has leaned on junior attackman Nikko Pontrello (third in Division I in goals per game at 4.0) and senior attackman Justin Ward (third in assists at 3.2), and coach Charley Toomey has been encouraged that the current group is carving out a different identity.

“I’ve felt that in the past, we needed to get to 40 shots, and our transition game was a big part of the reason why we were able to get to that number,” he said. “I feel like the difference with this year’s team – and it’s still developing – is that we’re able to get to the high 30s in six-on-six offense. Coach [David] Metzbower has done a terrific job of getting guys to attack from all different areas. We’re not relying on seven or eight shots out of the transition game. In fact, we’d like to get more shots out of the transition game. But what we’ve done is we’ve pout ourselves in a position in six-on-six to be dangerous in different areas.”

2) Army’s ground ball game. No one would accuse the Black Knights – or any other team representing a service academy – of being soft, but the team is curiously lacking in a department that usually requires a certain degree of toughness and tenacity. Army ranks 51st in the country in ground balls per game, scooping up 26.7. The Greyhounds rank 18th at 31.8, and while that may not sound like much, a difference of five ground balls could mean five more possessions for Loyola. But Toomey, a former coach at the Naval Academy Preparatory School, knows that the numbers don’t tell the whole story.

“We don’t look at stats. What we look at is effort,” he said. “I think anytime you play a service academy, you’re going to get a team that plays for 60 minutes. They just keep throwing guys at you. Our challenge is going to be to play with energy, share the ball, to be who we’ve been, to stay within the identity that we’ve created for ourselves at the moment. … The scoreboard is one thing, but we want the ball. We need it off the [faceoff] X, and we need it off the ground.”

3) Army’s ball security. One factor in Loyola’s success has been its ability to protect the ball. The team ranks third in Division I in turnovers per game, coughing up the ball 10.8 times. But the Black Knights aren’t that far behind, tying for 11th in the nation at 12.8 turnovers per contest. As Toomey mentioned, he would love to ignite the transition game and getting takeaways is one avenue for that. But he also said you won’t see the Greyhounds trying to throw any crazy stick checks in an effort to pressure Army into committing turnovers.

“We’re not going to step out of our identity one lick,” he said. “We’re going to play fast, we’re going to pick up the ground balls, we’re going to try to push it. We don’t look at that type of stuff on film. I think we’ve got such a confidence in our guys and in the way that we’re playing that they’re coming down to play Loyola at Ridley and right now hopefully it’s a team with a lot of energy that is going to be excited to play its first Saturday [conference] game.”

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