In November, Kevin Lindley, Aidan Olmstead and Pat Spencer took a familiar ride from the Loyola Maryland campus to C&R Pub in Towson, and over dinner, Spencer — the winner of the 2019 Tewaaraton Award, honoring the nation’s top lacrosse player — reinforced what he had been telling his two younger, former teammates for several months.
“He really reached out and wanted to say that the reins have kind of been passed to Kevin and me and to really take leadership of the offense and to trust what we’ve been doing for the past two years,” Olmstead said. “He said to build off of that and come into your own.”
Added Lindley: “He said, ‘It’s now on your shoulders and Aidan’s. It’s between you two guys to continue to help this team to be successful.’”
The Greyhounds, who are ranked 14th in the Inside Lacrosse preseason media poll, will open the season at No. 2 and reigning NCAA Division I champion Virginia on Saturday at 2 p.m. They will also begin embark on a campaign filled with more questions than answers.
How will the offense fare without Spencer, the Davidsonville native and Boys’ Latin graduate who became the NCAA’s all-time leader in assists and finished second in points?
How will the midfield replace the losses of John Duffy (graduated) and Chase Scanlan (transfered to Syracuse), who combined for 63 goals and 23 assists?
And how will the defense cope without Jacob Stover, the Hunt Valley resident and McDonogh graduate who went 44-15 as the program’s starting goalkeeper, was a two-time Patriot League Goalie of the Year and earned All-American first-team honors last spring?
“I think everybody knows it’s going to be a little bit different,” coach Charley Toomey said. “It’s tough to replace first-team All-Americans. They’re difference-makers for you, and I’m not going to be the guy that says, ‘Well, maybe the ball’s going to move around a lot more, and Loyola’s going to be better offensively.’ When you take a guy like Pat out of the offense, it’s going to sting. Our job is to develop that next guy.”
Replacing Spencer is a monumental task, but Lindley ranked third in the nation in goals (60) a year ago and second on the team in points (64). He was voted the Patriot League’s preseason Offensive Player of the Year and said he is embracing the challenge.
“I’ve always felt pressure my whole life, and I think the more pressure a person is going to have, they’re going to play better,” the junior attackman said. “But I think there’s more pressure on the team now. We have to be perfect in how we execute and be perfect in our spacing because we don’t have a player like Pat who can bail us out like he did last year when our offensive spacing was not great. So everyone has to do their role and do their job every single time in order to be successful. I would say that’s the pressure.”
Lindley has the confidence of his teammates and Spencer, who asked his friend if he would wear Spencer’s No. 7 jersey the day after the team lost, 21-14, to Penn State in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals May 19.
“I don’t want to say he has to live up to it,” said Spencer, who is a starting guard for the Northwestern men’s basketball team. “He scored a lot more goals than I did last year. So he’s not living up to anything. It’s just something where I’ll be proud to look back and see those guys down there on attack with me rooting for them.”
Olmstead, a junior attackman also, totaled 25 goals and 21 assists last spring, but will presumably inherit Spencer’s role as the quarterback of the offense.
“Obviously, there’s going to be comparisons,” he said. “I’m going to play to my strengths, and some of them may be similar to what Pat did. I’m just embracing being Aidan Olmstead and doing what I can to help the team and trying to being the best version of myself that ends up helping the team in whatever shape or form that needs to be done.”
Spencer predicted that Olmstead will enjoy “a breakout year.”
“I don’t think anybody can stop Aidan except Aidan,” he said. “We’ve seen a few times in practice when he was really hard on himself. He’s going to make a couple mistakes as the primary ball carrier, but he’s got to be confident. I think he’s going to be unbelievable.”
The void left behind by Spencer’s departure on the offensive end might be matched by the hole in the defense after Stover graduated. Junior Sam Shafer, who has played just 23 minutes in three games in his first two years, said Stover told him, “It’s your time now. You know what to do.’”
“That meant a lot to me because he’s been there for me since my freshman year, and he taught me so much,” Shafer said. “Playing under Jake was probably one of the best things that could have ever happened for me. I have so much respect for him. It was like having another coach on the field.”
While noting that a potential starting defense of defensemen Cam Wyers, John Railey and Matt Hughes, short-stick midfielders Matt Higgins and Payton Rezanka and long-stick midfielder Ryan McNulty will aid Shafer, Toomey, a former two-time All-American goalie himself, said Shafer understands how he can remove any uncertainty in succeeding Stover, who is working as a graduate assistant coach while pursuing an MBA on campus.
“He has to catch the ball, and it’s something that we’re working on,” Toomey said. “It’s not only making the right decisions in the game, but we’ve got to work on no rebounds, especially when you’ve got the schedule that we play in the early part of the year. We can’t allow second-chance opportunities all season long.”
Loyola’s status as a national contender will be tested in its first six games, as the Greyhounds face the Cavaliers, No. 13 Johns Hopkins, No. 17 Towson and No. 7 Duke. ESPN analyst Quint Kessenich said he doesn’t expect too much of a dropoff.
“Even when Loyola has an average team by their standards, they’re still competing for Patriot League championships,” the former All-American Johns Hopkins goalkeeper said. “I see Loyola in the mix for the Patriot League with Army and with Lehigh. Whereas in the past they were a strong favorite, now it’s more of a hodgepodge.”
For his part, Spencer is bullishly optimistic about the Greyhounds.
“I think they’re going to be fine,” he said. “I think they have a lot of pieces. I think the thing that people don’t realize is, they’re going to have few more questions trying to cover for Jacob than for me. … Some people might be surprised, but everybody within that program won’t be surprised.”
No. 14 Loyola Maryland@No. 2 Virginia
Saturday, 2 p.m.
TV: ACC Network
Other notable men’s games this weekend:
Colgate at Syracuse, 4 p.m.
Manhattan at Navy, 6 p.m.
Mount St. Mary’s at Delaware, noon
Maryland at Richmond, noon
Towson at Johns Hopkins, 1 p.m.
Penn State at Villanova, 1 p.m.
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Denver at Air Force, 3 p.m.