Loyola Maryland men's lacrosse coach Charley Toomey calls long-stick midfielders Ryan Fournier and Zac Davliakos "pain-in-the-fanny guys." And that's meant as a term of endearment and respect.
To Toomey, Fournier, a junior, and Davliakos, a sophomore, have a knack for harassing opponents' midfielders into committing turnovers. And they're at their best when they are turning those gaffes and ground balls into transition opportunities.
As the No. 7 seed Greyhounds (13-3) seek to extend their winning streak to 10 in Sunday's NCAA tournament quarterfinal clash against Towson (16-2) at 2:30 p.m. at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, the play of Fournier and Davliakos will be critical.
"We wouldn't be where we are without those guys," Toomey said. "This stretch run that we've had defensively in keeping the numbers down, it's been largely in part to that Rope unit and their understanding of our philosophy of being a pain in the butt without trying to do too much."
Fournier and Davliakos laughed when informed of Toomey's description of them.
"I think he just says that because we try to put a lot of pressure on the other guys," Fournier said. "We don't sit back and let them dodge into us and then stop them right away. We want to get into their hands and just annoy guys all game. I think that really frustrates people."
Davliakos, a Stevensville resident and Severn School graduate, said he and Fournier have witnessed opponents hang their heads or lash out in anger during games this spring.
"You can clearly tell when people get frustrated," Davliakos said. "It's funny. You're coming off the field toward the sideline, and you can tell, 'He's getting angry.'"
Both long-stick midfielders are enjoying impressive seasons. Fournier has set career highs in goals (seven) and caused turnovers (16) and has tied a career best in points (nine). Davliakos has achieved career highs in goals (three), ground balls (11) and caused turnovers (five).
The duo was instrumental in containing Duke senior midfielder Myles Jones in Loyola's 16-11 victory in an NCAA tournament first-round game on May 14. Jones — who was named one of five finalists for the Tewaaraton Award, college lacrosse's version of the Heisman Trophy — did not score a goal on five shots, and although he finished with three assists, he also committed six turnovers.
Fournier posted two assists, four ground balls and two caused turnovers in the win, and Davliakos forced one turnover.
"I thought they were sheer pains in the butt last Saturday, getting up under the arms, making you have one hand on your stick, and if you're rolling back, being right on your shoulder," Toomey said. "We don't allow them to go out and win a matchup and throw the ding-dong or the over-the-head check. That's not who they are. They play within the framework of our defense."
Fournier and Davliakos said their biggest thrill is stripping an opponent of the ball and getting it to their teammates on offense.
"I think takeaway checks and ground balls are definitely more of a morale booster for the team," said Fournier, an Ontario native who was recruited as a two-way midfielder. "Ground balls are kind of what we need, offense is kind of a bonus, and takeaway checks get everybody up."
But Fournier and Davliakos also have the green light from Toomey and assistant coaches Matt Dwan and Ryan Moran to ignite the team's fastbreaks and stay on the offensive end with the attackmen.
"In high school, I didn't really run that much offense," Davliakos said. "Then I came here, and we have actual plays for everything. That gives you a lot of confidence. You come off the field, and Coach Dwan or Coach Moran or Coach Toomey tell you, 'Great play out there,' and then they're trying to tweak it so that the next time, you make a better play."
Toomey said a program-wide decision to play faster and generate more shots has necessitated the search for athletic long-stick midfielders with some offensive skills.
"They're willing to throw a face-dodge if you take a bad approach to them," he said. "There are not a lot of guys and not a lot of programs that want those guys taking that risk. We encourage that. We want those guys to be threats on the offensive end."
Towson coach Shawn Nadelen acknowledged that he is concerned by Fournier's and Davliakos' versatility.
"If we do attack them, we have to understand that they're capable of playing very good defense," said Nadelen, whose team defeated Loyola 10-8 in March. "But there's no doubt that they are dual threats who can get out of the defensive end well and get off the wings on faceoffs and get the ground ball. And they're smart with the ball. That's something that's impressive to see with them on film. They're not just going to come down and take a shot. They're going to see what the defense is doing in transition, and if they get a shot, they'll take it or they'll dump it down to an attackman or a middie. That's how Loyola has had success in the past."