After losing a hard-fought, two-goal game to No. 1 Notre Dame in the first round of the NCAA Division I lacrosse tournament last year, Towson coach Shawn Nadelen was concerned about how his team would handle winning in 2016.
After four straight wins to open the season, including a 10-8 upset of No. 5 Loyola Maryland on Wednesday night, the Tigers have erased some of Nadelen's apprehensions.
Now comes the next problem: Will No. 11 Towson suffer a letdown Saturday when the Tigers play UMBC (0-2), a team they've beaten four straight times?
"It is something we have discussed because we haven't played two local teams back to back in such a short time," said Nadelen. "But we have prepared for this game like we have every other task. It is one practice and one film session at a time, and we will go out believing we are prepared as best as possible."
It's hard to predict how 18- to 22-year-old college kids will perform. What Towson has going for it is that the Tigers don't think their win against Loyola was some milestone for the program.
They are past that stage under Nadelen. Since his arrival five years ago, the Tigers have had three straight winning seasons, twice winning Colonial Athletic Association championships. They beat Johns Hopkins, 7-5, in 2015 and almost pulled the upset of the NCAA tournament last year against Notre Dame.
Beating Loyola? Well, it's not that big of a deal.
"If you look at the teams we have played this year, Loyola was stronger than any of those including Georgetown and Mount St. Mary's, but we expected to win, it's not a shocker," Nadelen said. "Our guys were ready, we had great preparation and we just made more plays than they did."
Loyola coach Charley Toomey agreed.
The Greyhounds (3-1) had become a top-five team with wins over Virginia and Hopkins in the opening weeks of the season.
There was no secret to their success. Loyola outhustled both the Cavaliers and Blue Jays. But Towson turned in that type of effort against the Greyhounds.
"Give Towson a lot of credit. They came out and they hustled and they scrapped and they shot the ball very, very well," Toomey said. "I thought they worked hard. Just like our kids do, they work hard, and when you look down and you see the ground-ball battle and you see the clearing battle that we had, typically those are numbers that you would think would be favorable for us. They got the win."
The blue-collar approach has to become the style for schools such as Towson because the Tigers don't usually get the prototypical players the way Hopkins, Syracuse, Virginia or North Carolina do. Towson players are usually too small or slow, by their standards.
But with the recent success, the recruiting at Towson has improved. They still aren't getting the blue-chippers, but it allows Towson to have more balance. The Tigers have three pretty good defensemen in Nick Gorman, Mike Lowe and Andrew Cordes.
Combined with goalie Tyler White who has 5.28 goals against average and a .667 save percentage, Towson is allowing only 5.5 goals a game.
On offense, the Tigers are averaging 10 goals a game led by attackmen Ryan Drenner (8 goals, 8 assists), Joe Seider (10, 2), and Spencer Parks (4, 2) and midfielder Mike Lynch (4, 2).
The big plus for Towson this season, though, has been the play of freshmen midfielders Zach Goodrich (1, 0), Jon Mazza (1, 1) and freshman attackman Ian Kirby (5, 0).
"I'm pleased with the direction of the program," Nadelen said. "After the first year here there were a lot of players who quit. But the ones that came back knew what we expected, the commitment involved. Those players invested in the system and as coaches we let them know we were going to be with them every step of the way."
It has worked out well for the Tigers. They keep rising in the polls and should climb again if they beat UMBC. A loss would be a setback regardless of whether it comes against a rival on short rest following an even bigger game.
"The good thing is that we play this team every year, so it's not like we don't know what to expect," Nadelen said. "They are going to be well coached and disciplined and it's going to be another physical game. We have to be ready for that. The win against Loyola was a good win, but we have to move on."