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Towson men's lacrosse seniors approaching end of successful four-year run

Now in his last month as a member of the Towson men's lacrosse team, senior attackman Ryan Drenner can recall his first series of practices at Johnny Unitas Stadium back in January 2014.

"I remembered walking out there four years ago when it was 7 o'clock in the morning and the sun wasn't even up yet," the Westminster graduate said. "I think there always is [some sadness] when you know your season's about to end. Even if we were to go to Memorial Day weekend, that's only one more month. So yeah, you're definitely a little sad about it coming to an end."

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That sentiment is shared by several of Drenner's classmates, but they are not alone. When May ends, the Tigers will bid farewell to one of the most successful senior classes in their Division I history.

The 11-member group has accounted for 44 victories, which is just two shy of tying the program record set by last year's senior class. This year's seniors have helped capture two Colonial Athletic Association regular-season titles and two league tournament crowns, which led to NCAA postseason appearances in 2015 and 2016.

On Thursday, Towson (8-4, 4-1 CAA) will open the conference tournament as the top seed against No. 4 seed Drexel (6-7, 3-2) in one semifinal at 5 p.m. at Johnny Unitas Stadium. The second semifinal pits No. 2 seed Hofstra (11-2, 3-2) and No. 3 seed Massachusetts (6-7, 3-2).

Towson's ability to make a deep run in the postseason might hinge on the seniors. Five are offensive starters, and three are defensive starters. The team's top five scorers are seniors, and two of the top four players in ground balls are seniors.

"I think this senior class is the heartbeat of the team, and they lead the team," ESPN analyst and former Johns Hopkins midfielder Mark Dixon said. "I think this is a team that senses the urgency, and the seniors have really grabbed the bull by the horns and are leading the charge. That's exactly what you want to see at this stage of the season."

The strength of the seniors is their bond. Eight of them hail from Maryland, two from New Jersey and one from Ohio. Eight of them attended public high schools.

Last spring, an apartment shared by Drenner, attackman Joe Seider, long-stick midfielder Tyler Mayes, and short-stick defensive midfielder Jack Adams was the epicenter for meals and movies. This year, those duties have been split between Mayes' apartment with midfielders Mike Lynch and Brian Bolewicki and an apartment occupied by Seider and Adams.

"Everybody's always just hanging out," said Mayes, a Bel Air resident and Calvert Hall graduate. "Even when we're not together, we're always talking to each other over text or something like that."

Another common thread is the collective chip on their shoulders. Many of them were lightly recruited or not recruited at all. Drenner, who is tied for 10th in school history in scoring with 156 points, said Towson was the only program that showed serious interest.

"The majority of us are public school guys with the exception of one or two, but even those guys came in with that mindset," said Young, an Arundel graduate. "Public school kids have that mindset that we're going to earn everything that we have because we're not going to get anything handed to us. … In the lacrosse world, there's a stigma that the private school guys are the top-notch kids. So I think some of us came in with that mindset that we're just as good — if not better — than those kids."

The seniors were coach Shawn Nadelen's first true recruiting class. Many of them committed to the Tigers in 2012, Nadelen's second year as head coach during which that squad stumbled to a 7-8 record and an early exit from the CAA tournament. Nadelen said he is grateful for the players' decision to take a leap of faith with him.

"They believed in what our vision was as a program and what was expected of them, and they wanted that," he said. "I think they wanted to be part of a program that pushed them to be better and believed in hard work and believed in the mentality that regardless of your opponent, you're stepping on the field ready to battle and take it to them."

Certain reputations precede the players. Lynch, a Forest Hill resident and Boys' Latin graduate, is the goofball. Midfielder Matt Wylly, an Ohio native, is the most serious. Adams, a Hereford graduate, is the tidiest who has cleaned up after Seider, another Hereford graduate who is considered the messiest.

As the sun begins to set on their collegiate careers, the seniors are pushed by the reminder that there is no next year for them.

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"It's motivation," Young said. "You get that feeling on the field where you're thinking, 'Man, this could be my last practice, my last game.' You have to use that as motivation to give you that little bit of extra effort and push that you may need in a game or practice."

In 2015, Towson was bounced from the first round of the NCAA tournament. A year later, that squad advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2003. So is a trip to championship weekend at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., the next step in the process?

Mayes summed up the outlook of his classmates, saying, "No matter how far we go, the goal is to always win the national championship, and I think we have to guys to do it. So that's our goal, and that's what we're striving to do."

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Big Ten tournament

Where: Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium at Ohio State

Game 1, No. 1 Maryland vs. No. 4 Penn State

When: Thursday, 5 p.m.

TV: Big Ten Network

Records: Maryland (10-3, 4-1 Big Ten); Penn State (12-2, 3-2)

Previous meeting: Maryland, 15-11, on April 8

Key for Maryland: Junior goalkeeper Dan Morris leads the Big Ten in saves per game at 10.5. The Terps would probably prefer to see a lower average, but they need a solid outing from Morris in the cage.

Key for Penn State: The Nittany Lions have won less than 50 percent of faceoffs against four of five Big Ten opponents. They must be better than 39.4 percent on faceoffs in the Big Ten for a shot at upsetting Maryland.

Game 2, No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Johns Hopkins

When: Thursday, 7:30 p.m.

TV: Big Ten Network

Records: Ohio State (12-3, 3-2); Johns Hopkins (8-5, 3-2)

Previous meeting: Ohio State, 13-9, on April 9

Key for Ohio State: Senior Jake Withers won 19 of 26 faceoffs (73.1 percent) with 10 ground balls to pace the Buckeyes against Johns Hopkins on April 9. A similar effort could be a huge advantage again.

Key for Johns Hopkins: Ohio State has the 10th-most man-down situations in Division I with 52. That could bode well for the Blue Jays' extra-man offense that leads the country with a 59.0 percent conversion rate.

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Colonial Athletic Association tournament

Where: Johnny Unitas Stadium at Towson

Game 1, No. 1 Towson vs. No. 4 Drexel

When: Thursday, 5 p.m.

TV: Lax Sports Network

Records: Towson (8-4, 4-1 CAA); Drexel (6-7, 3-2)

Previous meeting: Towson, 8-7, on April 1

Key for Towson: The Tigers' margin of victory in the CAA is 2.5 goals per game. The offense must be more effective against a Drexel defense that ranks last in the league in average goals allowed (11.3).

Key for Drexel: The Dragons have had to play more defense because of an inability to protect the ball. They have averaged 13.8 turnovers in conference play and 14.4 for the entire season.

Game 2, No. 2 Hofstra vs. No. 3 Massachusetts

When: Thursday, 7:30 p.m.

TV: Lax Sports Network

Records: Hofstra (11-2, 3-2); Massachusetts (6-7, 3-2)

Previous meeting: Hofstra, 15-8, on April 22

Key for Hofstra: Senior attackman Josh Byrne leads the CAA in goals and assists per game at 2.8 and 1.8, respectively. He torched Massachusetts for five goals and three assists in that first meeting.

Key for Massachusetts: Junior Noah Rak leads the conference in faceoff percentage at 60.9 percent and ground balls per game at 5.9. The Minutemen's best defense against Byrne might be a strong outing from Rak.

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