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Lacrosse notebook: Loyola Maryland men ready to unveil new-look defense

When defenseman Paul Volante joined the Loyola Maryland men’s lacrosse program as a freshman, he looked up to leaders such as long-stick midfielder Ryan Fournier, defenseman Foster Huggins and short-stick defensive midfielders Brian Begley and Jared Mintzlaff in the defensive meeting room.

Now a senior and one of only three returning starters on that side of the field, Volante is the teammate that a pair of projected starting defensemen in junior Alex Johnson and freshman Cam Wyers go to for counsel.

“I think you kind of fall into that role, and this is kind of what I’ve wanted — to help lead the defense and show the young guys the ropes and how to play the style that we play,” Volante said Tuesday. “Cam’s an unbelievable player, and Alex Johnson’s an unbelievable player. So they sometimes take pressure off of me and vice versa.”

The No. 4 Greyhounds’ defense will hardly look like the unit that finished last season ranked 13th in Division I in fewest goals allowed per game. Huggins, fellow defenseman Ryder Harkins, Begley, Mintzlaff and long-stick midfielder Zac Davliakos graduated and took with them a combined 143 ground balls, 97 caused turnovers, seven goals and six assists.

Junior long-stick midfielder Ryan McNulty and senior goalkeeper Jacob Stover return as starters, and junior Matt Higgins is a shoo-in for one of the two spots at short-stick midfield with either junior Cole Boland or freshman Payton Rezanka until sophomore Matthew Benus returns from an unspecified injury.

Wyers has been matching up against three-time All-American attackman Pat Spencer, while Johnson has played close defense in spurts last spring. But Johnson was converted from long-stick midfielder after a torn meniscus sidelined promising sophomore defenseman and Mercer transfer Matt Hughes for the season.

Loyola’s defense will get an immediate test when No. 6 Virginia brings an offense that ranked seventh in the country a year ago to Ridley Athletic Complex on Saturday at noon.

“We’ve had good scrimmages with UNC and Richmond, and we’ve been happy with their effort,” coach Charley Toomey said. “Obviously, game day at Ridley and against an opponent like Virginia, there are going to be a few more butterflies in their bellies. Yes, I am excited seeing where things are and what we can improve on. But that’s the case everywhere. We’re not built for May yet. We’re built for our first game in February, and we need to continue to improve each day.”

Towson women aiming to ‘set the tone’

Towson opened last season by stunning then-No. 4 Penn State, 14-13, on Feb. 10 at Johnny Unitas Stadium and making a run to the NCAA tournament’s second round. The No. 14 Tigers will visit the No. 10 Nittany Lions on Saturday, and another positive result would be significant, according to coach Sonia LaMonica.

“It’s obviously a huge opportunity, and we can look back to last year and see how that set the tone for us,” she said. “But this is a new year, and both teams will have different makeups. So we’ve got to be ready for anything. But we’re super excited for the opportunity to open against a team like Penn State.”

Fifteen of the past 16 Colonial Athletic Association titles have been won by James Madison and Towson, which has captured seven. Another upset of the Nittany Lions could instill a sense of confidence for the Tigers’ game at the reigning NCAA champion Dukes on April 7, but that is far off LaMonica’s radar.

“We certainly aren’t thinking about them, and we can’t afford to think about them,” she said. “We’ve got a big game coming up this weekend, and I’m a big believer in the one-game-at-a-time mantra. So we can’t afford to look beyond Penn State. We’ve got a tough lineup. So we’re going to have to take this season one day at a time, and when the time comes to focus on JMU, I’d like to think we’ll be ready.”

Warren anchors Salisbury men’s defense

A Salisbury defense that graduated a pair of first-team All-America defensemen in Kyle Tucker and Will Nowesnick can be thankful for the return of goalkeeper Brandon Warren after the junior made a career-high 17 saves in the No. 2 Sea Gulls’ 9-7 win against Berry on Sunday.

“I was pretty happy with it,” the Forest Hill resident and Calvert Hall graduate said Thursday. “I think the biggest thing was the defense played pretty well, and I usually feed off of how they’re doing. Last year, having Tuck and Will in front of me obviously gave me a lot of confidence. This year, I wasn’t really sure what the situation was going to be, but I think Bork [junior Drew Borkowicz], [sophomore Brad] Apgar and [sophomore] Noah [Kness] all played really well, and they gave me shots that I could definitely see.”

Warren said starting 19 games last spring has fortified his confidence as a goalie.

“Getting a lot of experience last year in big games, especially the semifinal game against Gettysburg and in the national championship [against Wesleyan], I think that was huge,” he said. “Now I can step in and be comfortable against any team and do well.”

Special goal for Terps

Midfielder Christian Zawadzki’s first goal since March 24, 2015, in No. 3 Maryland’s 11-6 season-opening win over Bucknell was especially meaningful for the fifth-year senior because a torn ACL in his right knee forced him to sit out the final 10 games of that year and the entire 2016 season.

“I couldn’t be more excited for him,” coach John Tillman said of Zawadzki’s goal that tied the score at 1 in the first quarter. “I know the team, and I can speak for them, and they’re super excited. For him to step in with that confidence, that’s kind of what we’re hoping for.”

Who’s starting for Jays?

Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said he would wait until Friday or Saturday to name a starting goalkeeper between junior Jacob Giacalone, sophomore Ryan Darby and freshman Alex Gainey. Pietramala said the goalie should be able to rely on a defense that returns five of seven starters.

“You expect them to be who they are, and the key for us is to play even better defense in front of them,” he said. “We’re a year older, so we should play better defense in front of them. This group has been together, and conceptually, they have a better grasp of what we’re doing, and they are more experienced than they were one year ago. So the comforting thing is you’ve got an experienced group in front of whichever guy is in the goal.”

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