Last season Loyola Head Lacrosse Coach Charlie Toomey was able to guide his squad to an ECAC Championship and its second consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. By all standards the ’08 edition was tremendously young and inexperienced; Senior D Eddie Graham, a team captain, needed to be replaced in the preseason after an ACL injury, Jake Hagelin, started in goal in his first year out of Boys Latin, and all over the field numerous other young Greyhounds saw their first career action.
The absolute best part about a young and inexperienced team is that when they come back the next season, they have the potential of getting the ball rolling early… at least that’s what Coach Toomey is hoping will be the case.
Loyola will start their season this Saturday afternoon as they take on the University of Notre Dame at 1 o’clock on WNST Radio. The game will be played in Powder Springs, Georgia at McEachern High School, just north of Atlanta, where an approximate 6,000 tickets have been sold to watch the two Top-20 squads. Next week the ‘Hounds will be back in action in Baltimore when they will take on Towson on Diane Geppi-Aikens Field, February 21.
This is the second consecutive season starting off with games against Notre Dame and Towson. Last year Loyola split the opening pair, dropping a hard fought 7-6 decision to ND and then rallying to knock off the Tigers at Johnny Unitas Stadium, 13-8. The season ended in the first round of the NCAA Tournament with a 12-7 loss at Duke, the team finishing with an even 7-7 record.
This season, in addition to the initial games against the Irish and Towson, the Greyhounds will face a stiff non-conference slate taking on Duke, Syracuse, and of course, Johns Hopkins in the regular season finale, the “Charles Street Showdown.”
However, the game the season has come down to the last few season’s is the always competitive game with Georgetown. This season the Hoyas will have the home field advantage, which in this series is always crucial. In the last three seasons, the two have finished 1-2 in the ECAC each year, G’town winning two titles (’06, ’07) to Loyola’s one (’08), but Loyola has taken two of the three head-to-head match-ups (’06,’08). Once again, not surprisingly, the two Jesuit Colleges have been selected at the top of the conference by ECAC Coaches in the preseason polls.
This will be the last year the Greyhounds play in the ECAC with its current teams as members. Next year Georgetown, Rutgers, and St. John’s will leave for the Big East while Penn State and UMass are joining Towson in the Colonial. Loyola and the remaining members of the conference, Fairfield and Hobart will merge with Great Western Lacrosse League holdovers, Air Force, Denver, Ohio State, and Bellarmine to form a new “super-conference” in ’10 along with Detroit Mercy, which will then be playing in their first year of D-1.
As for the players that will represent the Evergreen Campus on the field this season, they are led by preseason first team All-American LSM P.T. Ricci. He’s a senior and team captain whom the Greyhounds have complete confidence in to completely neutralize any opponent’s best attacking midfield threat. His raw speed and quickness are unequaled allowing him last Spring to register a team-high 84 ground balls, 10 of those coming against Georgetown to go along with his two forced TO’s and an assist in that game. Ricci goes after available loose balls as if you gave a long-pole and outstanding lacrosse acumen to a game changing defensive back in college football.
Loyola will have one of the better defensive units in the country this season. Along with Ricci, the ‘Hounds will be rock solid with big, aggressive, and stingy D-men . Sr. Capt. Eddie Graham, will resume his role as a vital member of the defensive side of things after missing the entire ’08 season. Before his knee injury he was on anyone’s short list of top-10 defensive players in all college lacrosse. He has good size at 6’0, 190lbs and flashes brilliance with his outstanding stick handling ability, these make for an ideal combination for any inside defender. On the outside, guarding the perimeter of their opponent’s attack will be Steve Layne, Steve Dirks, and Eric Kohl. All three received their first significant starting time last season and showed great promise in those roles. Layne (5’9, 190) is a high motor player with a mean streak, which more than makes up for any height he may give up to taller would-be goal scorers. Dirks (6’1, 195) and Kohl (6’2, 185) are bigger players who also favor a more physical style of play when getting a chance to mix it up on the field.
They will play in front of Sophomore goalie Jake Hagelin who really proved himself in a great freshman campaign, which netted him a second team all-conference selection. Hagelin stepped up and in for now Jr. Alex Peatty, who spent much of last season away from his teammates after starting in his first two at Loyola. Peatty will be there to keep Hagelin on his toes in the crease, but Coach Toomey knows a 2-goalie system is not often best, so don’t look for Peatty at all for a while, at least.
Loyola expects loads of on and off field success from their attack in terms of point production and leadership. They are their deepest unit and the one with the most on field experience.
Shane Koppens returns for a 5th season after winning an off-season appeal with the NCAA, which has granted him this one last go around. Koppens is Loyola’s quarterback and play maker who likes to roam behind the net where he’s constantly looking for streaking and ready shooters. His 24 assists added to his 18 goals netted him the ECAC Offensive Player of the Year Award. With his savvy and consistency you can expect him to have another big-time All-American worthy season.
Unfortunately for Loyola, they will miss him for their first two games of the year, as the NCAA has mandated Koppens to sit out against Notre Dame and Towson. It has to do with Koppens participating in two scrimmages the Greyhounds played last Fall.
Joining him up front will be Loyola’s leading goal scorer from ’08 Jr. sharpshooter Cooper MacDonnell. Tallying in 12 of 14 games, he hung 4 goals on both Towson and Syracuse, the eventual national champions. His 83 shots, 56 on goal, were both team highs, as well as his 22 goals. He and Koppens showed great chemistry last year and the tandem will compete for the title of most dynamic duo in the ECAC.
If this is the season where it all comes together for Collin Finnerty, it could push Loyola over the top. He started in every game last season and likes to roam on the perimeter and look to snipe as possesses a quick, hard, long distance shot. The key for Finnerty, who scored 18 times in his first season at Loyola, will be getting his shots on goal. His 6’4, 205lb frame can get his rips off from anywhere in the shooting zone, so accuracy needs to be his number one focus when he winds up.
Sophomore Matt Langan is Loyola’s change of pace attackman. He’ll need to be sharp from the start as he will most likely play behind the net against Notre Dame and Towson in Koppens’ spot while he’s forced to sit out. The 5’7, 155lb water bug uses excellent quickness to get under his defender and to the crease. He chipped in with 11 goals and 7 assists last year. In Loyola’s man up situations look for Langan’s fellow classmate, Eric Lusby. Unfortunately for him, like many other younger class-men, he must wait his turn in line for significant playing time, but when he has gotten on the field Lusby has show good ability scoring 4 goals and dishing out 3 assists as a freshman.
The biggest wild card and the determinant as to how far this team can go will be the players in the Greyhounds’ midfield. Do-it-all M Paul Richards has graduated and everything he brought to the field will be tough to replace. However, there are guys that have in their careers have played significant minutes that will do their best to be the next in the line of Andy Spack and Richards, as middies who confidently take the ball from one end of the field to other other.
The most likely candidate to take over their role is Jimmy Daly, an ’09 Captain and former High School All-American at McDonogh, who has never missed a game during his time playing in a Green and Grey uniform. Though the ’09 season will truly be his first time to showcase his complete skill set on the college level. Last season he posted a career high nine scores, so he’s shows the ability to be a shooting threat with the ball. However, If he’s going to be the guy expected to take the ball and clear for Loyola, he’ll have to heavily rely on his team-best distance running stamina and hope his 6’2, 175lb body can handle the pounding and beating he will surely receive.
The midfield lines will surely fluctuate throughout the year, but to start, you can expect So. Chris Basler and Jr. Chris Hurst to most likely join Daly on the first line. They’ll have increased roles from last season, where they registered 11 and 2 points respectively, so figure those numbers to go up considerably. At least from the start, the next group is likely to be comprised of Sr.’s Jake Wilcox and Tyler Gale, along with So. Stephen Murray. Size is the noticeable characteristic of this group as Coach Toomey hopes Wilcox (6’6, 220) and Murray (6’3, 200) will be able to enforce their wills on smaller short stick middies trying to guard them.
The Greyhounds have enjoyed excellent play from the face-off X the past two seasons due to the success of a couple guys who came to Loyola as Graduate Students with 1 year off eligibility remaining in their playing careers. Dan Kallagher (via Yale) in ’07 and Tim McDermott (via SUNY Geneseo) last season, were crucial elements in the ‘Hounds back-to-back tournament runs.
John Schiavone won 11 of his 18 draws last season and will be counted on to give Loyola the consistent edge in possession time that they’ve grown accustomed to from the last couple seasons. It’s his third year with the team after finishing a stellar high school career at Good Council.
A strong suit for the ‘Hounds should be their duo of talented short stick D-midfielders. Jr. Taylor Ebsary has played on the first line midfield in seasons gone by and will definitely see lots of time playing perhaps the game’s toughest situational position. 5th year Sr. Brian Cullinane has fought hard for playing time since walking on as a freshman in ’05, and when he is on field can provide his team a spark with intensity and desire, which is why Coach Toomey found PT for him in every game last season.
If you’re looking for some impact made by Loyola’s ’08 recruiting class it will most likely come from the midfield. Freshmen Mike Sawyer, from Charlotte, NC and Pat Byrnes, who played his scholastic ball at Seton Hall Prep in New Jersey, were said to have been impressive so far in their first preseason. Midfield has the most amount of players substituting in and out, so obviously their chances of seeing playing time early on is more likely than some other rookies trying to break into the rotation.
Loyola wants to take advantage of their overall team athleticism and get out in transition whenever they can, so they prefer to play fast, but with plenty of veterans on both ends of the field they are also comfortable with playing at a slowed down pace. The Greyhounds are year-in, year-out the best fast break team in the conference, but opponents, like Penn State, who get great D play and have All-American G Drew Adams, could potentially give Loyola some trouble with their low-style tempo, which attempts to suppress Loyola’s edges in speed and quickness.
Between the teams in Loyola’s conference and their out of conference schedule expect the Greyhounds season to come down to five huge games. Basically, in order to go to the NCAA Tournament its very simple. It will take 2 victories in the group of five games: v. Notre Dame, @ Duke, v. Syracuse, @ Georgetown, and @ John’s Hopkins. A win over the Hoyas would be best, as a W would mean the driver’s seat for the ECAC automatic bid the the NCAA Tournament.
That said, Loyola will still need to take care of business against the teams on their schedule with lesser talent. Past seasons’ losses like at home to Siena last year and at Rutgers and Fairfield in others have been head scratching and have kept expectations of post season glory tempered on the Evergreen Campus.
Of course there is no “ceiling” for a team except winning an NCAA Championship, but if the ‘Hounds could get the 2 out of 5, with one being against Georgetown, and then beat all other comers… it would be considered a great year. It would leave them with a record of 11-3 at the end of the regular season, a second straight ECAC Championship with a flawless 8-0 mark in conference, a solid top-10 ranking, and would definitely put them in contention to host a playoff game, something that hasn’t happened since the ’90′s.
It could happen, it might not. We’ll see. It will be a fun season, I promise that.
You can follow all the Loyola action Saturday’s this Spring with the audio play-by-play coming via the flagship station of Greyhounds Lacrosse, WNST Radio 1570 AM, which streams worldwide here at wnst.net.