It’s a particular shame Monday’s NCAA lacrosse Championship Game was in Foxborough instead of right here at M&T Bank Stadium. It would have been a special celebration of a beloved game in Charm City.
Instead, Memorial Day became a special celebration of a deserving champion at Gillette Stadium.
I was at Ridley Athletic Complex Saturday, March 10 to see the Loyola University Maryland Greyhounds face the Duke Blue Devils. The Hounds had gotten off to a nice 4-0 start at that point in the season, reaching double digit goals in every game and holding their opponent to single digits in every game as well.
The issue at that point was the competition. Home wins over Delaware and Towson and road victories at Bellarmine and Michigan did little to convince anyone the Greyhounds were on the cusp of a breakthrough campaign.
It changed that day.
Star attackman and eventual Tewaaraton Award finalist Mike Sawyer put on an absolute clinic for Charley Toomey’s team, scoring six goals and leading the Hounds to a 13-8 win over the Devils. The Hounds were actually ranked ahead of the Devils in one of the recognized college lacrosse polls, but the victory still had the feel of an upset, as Duke was viewed as a legitimate national title contender.
From the opening whistle, it was apparent the Hounds were the more focused, determined squad. The 13-8 final didn’t even necessarily reflect the nature of the game, as Loyola held a 12-5 advantage after three quarters and appeared to let up late. The win came just after Toomey installed Jack Runkel as his starting goalie ahead of Michael Bonitatibus, a move that he would not have to reconsider at all the rest of the season.
On that day at Ridley Athletic Complex, the Loyola Greyhounds became more than just a team with a capable combination of scorers (Sawyer and graduate student Eric Lusby). They became more than just a fun team to watch. They became a legitimate threat to make a run to the Final Four.
Two and a half months later, they found themselves there. It wasn’t a fluke. It wasn’t a run of good fortune. It wasn’t about bad luck for other teams. It wasn’t about an easy schedule.
This Loyola team proved that for the 2012 NCAA lacrosse season, they were unquestionably the best team in the country.
In Monday’s NCAA Championship Game, the Hounds dominated the University of Maryland in a way that perfectly encapsulated their entire season. They showed an incredible ability to score goals at times, but also showed that their midfield unit was as capable as their attack. Their wings battled for balls when face-offs appeared to be lost. Their defense was SUFFOCATING, preventing even a single goal from Maryland for a stretch of more than two and a half quarters, stifling a unit that had tallied 16 just two days prior against those same Duke Blue Devils. On top of all of that, Runkel was spectacular for a second straight game.
They left no doubt not only about who was the best team on Memorial Day Monday, but who was the best team in the country. They were a deserving #1 seed and they worked to become a deserving national champion.
A deserving national champion that didn’t play a single game on television until the postseason.
They lost just one game along the way, an overtime heartbreaker to a fine Johns Hopkins squad. They won THREE games over ECAC rival Denver University, two of those wins coming in the Mile High City. They recorded a win over every team that reached Memorial Day weekend.
Lusby and Sawyer now have name recognition, but the work of Runkel, Scott Ratliff, Chris Layne, Josh Hawkins, Pat Byrnes, Davis Butts, Justin Ward, Joe Fletcher, Nikko Pontrello, Patrick Fanshaw, Kevin Ryan, Phil Dobson, Sean O’Sullivan, Dylan Grimm, Pat Laconi, Kevin Moriarty and J.P. Dalton were deserving of having their names typed in a column like this as well.
Loyola becomes the smallest school to ever win a national championship in lacrosse. The title is the first and only Division 1 title in any sport for the school. The team was unranked before the season started. Toomey was able to accomplish the feat after being on the losing end as a goalie in the school’s only ever run to the National Championship Game back in 1990. Lusby broke the record for most goals in a single NCAA Tournament in the process.
The word amazing keeps coming to mind.
The title drought continues for the Terrapins, as they have not held the trophy since 1974. John Tillman has been to the title game twice in his two seasons in College Park, but the inability to win the big one will now already become a topic of conversation for the Terps’ alumni and fan base. They were a remarkably young team this season and will likely be right back in the title picture a year from now. It won’t help the sting of a Championship Game loss, but they showed many signs of being a team on the verge of greatness.
Loyola however was the definition of greatness. They were exceptional. And perhaps they even earned a measure of revenge for the city of Baltimore on the field where the Ravens saw their season end months earlier in the AFC Championship Game.
Eh…they were the best lacrosse team in the country. We’ll be more than happy to have that in Charm City.