Loyola won its first-ever Patriot League Championship last Sunday when it defeated Lehigh University, 16-7, to earn the conference’s automatic bid to the league in the Greyhounds first year as a member.
The Mountain Hawks jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the game’s first 71 seconds, but Loyola held them scoreless until there were less than three minutes to play in the second quarter, going on a 6-0 run.
Matt Sawyer scored two of his game-high four goals during that run, and Nikko Pontrello added two of his three, as well. Pontrello added two assists for five points.
Lehigh got back within three early in the third quarter, but a 4-0 Loyola run put the Greyhounds up seven.
Justin Ward tallied a goal and four assists, while Brian Schultz added two goals and two assists, Brian Sherlock had two goals and an assist, and Kevin Ryan scored twice.
Jack Runkel was named the Championships’ Most Valuable Player after making 27 saves, 15 in the title game.
Joe Fletcher, Ward and Schultz joined Runkel on the All-Tournament team.
Turn On The Television
The Greyhounds will make their sixth appearance of the season on CBS Sports Network for the Johns Hopkins’ game. Dave Ryan will call the play-by-play, and Evan Washburn will handle the analysis of the action.
The entire Patriot League Championships, as well as Loyola’s games versus Duke University, at Georgetown University and against Bucknell University were also on the network.
In The Polls
After winning the Patriot League Championship, Loyola remained in the No. 1 spot of both the USILA coaches and Warrior/Inside Lacrosse media polls for the sixth week in a row.
The Greyhounds have been ranked No. 1 at some point in each of the last three seasons. This stretch is the longest Loyola has been ranked first since spending nine-straight at the top from March 15-May 10, 1999.
The Greyhounds and Blue Jays will be meeting for the 52nd time in series history on Saturday when they take the field. Johns Hopkins holds a 47-4 advantage, but Loyola snapped a 13-game Blue Jays’ winning streak in the series with an 8-4 win last year at Homewood Field on April 27, 2013.
Johns Hopkins is Loyola’s second most-played opponent behind only Towson (55).
In last year’s game, the teams traded goals in the first minute of the second half with Sean O’Sullivan scoring for the Greyhounds and Mike Poppleton responding for the Blue Jays to make it 5-4 Loyola with 14:19 left in the third quarter. Poppleton’s goal, however, was the last Johns Hopkins would score in the game.
Jack Runkel made six of his 10 saves in the last 29:19 of the second half, and Mike Sawyer, Davis Butts and Kevin Ryan scored during that stretch for Loyola to provide the final margin.
Prior to last year’s game, the last seven games had been won by Johns Hopkins by a combined 13 goals, four of them by just one.
Streaking On Campus
Loyola’s 14-game winning streak – the Greyhounds have not lost since falling in overtime on February 6 in the season-opener at the University of Virginia – is the longest in school history.
Previously, Greyhounds teams in 2012 and 1998 held the longest winning streak in program history with 12-straight wins. The 2012 streak was snapped on April 28 when Johns Hopkins edged Loyola, 10-9 in overtime, handing the Greyhounds their only loss that year.
Loyola’s 14-1 start is also tied for the best in school history through 15 games, matching that of the 2012 squad.
Three Loyola players earned individual awards on Monday when the Patriot League honors were announced. Joe Fletcher was named Defensive Player of the Year, Jack Runkel Goalkeeper of the Year and Justin Ward Offensive Player of the Year.
The trio was also named to the All-Patriot League First Team along with teammates Pat Laconi, Nikko Pontrello and Brian Sherlock. Kevin Ryan was named to the Second Team. Loyola’s seven All-League players were the most by any team this season.
Jack Runkel was then named the Patriot League Championships Most Valuable Player, and he was joined on the All-Tournament Team by Joe Fletcher, Justin Ward and Brian Schultz.
Runkel made 15 saves in the title game against Lehigh after posting 12 in the semifinal versus Colgate. Fletcher finished with 11 ground balls and eight caused turnovers, five of the latter tying her career-high in the Colgate game. Ward distributed seven assists and scored three goals, and Schultz tallied six goals and assisted on three.
Get To Ten
Since Charley Toomey became head coach at Loyola in 2006, the Greyhounds have scored 10 or more goals on 68 occasions. After defeating Lehigh, 16-7, on Sunday, Loyola has won 82.4 percent of those games (56-12).
Loyola has the best winning percentage in NCAA Division I men’s lacrosse since the start of the 2012 season. The Greyhounds are 43-7 during that stretch (18-1 in 2012, 11-5 in 2013 and 13-1 this season) for a .857 mark. Loyola’s winning percentage of .933 this season is the best nationally.
Duke and Loyola have both won 43 games during the run, but the Blue Devils are second to the Greyhounds in winning percentage by nearly nine percent (43-13, .768).
A pair of Greyhounds attackers are near the top of two offensive categories through games of Sunday, April 27, in both total goals and assists. Nikko Pontrello is tied for second in Division I with 47 goals, while Justin Ward is second with 49 assists.
The duo is the No. 2 point-scoring tandem in the country with 124 combined points (Ward, 65; Pontrello, 59). Albany’s Lyle (98) and Miles (90) have a combined 188.
Goalkeeper Jack Runkel is also near the top of statistical rankings for his position. He is second in goals against average (6.69) and saves percentage (.631).
Tops Among Close Defenders
Joe Fletcher not only leads Loyola in ground balls, total (72) and per game (4.80), this season, but more impressive than that, he paces all close defenders nationally in the categories. Fletcher is 47th overall in ground balls per game, while the 46 players who are ahead of him are either face-off specialists or long-stick midfielders who play on the wings during restarts.
And Short-Sticks, Too
Meanwhile, Pat Laconi tops all non-pole defenders nationally in caused turnovers and caused turnovers per game. With a career-high five against Bucknell, he has caused 28 this season while averaging 1.87 per game. He enters the Johns Hopkins game ninth in the nation, and the eight players ahead of him in the rankings are all long-stick midfielders or close defenders.
Justin Ward has continued to be the quarterback of the Greyhounds’ offense this year, passing out 49 assists in 15 games. In the Patriot League Championship Game against Lehigh, Ward became the conference’s single-season assist leader, passing Bucknell University’s David Dickson who had 48 in 2013.
With his third and final assist on April 12 against Boston University, Ward passed Sean Heffernan for first-place in school single-season history at the Division I level.
He is second in the nation in total assists (45), and he is also second in the country, and tops in the Patriot League, with 3.21 assists per game this year. The 45 assists are tied for second in Patriot League history, three shy of matching Bucknell’s David Dickson’s record of 48 from a year ago.
With four assists against Duke on March 9, Ward set Loyola’s career Division I record (since 1982) in total assists, eclipsing the mark of 83 set from 1989-92 by Jim Blanding. His three at Colgate gave him 100 for his career, making him the second player in program history ever to reach the century mark.
Ward now has 116 career assists. Gary Hanley holds the all-time Loyola record with 160 assists. Ward is also sixth in school Division I history in total points with 166, nine away from tying Gewas Schindler (1996-99) for fifth place. His 65 points this season are tied for third in school single-season history, six away from matching Eric Lusby’s 2012 school-record total.
Of his 49 assists this year, 29 have gone to his fellow attack players. More than half of Brian Schultz’s 33 goals (17-of-33) have come off Ward assists, continuing a trend from when the pair were club teammates with the Maryland Roughriders. Nikko Pontrello has tallied 12 of his team-high 47 from Ward helpers, and Ward has also assisted on 10 of the Greyhounds’ 21 extra-man goals this year.
Ward is in his third year as a starter on attack for the Greyhound after earning USILA All-America Honorable Mention last year after finishing tops on the team in points (62) and assists (35) and second in goals (27). His 62 points ranked tied for fifth in school single-season Division I history, and his 35 assists check in at third on that list.
Pontrello Putting Up Points
Nikko Pontrello was held without a goal for the first time this season on April 5 against Navy, snapping a streak of 10-straight games to start the season that Pontrello had two or more goals. He rebounded, however, with three goals and two assists versus Boston University and three goals and an assist versus Bucknell.
Through games of Wednesday, April 30, Pontrello is tied for second nationally with 47 goals after recording three in the Patriot League Championship Game against Lehigh.
He scored two in the season-opener at Virginia and then had three each against Penn State and Towson before scoring a career-high six goals at Holy Cross. He then tallied four at Lehigh, five against Duke, three at Georgetown, five versus Lafayette and three against Colgate, Boston University, Bucknell and Lehigh in the Patriot League title game. He has now scored two or more in 13 of 15 games this year.
Two of his goals have been game-winners in one-goal contests. Pontrello scored 19 seconds into overtime to give Loyola a 12-11 win at Penn State, and he then tallied one with 51.4 seconds left in regulation to push the Greyhounds past Georgetown, 10-9.
Pontrello’s 47 goals this season rank fourth in school single-season history, three shy of tying Tim Goettelmann’s 200 total for third. His 59 points are tied for Mike Ruland (1988) for ninth.
After opening the season with a .214 save percentage in the opener at Virginia, Jack Runkel has played to a .656 mark, saving 158 out of 241 shots on goal he’s faced. In a six-game stretch against Towson, Holy Cross, Lehigh, Duke and Army, Runkel made 61 saves and allowed just 26 goals (.701).
The senior goalkeeper earned a record five Patriot League Goalkeeper of the Week honors this year and was named the conference’s Goalkeeper of the Year. He has a goals against average of 6.69 this season and a cumulative saves percentage of .631 through 15 games. He is second in the nation in both saves percentage goals against average.
In three years as a starter for the Greyhounds, Runkel has a 7.58 goals against average and .573 saves percentage. Runkel’s record between the pipes is 41-6. He is second in wins among active goalkeepers, trailing only Maryland’s Niko Amato who has 45 victories. Amato, however, is a four-year starter, while Runkel did not start until early in his sophomore season.
Fletch, White And Blue
Senior defender Joe Fletcher was the lone current collegiate player selected as part of one of 52 players who made up the United States Men’s National Team training roster this fall, and the day before Loyola’s season-opener, he found out he is one of 30 players who made the cut for the team that will compete at the 2014 World Cup in Denver.
He later had seven ground balls and causing a turnover against Duke. He also was primarily responsible for holding the Blue Devils’ All-American attacker Jordan Wolf to one goal.
Versus Colgate, Fletcher was matched up against Ryan Walsh, and he held the Raiders’ leading scorer without a goal or assist for the first time in his career, a total of 42 prior games. He then marked Navy’s T.J. Hanzsche, holding him without a point for the first time in 15 games. He then snapped the 41-game point-scoring streak of Bucknell’s David Dickson on April 17, holding him without a shot.
In all, the players Fletcher has had primary marking responsibilities for have tallied 16 goals in 15 games this year (including three each by the University of Virginia’s Mark Cockerton and Penn State University’s Shane Sturgis in the season’s first two games). Six of those goals have come when Fletcher was already out of the game late in the fourth quarter.
Fletcher has been named Patriot League Defensive Player of the Week five times this year, the most any player in conference history has earned the award. He leads the Greyhounds with 72 ground balls and is second in caused turnovers (27). His 72 career caused turnovers are third all-time at Loyola behind the 90 of P.T. Ricci and 88 of Scott Ratliff.
Not Just Defensive Midfield
Pat Laconi has continued to show his versatility as one of the top short-stick defensive midfielders in the nation while being a player with offensive acumen. The Preseason All-American had a goal against Bucknell to bring his season total to eight goals and three assists and his career numbers to 13 and 12.
Laconi posted four ground balls, matching his career-high, and three caused turnovers at Colgate, the final of each coming with less than 25 seconds remaining to help seal the win. He caused another three turnovers a week later at Navy and then had a career-high five against Bucknell. His team-leading 28 caused turnovers are tops a this season have brought his career total to 69, fourth-most in school history.
Schultz Stepping Up
In his first year as a starter on attack for the Greyhounds, senior Brian Schultz has scored 33 goals, second-most on the team through 15 games, and his 14 assists are also second. He had the game-winning goal 12 seconds into the second overtime at Navy and less than two weeks later posted a career-best six goals in a win over Bucknell.
With a career-high six goals against Bucknell on April 17, four versus Colgate in the Patriot League Semifinal and a pair in the title game, Schultz has scored 12 goals, to go with four assists, in Loyola’s last three games.
Entering this season, Schultz had seen most of his playing time on extra-man opportunities for the Greyhounds, posting a combined three goals and five assists.
Near The Top At Both Sides
The Greyhounds entered the final of the regular-season as the only team to be in the top six of scoring offense and defense at the Division I level. Loyola’s goals per game (13.33) rank sixth, and its goals allowed (6.93) are second. As a result, Loyola leads the nation in scoring margin (+6.40).
Taking Care Of The Ball
Loyola enters the Johns Hopkins game leading the nation in fewest turnovers per game. The Greyhounds have committed 117 miscues in 15 games, an average of 11.07 per contest.
Games Of Runs
Loyola has used significant runs in all 15 of its games this season, and it has had six stretches of seven or more unanswered goals. In all the Greyhounds have 28 runs of 3-0 or better. Here is a look at their four best scoring stretches:
|at Holy Cross
On the flip side, Loyola’s opponents have made runs of 3-0 or better just six times this year. Virginia and Penn State did it twice each in the first two games of the year, and Army and Georgetown did it in back-to-back games in March.
Quarter Or More Scoreless
Loyola has held opponents scoreless for 15 or more minutes on 16 occasions this season (chart on left). Six times, the Greyhounds have posted shutout streaks of better than 30 minutes of clock time.
The longest Loyola has held a team without a goal this season is 47 minutes, 13 seconds, in the February 22 game at Holy Cross.
The Greyhounds have played just two games this year – at Penn State and at Colgate – in which they have not held opponents scoreless for 15 or more minutes at a time.
Opponents have held Loyola without a goal for stretches of 15 or more minutes three this year (at Virginia, at Georgetown, at Navy). Only Virginia did so for more than 17 minutes. The Cavaliers went on an 8-0 run over 31:23, holding the Greyhounds scoreless in the second and third quarters before Loyola reeled off nine-straight in the fourth.
Tewaaraton Watch Trio, Senior CLASS Award Pair
Loyola is one of three schools (along with Duke) to have three players named Tewaaraton Award nominees. Joe Fletcher, Nikko Pontrello and Justin Ward are semifinalists for the honor of college lacrosse’s top player.
Fletcher and Ward were also two of 20 players nationally to be named candidates for the Senior CLASS Award that seniors who have performed at a high level athletically and in the classroom and who have used their platforms as student-athletes to make positive impacts in the community. Last month, they were selected as two of the award’s 10 finalists for this year.