Loyola University Maryland opens its 75th season of men’s lacrosse action on Thursday, February 6, at 7 p.m. when the Greyhounds face the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
February 6 is the earliest that the Greyhounds have ever played a regular-season game, eclipsing a Valentine’s Day neutral site affair in Atlanta against Notre Dame in 2009.
The game is the third NCAA Division I contest of the season following Furman-Lehigh and Delaware-High Point.
Loyola returns five starters (attackers Nikko Pontrello and Justin Ward, defenders Joe Fletcher and Pat Frazier and goalkeeper Jack Runkel), as well as two of the top four players on the rope unit (short-stick midfielders Pat Laconi and Kyle Duffy) from last year’s team that finished with an 11-5 record.
This year’s three co-captains were all named to the Preseason All-American teams: Fletcher (1st), Ward (2nd), Laconi (HM).
Loyola, which is in its first year as a member of the Patriot League, was picked to win the conference. Fletcher and Ward were named to the Preseason All-Patriot League Team.
The Greyhounds finished their 2013 season on May 12 with a 12-11 double overtime loss to eventual NCAA Champion Duke University in Durham, N.C.
Loyola was making its second-straight NCAA Tournament appearance and ended with an 11-5 record.
Seven Loyola players earned United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association (USILA) All-America honors following the 2013 season, led by Joe Fletcher who was the Greyhounds’ first 1st Team honoree since Gavin Prout in 2001. Long-stick midfielder Scott Ratliff was named to the 2nd Team, while defender Reid Acton, midfielder Davis Butts, short-stick midfielder Josh Hawkins and attackers Mike Sawyer and Justin Ward received honorable mention.
Ward led the Greyhounds in points (62) and assists (35) a year ago, while Sawyer topped the team in goals (36).
Ratliff was the team’s leader in ground balls (77) and caused turnovers (29), and he also scored 14 goals and had four assists from his long-stick position.
Jack Runkel was in his second year as a starter in goal, finishing with an 8.75 goals against average.
Follow The Action
Fans can follow the play-by-play action of the game on Virginia’s live (subscription-based) webstream of the game. Links can be found on LoyolaGreyhounds.com
In The Polls
Loyola opened the 2014 season ranked 12th in the USILA Coaches Poll and 16th in the Warrior/Inside Lacrosse Media Rankings.
Virginia is ranked in the top-10 of both polls, checking in at seventh in the coaches’ version and eighth in the media’s.
New Year, New League
Loyola officially became a member of the 10-school Patriot League on July 1, 2013, less than a year after announcing it would join the conference in August 2012. The Greyhounds joined the League along with Boston University, increasing the full-time membership to 10.
The Greyhounds will compete in men’s lacrosse with Boston University, Bucknell University, Colgate University, College of the Holy Cross, Lafayette College, Lehigh University, the U.S. Military Academy, the U.S. Naval Academy. American University is also a full member of the League, but the school does not sponsor men’s lacrosse.
With the addition of Loyola and Boston U., the Patriot League restructured its men’s lacrosse championships. The top two seeds based on the regular-season standings will receive byes to the semifinals with the top seed hosting the championships. A quarterfinal round featuring games between the No. 3 and 6 seeds and No. 4 and 5 seeds, was added to the mix.
On The Tube
Loyola men’s lacrosse will make a minimum of three appearances on national television this year as part of the Patriot League’s agreement with CBS Sports Network.
The Greyhounds will host Duke University on Sunday, March 9, in a match-up of the last two NCAA Champions, and CBS will then feature the Greyhounds’ Thursday, April 17, game against Bucknell University, the top two teams in the Preseason Patriot League poll. The network will also feature two long-time rivals when Loyola hosts Johns Hopkins University, on Saturday, May 3.
Both semifinal games in the Patriot League Championships will be broadcast on Friday, April 25, and the Patriot League Championship Game will also air live on Sunday, April 27.
As a first-year member of the Patriot League, Loyola was picked to win the conference title in a poll of the League’s coaches and sports information contacts. The Greyhounds drew 13 of the possible 16 first-place votes (schools are not allowed to vote for themselves) and edged Bucknell for first.
Loyola and Bucknell were followed (in order) by Lehigh, Army, Colgate, Navy, Holy Cross, Lafayette and Boston U.
Joe Fletcher was named the Preseason Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year, and he earned a spot with teammate Justin Ward on the Preseason All-Patriot League Team.
Three Selected By Major League Lacrosse Teams
Three Loyola seniors were amongst the first 23 players selected in the 2014 Major League Lacrosse Collegiate Entry Draft last month with defender Joe Fletcher becoming the highest Greyhounds player ever drafted when he was taken third overall by the New York Lizards.
Fletcher’s fellow senior co-captains, short-stick midfielder Pat Laconi (9th overall) and attacker Justin Ward (23rd), were both selected by the Charlotte Hounds. Laconi and Ward will join three of their ex-teammates – attackers Eric Lusby and Mike Sawyer and short-stick defensive midfielder Josh Hawkins – who were key members of the Hounds team that advanced to the MLL Championship Game in 2013.
Fletch, White And Blue
Senior defender Joe Fletcher was the long 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. He will find out on Wednesday, February 5, if he is one of 30 players who made the cut for the team that will compete at the 2014 World Cup in Denver.
Fletcher trained with Team USA throughout the fall, playing in two training weekends, the Play For Parkinson’s event in October and the Champion Challenge last month. He was one of 10 defenders on the training roster.
Three Garner Preseason All-America Nods
In addition to being the three Greyhounds selected by Major League Lacrosse teams in the Collegiate Entry Draft, senior co-captains Joe Fletcher, Pat Laconi and Justin Ward were named Preseason All-Americans by Face-Off Yearbook, an Inside Lacrosse publication.
Fletcher was picked to repeat as a First Team All-American, while Ward drew a Second Team nod and Laconi was tabbed as an Honorable Mention All-American.
Quarterbacking The Offense
Justin Ward returns for his third year as a starter on attack for the Greyhounds and will once again serve as Loyola’s quarterback from ‘X’.
Last season, Ward earned USILA All-America Honorable Mention 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.
Ward enters his senior season 22nd in school Division I history with 106 career points, five shy of tying Gavin Prout for 21st. He is seventh in career assists with 67, three away from creating a three-way tie for sixth with Kevin Beach and Tim O’Shea.
Running The Rope Unit
Senior short-stick defensive midfielder Pat Laconi is back for his fourth year as a “starter” on the Greyhounds rope unit. Laconi has been one of the Greyhounds’ top two defensive midfielders since his freshman year between the lines.
Laconi has been lauded by Loyola and opposing coaches as one of the best one-on-one short-stick in the nation, finished last year second on the Greyhounds in caused turnovers with 20. He also picked up 24 ground balls and showed his offensive ability in transition, logging 10 points on four goals and six assists.
Over his four years as a Greyhound, Laconi has caused 41 turnovers and picked up 58 ground balls.
Senior defender Joe Fletcher has been one of the top close defenders in the game since his first year as a starter in 2012, his sophomore year. That year, he earned All-Tournament honors after Loyola won the NCAA Championship, and he continued his outstanding play as a junior.
Last year, Fletcher caused 17 turnovers and picked up 64 ground balls for the Greyhounds, a season after finishing with 26 and 41. He has played in all 48 games of his collegiate career.
Fletcher was the third overall selection of the 2014 Major League Lacrosse Collegiate Entry Draft by the New York Lizards, and he was one of 52 players competing with the United States Men’s Lacrosse National Team for a spot on this summer’s World Cup roster.
In addition to his exploits on the field, Fletcher was an ECAC All-Academic Team honoree, and he was picked as one of 14 students campus-wide to be named to the school’s Green & Grey Society, a group of student leaders that serve as liaisons to Loyola’s president, board of trustees and administration.
Between The Pipes
Senior goalkeeper Jack Runkel will lead the Greyhounds defense from between the pipes for his third season as a starter. Over his two seasons as a starter – Runkel stepped into the starting 10 three games into the 2012 season – he has played to a 7.98 goals against average and .546 save percentage.
In last year’s NCAA First Round against eventual champion Duke, Runkel made a career-high 22 saves, many at point-blank range in one-on-one opportunities by the Blue Devils. He was a member of the 2012 NCAA All-Tournament Team, as well.
The Greyhounds will continue to play highly ranked teams to start the season, as their next game comes on Saturday, February 15, in State College, Pa., against current No. 9/7 Penn State University.