February 28, 2012

Lambrecht: Loyola On Track For Special Season?

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com

Mike Sawyer and the Greyhounds' half-field offense is decidedly faster this season than in years past, a move suggested by offensive coordinator Dan Chemotti.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com 

The hint revealed itself last fall in a scrimmage against Siena. That day, the Loyola University men's lacrosse team, resolved to force the issue with a fast pace on offense, pummeled the Saints with 28 first-quarter shots. That's right, 28 punches thrown in the first 15 minutes.

Fast forward to last Saturday, when Loyola crushed visiting, overmatched Towson, 13-6, on a day that was basically bombs-away against its Baltimore rival.

The Greyhounds controlled the proceedings from the outset, and it was most evident in their lopsided, 49-22 shot advantage. Loyola took 28 shots – nearly all of them quality attempts – while building an 8-2 halftime lead. Only a nine-save, first-half effort by Towson goalie Andrew Wascavage prevented total embarrassment early for the Tigers.

It's definitely too early to start speculating about potential greatness from Loyola. The Greyhounds (2-0) have beaten Delaware and Towson, neither of which could get through February with a winning record. With their next games against Bellarmine and Michigan, the Greyhounds should be 4-0 heading into a date with Duke at home on March 10.

And the Greyhounds have been 2-0 for three consecutive seasons. The upshot of the first two encouraging starts? A one-and-done appearance in the NCAA tournament in 2010, and a 0-2 record against Denver, which is still the king of the ECAC until proven otherwise.

Yet, when you watch Loyola bring its speed, athleticism and multiple weapons to bear in the first stage of 2012, you start to wonder about the possibilities.

You watch the excellent lefty-righty scoring combination of attackmen Eric Lusby (five goals) and Mike Sawyer (seven goals), the up-top threat that midfielder and Army transfer Sean O'Sullivan (six points) brings, the pure feeder that is sophomore Justin Ward (team-high six assists), and you wonder. Could Loyola be one of those Cinderella stories in the making this spring?

"We know it's early. There are a lot of things we need to do better. Our defense is good, not great," said Charley Toomey, Loyola's seventh-year coach. "But there is an air of focus with these guys. There is something about our senior leadership I really like. This is as fun a team as I've been around."

If Loyola has accomplished one thing early, it's unleashing the fun factor. Because of how they look to score and are so equipped to do so, this squad is a joy to watch.

The Greyhounds under Toomey typically have tried to score a decent amount in transition. But Loyola has clearly turned up the urgency in its half-field attack. The Greyhounds don't stand around and take their time substituting and milking the clock to shorten the game. Loyola is more invested in hard cuts, pick and rolls, motion and ball movement. The Greyhounds are hungry to feast on a good matchup, take a smart shot, and be quick about it.

"We decided we were going to try to play a lot faster, run our offense at a faster clip in the six-on-six game, not just between the lines. It's a good brand of lacrosse," said Toomey, who was sold on the strategic change by offensive coordinator Dan Chemotti. "We could see in the fall that maybe we were onto something."

The prime reason Loyola has scored 13 goals in each of its victories – the last time they started that prolifically was in 2000 under Dave Cottle – is the Greyhounds have willingly set the tone on offense.

They have gotten excellent play from senior faceoff man J.P. Dalton, who has won 62.7 percent of his draws. They don't wait for the goals to come after playing to their defense. And they have the talent to match that scheme.

"We've got threats on all angles of the field. Defenses can't just press out on one guy," said Sawyer, a pure finisher who led the Greyhounds a year ago with 31 goals but is sharing the scoring load noticeably more in 2012. "We've got a lot of people who want to take the right shot. No one is being selfish. Our discipline has really showed up in the first couple of weeks of the season."

Things should get better at Evergreen. This week, junior defensive midfielder Josh Hawkins, one of Loyola's best players, returned to the practice field after dealing with a back injury for the past three months. That bodes well, since LSM Scott Ratliff and close defensemen Dylan Grimm and Reid Acton and SSMs Kyle Duffy, Pat Laconi and Matt Sawyer form a solid core already. The wild card is first-year goalie Michael Bonitatibus.

Offensively, Loyola is an impressive work in progress. The Greyhounds are building depth at midfield with players such as North Carolina transfer Chris Layne and 6-feet-5 junior Phil Dobson.

A year ago, Loyola broke the double-digit mark just three times en route to an 8-5 record. The Greyhounds have a real chance to improve significantly on that record, give Denver a hard run in the ECAC, and win over lots of lacrosse fans with style points in the process.

We'll how Loyola handles success soon enough. For now, the Greyhounds are planting the seeds for something that could end up being pretty special.


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