May 24, 2012

Kemp Looms Large in Loyola Game Plan

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com

John Kemp's prowess between the pipes has been a source of concern for top-seeded Loyola this week.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

Charley Toomey knows goalkeeping. The first and last time the Loyola Greyhounds made it to the NCAA tournament championship game was in 1990, when Toomey was a senior All-American in the cage for Loyola.

In order for the Greyhounds (16-1) to continue their memorable 2012 journey and reach Monday's Division I title game, top-seeded Loyola must defeat No. 4 seed Notre Dame in Saturday's semifinal at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. To do that, the Greyhounds must breach the wall that is Notre Dame's top-ranked defense, led by John Kemp, its top-ranked goalie and a first-team All-American.

"[Kemp] is probably the best goalie that we've faced," said Toomey, who especially admires Kemp's quick hands and ability to smother anything in the lower regions of the net.

"One thing that really stands out is how he cleans up his own rebounds. He doesn't leave balls around him on the crease. I would never tell our guys where to shoot before a game. We make those kinds of adjustments during a game. But we will not shoot between [Kemp's] feet. He eats those up."

No one has to convince Notre Dame (13-2) coach Kevin Corrigan of Kemp's greatness.

"[Kemp] is the best goalie in the country. I wouldn't even get into a conversation about who's second. He's been consistently terrific all year long," Corrigan said. "John Kemp is easy back there. It doesn't look easy to me."

With attackmen Mike Sawyer (50 goals) and Eric Lusby (45 goals), Loyola has the most potent scoring duo left in the tournament.

"There's not really one standout cover guy, but [the Fighting Irish] probably have the best team defense in the game right now," said Lusby, whose five goals saved Loyola from an otherwise poor shooting day in last week's 10-9, quarterfinals victory over Denver. "They hedge to the ball. They only slide when they need to, and the second slide is always there. [Kemp] plays his angles really well. He'll match your stick inside. He's a big challenge."

History Lessons

For the first time since 1975, the NCAA tournament semifinals do not include Johns Hopkins, Syracuse or Virginia.

In terms of recent history, the only true frontrunner left is No. 3 seed Duke, which is making its sixth consecutive appearance in the final four and is trying to win its second NCAA crown in three seasons. In 2010, Duke edged Notre Dame, 6-5, in OT.

The Blue Devils (15-4) have sustained their six-year run under head coach John Danowski, who has guided Duke on a 12-1 tear in its last 13 games. No, this is not the same Duke team that fell to a 3-3 record on March 10. That day, the Blue Devils got trounced at Loyola, 13-8. It was more one-sided than the score hints.

Unseeded Maryland, which faces its extremely familiar ACC rival in Saturday's semifinal round, is trying to win the school's first national title since 1975 under head coach John Tillman, who just missed hitting the jackpot in his first year in College Park by losing to Virginia in last year's title game.

The Loyola-Notre Dame clash will produce a finalist going after a first NCAA title.

In the past 20 tournaments, Duke is the only school not named Syracuse, Virginia, Hopkins or Princeton to win it all.

"It's been coming. Things have been changing in our game for a while. After the first round [of playoffs] this year, I don't think you could call anything an upset," Corrigan said. "The only thing that hasn't changed much is the name of the school holding up the [championship] trophy."

Losing's Not Easy

The tournament's quarterfinals weekend provided quite a contrast in the demeanor of losing coaches.

At Navy on Saturday, there was Denver's legendary Bill Tierney – long known for his aggressive working of officials -- out-Tierney-ing himself while berating the men in stripes throughout the Pioneers' penalty-marred, 10-9 loss to Loyola.

On Sunday at PPL Park in Chester, Pa., there was Colgate's Mike Murphy openly questioning his team's manhood against Duke in a halftime, sideline interview on ESPN, then abruptly leaving a postgame press conference after the overmatched Raiders got crushed, 17-6. By the way, Colgate superstar Peter Baum was all class in defeat.

On Sunday, following his team's 12-10 loss to Notre Dame, Virginia's Dom Starsia essentially offered a confession while taking the fall for his defending national champions.

"Everything about [the loss] felt like this season. We worked hard, did a lot of good things, but it was never simple, never easy," Starsia said.

"We had a great season with a great bunch of kids. We would practice great, but we never could get the playing piece quite where we wanted it. I just didn't have what I needed to give to this team to get us over the hump. I think that falls on my shoulders."

Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala challenged himself and his players to get over the hump. With its 11-5 loss to Maryland, the Blue Jays have missed the final four an unheard of four straight times, including back-to-back quarterfinal losses by a combined score of 25-14.

"This year's team and last year's team were good enough to get to the final four. We've got to find better ways to do some things," Pietramala said. "We need to spend the summer figuring out how we're going to be better in this [quarterfinal] game."

Tillman's Time

When former Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow fired Dave Cottle after his ninth season in College Park, the move generated tons of controversy, and for good reason. Cottle, one of the most successful coaches in history who built Loyola's Division I program from nothing and took the Greyhounds to 14 straight NCAA tournaments, got Maryland there eight times, including trips to the final four in 2003, 2005 and 2006.

Even though John Tillman was not Yow's first or second choice to replace Cottle, hiring the former Harvard head coach and Navy assistant looks pretty good in hindsight. Tillman is 2-for-2 in getting Maryland to the final four, and a victory over Duke would give the Terps their second straight shot at a national championship.

The knock on Cottle – and the reason he was canned, however disrespectfully it was handled – is he couldn't win a championship. Cottle reached one NCAA final with 1990 runner-up Loyola.


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