May 26, 2012

Runkel Stays Big For Loyola on Grandest Stage

by Corey McLaughlin | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Loyola sophomore goaltender Jack Runkel made a career-high 15 saves to help the Greyhounds beat Notre Dame.
© Kevin P. Tucker

NCAA Division I Men's Semifinals

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The ritual couldn't be seen on TV with the camera focused on the offensive end. But during many of Loyola's possessions, the Greyhounds' 6-foot-3, 215-pound goaltender Jack Runkel spent the idle time pacing, jogging and sometimes side-shuffling across the diameter of his crease.

"I'm trying to keep my heart rate up. It's a tip coach Toomey gave me back in the beginning of the year," Runkel said. "Pace back-and-forth, do little sprints."

Keep the heart rate up and stay cool otherwise. That's the motto for Runkel, the sophomore who showed up Saturday with the biggest game of his career in Loyola's 7-5 win over Notre Dame in the NCAA Division I men's lacrosse semifinal before 31,774 fans at Gillette Stadium.

Runkel made a career-high 15 saves; a few early to settle in and a couple key late to maintain the Greyhounds' lead. Among the biggest: He stopped Notre Dame's Westy Hopkins on an inside roll on the crease with 57 seconds left and the Fighting Irish trying to make it a one-goal game.

"On [Notre Dame's] goal before that, he did the same thing and beat me near-pipe. So on that one I just stood my ground and tried to make him beat me off-side," Runkel said in the hallway outside the Loyola locker room after the game. "I knew I had a slide coming from across crease and I think he hit him as he shot it. I stood my ground and got a piece of it with my stick up high."

The Loyola defense in front of Runkel did a good job of forcing Notre Dame's shooters into taking lower-percentage shots at times – "I think we settled for average attempts on the offensive end," Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan said – but Loyola coach Charley Toomey also said after the game: "I knew we had a goalie that was ready to play today. He was big. He's as big as he's ever been in there for us. When there was a break down, Runkel was right there to pick up the pieces."

Runkel said, through scouting Notre Dame's quarterfinal win over Virginia, he expected high shots from the Irish's array of midfielders. He made his first save on just such a shot.

"We gave Jack some looks from the outside and he was just saving everything," said Loyola long-stick midfielder Scott Ratliff. "That was a big part of it."

While across the field was Notre Dame All-American goalie John Kemp (13 saves), Runkel was probably the least known goaltender ahead of Saturday's semifinals. He wasn't the starter at the beginning of the season and only played in one game as a freshman.

Through fall ball and even into March, Runkel was in a goalie competition with junior Michael Bonitatibus to see who would ultimately replace graduated senior Jake Hagelin.

Runkel did not see the field in the Greyhounds' season-opener against Delaware and played six minutes in the next game against Towson. Against Bellarmine on March 3, he was called on at halftime with the Greyhounds trailing, 4-2. Loyola won 11-8 and Runkel made three saves in the second half.

He made his first career start four days later against Michigan and made five saves while allowing eight goals. After that, in the preparation leading into a key game against Duke March 10, he said the coaches told him he had "one more shot" to prove himself.

"I had 13 saves in that game," he said. "I kind of settled in a little bit."

"In practice, I just learned about consistency, being the same guy through the whole week," Runkel said. "Don't get down on myself if I allowed a bad goal or get to excited if I make a whole bunch of saves, just being the same guy the entire time."

Another recommendation from Toomey, the former two-time All-American goalie at Loyola: No palms up, meaning don't blame the defense.

"If I let up a bad one, say that's me, that's me," Runkel said.

There weren't many of those Saturday.

After the final horn blew, Runkel held his right arm and stick above his head in triumph. The heart rate was surely pumping, for a different reason than his crease pacing, as his teammates ran across the field to mob him in celebration.


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