January 31, 2013

#LMranks: No. 1 Loyola Greyhounds (Men)

by Matt Forman | LaxMagazine.com | Team Page/Schedule


Josh Hawkins, already a two-way midfield threat, and fast-paced Loyola could thrive under a quicker pace of play in 2013.
© Scott McCall

Lacrosse Magazine's preseason NCAA Division I Top 20 countdown concludes today with profiles of the second- and first-ranked teams in D-I men and women.

Check back Friday for our preseason player of the year picks and profiles, and next week for more preseason #LMranks extra content, including our "Best of the Rest" and rankings analysis. For more on our preseason rankings for all levels, visit LaxMagazine.com/LMranks. Follow @LacrosseMag on Twitter and Tweet using the hashtag #LMranks.

Power Ratings

Offense: 5*
Defense: 5
Goalkeeping: 4
Faceoff: 3
* Out of 5

Top Returner

A Mike Sawyer (Sr.)
A returning Tewaaraton finalist, Sawyer makes goalies squirm anytime he gets his hands free. Born in Syracuse and raised in North Carolina, he has one of the hardest right-handed shots in college lacrosse. Sawyer won't have lefty Eric Lusby at his side, but he should still get about 10 shots a game.

X-Factor

M Josh Hawkins (Sr.)
Arguably the nation's top short-stick defensive midfielder, Hawkins was a physical ballhawk and a one-man clearing, transition threat in 2012. Now, with the rules changes putting a premium on two-way middies, Hawkins could see more time on the offensive end. He's a critical component of the Greyhounds' feared rope unit that gives them such swagger.

What's New?

Long-time Princeton assistant Dave Metzbower, who won six national championships under Bill Tierney, left the prep ranks to rejoin the college game. Metzbower, a widely respected lacrosse mind, replaced offensive coordinator Dan Chemotti, who was named Richmond's first head coach. Because Metzbower joined the staff after fall ball concluded, expect Loyola's offense to remain largely the same, with a few new wrinkles.

What's Not?

The Greyhounds are tasked with replacing faceoff grinder J.P. Dalton, though volunteer assistant Steve Vaikness is back for his ninth season overseeing Loyola's faceoff game and Rutgers transfer Blake Burkhart, a lefty, looks like the frontrunner. Like Dalton, Burkhart won't be asked to do too much — make the faceoff a midfield scrap to take advantage of superior wing play.

2012 Recap

#LMranks MD1 Preseason Countdown

No. 20 Bryant
No. 19 Hofstra
No. 18 Fairfield
No. 17 Villanova
No. 16 Yale
No. 15 Princeton
No. 14 Penn State
No. 13 UMass
No. 12 Syracuse

No. 11 Colgate
No. 10 Lehigh
No. 9 Virginia
No. 8 North Carolina
No. 7 Cornell
No. 6 Denver

No. 5 Johns Hopkins
No. 4 Notre Dame
No. 3 Duke
No. 2 Maryland
No. 1 Loyola
Friday: Preseason Player of the Year
Next week: "Best of the Rest," rankings analysis, telling numbers, Top 20 matchups.

More: Countdown schedule | WD1 | MD2 | WD2 | MD3 | WD3 | JuCo | MCLA | WCLA

Record: 18-1 (6-0 ECAC)

In a Nutshell: Ranked No. 19 in Lacrosse Magazine's 2012 preseason poll, Loyola exceed all expectations on its run to being crowned national champions. Along the way the Greyhounds defeated conference foe Denver three times, took the ECAC title and earned the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Hounds were able to win by pushing the pace, as they did early in the season, or by grinding in the half-field, as they were forced to in Memorial Day Weekend games against Notre Dame and Maryland. Loyola had the nation's best 1-2 scoring punch, with Sawyer and Lusby, and the best defensive midfield, with Hawkins, Scott Ratliff and Pat Laconi. Early question marks about faceoffs and goalkeeping were solidified by midseason with J.P. Dalton and Jack Runkel.

High Point: There's nothing sweeter than hoisting the championship trophy, as Loyola did in Foxborough on Memorial Day. Coach Charley Toomey, who stood between the pipes the last time the school played for the national title, delivered for his alma mater, making Mt. Ridley the top of the lacrosse landscape. Beyond the obvious, the Greyhounds' 10-9 win over Denver in the NCAA quarterfinals was rewarding, and gave them an added confidence entering the final four.

Low Point: To knit pick, Loyola's only loss came at the hands of Charles Street rival Johns Hopkins, 10-9 in overtime at Ridley in late April. The Greyhounds snoozed and fell behind 5-0 early but rallied back to force an extra session, before Rob Guida scored the golden goal with 2.3 seconds left in overtime. It stung, but Loyola learned a valuable lesson about tasting defeat.

2013 Preview

Best Case: Concerns of complacency and questions about expectations go by the wayside. Loyola becomes just the fifth program since 1971 to repeat as national champions, and the Greyhounds one-up last season by finishing undefeated. Nikko Pontrello's play on the left side allows fans to forget about the loss of Lusby; Ratliff and Hawkins put on a between-the-stripes clinic and Mike Sawyer is a Tewaaraton finalist for the second straight year.

Worst Case: A challenging schedule — featuring nine road games and non-conference contests against three NCAA tournament teams — and a target on Loyola's back results in a 10-4 regular season. Faceoffs plague Loyola throughout the season, and opponents are better prepared to slow its transition game. The Greyhounds earn an unfavorable draw in the first round of the postseason and bow out early, as the stacked 14-member senior class can't repeat its 2012 magic.

Inside Scoop

Coach Charley Toomey's comments on...

M Davis Butts (Sr.)
"We're looking for a year similar that Davis Butts had last year. We're looking for the same guy we've had all four years. A guy who is always willing to take on a challenge, whether he takes on the pole or the short-stick. We're going to ask him to lead in that first midfield. Not only that, but wings of faceoffs too. With the new rules, we're probably asking him to be on the defensive end a little more than we have in years past. But I want the same player, the same person. He's part of setting the tone that we need to set, if we're asking our team not to get rattled. I've watched him grow up over three years. The best is yet to come for Davis. When Loyola is at its best, Davis is attacking with space against a long pole, creating a slide situation."

"How do they handle being at the top? They were motivated last year because no one believed in them. Now people know and believe."

— Rival D-I coach

D Reid Acton (Sr.)
"He's the traffic cop on the inside. He's as good at taking away an inside game as I've seen here. With that being said, he does a terrific guy of organizing guys around the ball. His role may change just a little bit this year, whether or not we're asking him to bounce out to an outside spot, based on the loss of Dylan Grimm. But one thing Joe Fletcher and Reid have done really well for us: When the ball is on the ground, they go get it, and they understand the importance of taking away the inside game. We're not a knock-the-ball-to-the-ground team, we're not a checking team, we get in the skip lanes, we create low-angle shots. So as the ball hits the ground, we need those guys and their toughness, to pick up the ball and start transition for us. Reid, as a captain, we're all looking forward to him leading. Last year it was easy for Reid to defer to Dylan Grimm, who was our defensive captain. We're all very excited about Reid Acton leading. When there's a breakdown on the defensive end, there's going to be something that's said, and it's going to be coach's voice on the field. It's not going to be pointing fingers. It's going to be an educated voice on the field saying, 'This is what we need to do. This is how we fix it.'"

G Jack Runkel (Jr.)
"I don't want to play the disrespected card, but I would put Jack's stats up against anybody's stats at year-end. He would've been deserving of a preseason All-American ballot nomination. We felt like the competition between Michael Bonitatibus and Runkel was a strong one, and it started with a friendship between those guys. They worked awful hard together. Last year, Runkel said in the final four, 'It could've been Bonnie in there, and we would've been the same team.' I know the two guys believe that. They're going to continue to work hard. He's a cool customer in the cage, and we certainly need that. He looked great this fall. Certainly his best lacrosse is ahead of him."

Rival Coaches Say

"Defending champs with almost everyone back. A 50-goal scorer in Sawyer, their first midfield remains in tact, and they have the best defensive midfield in the nation. Repeating is always tough, but they have the talent to do it... Steve Vaikness, their faceoff coach, always finds a way with whatever he has. This same question was posed before last year... Main question would be how do they handle being at the top? They were motivated last year because no one believed in them. Now people know and believe...

"The loss of Lusby can't be denied, but the transfer [Harry Kutner] from St. John's is huge. Plus the addition of Dave Metzbower may be the best recruit move of the year. Sawyer and crew will be tough to beat if they stay hungry... Return the core of their team and player of the year candidate Mike Sawyer. Also return their starting goaltender as well as the their explosive defensive midfield. Will be interesting to see how the loss of Dan Chemotti affects the Greyhounds... Runkel, he's a guy that on his end-of-career tombstone, it's going to say: 'I just did my job, and I won a lot of games.'"


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