January 24, 2014

#LMRanks: No. 11 Loyola Greyhounds (MD1)

by Sean Burns | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | College Preview 2014

Loyola defenseman Joe Fletcher will join Team USA at this weekend's Champion Challenge. He's one of the Greyhounds key leaders in their first Patriot League season. (John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com)

Previous: No. 12 Yale Bulldogs

Vitals

2013 Record: 11-5 (6-1 ECAC)
Coach: Charley Toomey (9th Season)
Record at Loyola: 74-42

Power Rankings (Scale of 1-5)

Offense: 3
Defense: 4
Goalkeeping: 4
Faceoff:
2

Top Returner

D Joe Fletcher (Sr.)
The only collegiate player to make it through to the final stage of Team USA qualifications — he'll compete at this weekend's Champion Challenge — Fletcher is a leader on the field and in the locker room for the Greyhounds. Rather than a flashy ball-hawk who creates turnovers up and down the field, Fletcher is a steady presence at the back line that marks up with the best of them and rarely makes a misstep, evidenced by his one penalty all season in 2013 despite starting every game.

X Factor

G Jack Runkel (Sr.)
Runkel is entering his third year as starter in net for Loyola, but is only in the middle of the pack in terms of saves percentage. His 54 percent was 25th in NCAA Division I last spring. If he shows the form that helped hold Maryland to an NCAA finals-low three goals in 2012, the Greyhound defense will be tough to crack.

Tournament Trend

2009 Did Not Qualify
2010 First Round
2011 Did Not Qualify
2012 Champions
2013 First Round

What's New?

As part of a university-wide shift from MAAC to Patriot League membership, the Greyhounds will be playing in a new conference, aligned with the rest of their athletic department for the first time in school history. While the ECAC had developed in recent years to have some great top-end competition in Denver, the Patriot League sports a better top-to-bottom talent distribution and should be a great fit for the Loyola program.

Telling Number

1
The inexperience of the offensive midfield crew is easy to quantify — the top six going into the season have a combined one start between them from a year ago, coming when Matt Sawyer played the opening whistle against Georgetown. They'll need to grow up quickly to provide support for the experienced attack unit.

Enemy Lines

What rival coaches say

"Justin Ward might be the most underrated player in the nation and runs an offense at a high level. Joe Fletcher a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Great bookends... Who are their middies? Who replaces Hawkins and Ratliff?... Joe Fletcher is as good of a defenseman as there is in the whole country... Offensively, Justin Ward was tremendous last year as both a feeder and a dodger and [Zach] Herreweyers is just another in a long line of talented Canandian finishers playing Division I lacrosse. They also have plenty of other solid offensive players who should help to take the load of those two."

"This is a team that continues to play great defense with guys who have played meaningful minutes in some huge games which should help them again this spring. Runkel struggled at times last year, but still has the ability to be a game-changer and make plenty of saves just like he did 22 times against defending champion Duke last year, a game they were as close to winning as it gets... The faceoff X was a constant issue for this team last year and losing Hawkins and Ratliff off the wings will not help... A timeout away from another playoff run last year."

"They're talented and very organized. They know how to win. They're used to winning."

— One rival coach

"Two years removed from the national championship run, the Greyhounds continue to impress. Justin Ward is the returning leader in points and looks to pace the squad again in 14... Right there in the mix last year, especially considering they lost on a heartbreaking timeout decision by coach Toomey in their opening round playoff game vs. the eventual national champions. I would not wish that on my worst enemy. The goalie play was steady in 2013 with the big body Jack Runkel keeping opponents below nine goals per game and he is back for his final season. The Hounds return a great feeder in Justin Ward (with 35 assists last year) as well as Nikko Pontrello. Will again be a dangerous team."

"They're talented and very organized. They know how to win. They're used to winning. They play a different style than the rest of the [Patriot League]. ... I would imagine Loyola going to a new conference, they're probably at a little bit of a disadvantage. Loyola has to learn six or seven new teams. It's going to be a little hard on them than the rest of the Patriot League."

"I think Loyola has changed again. Their willingness to change and adjust is what won them a championship. After losing such a great pole [LSM Scott Ratliff] and such a great short-stick midfielder [Josh Hawkins], their strength is now in their attack, and I think that's a very good group. Their ability to find the system that fits their personnel is a real strength over there. One thing they are going to need is better play in the goal [from senior Jack Runkel]."

2013 Recap

In a Nutshell: Coming in as the defending NCAA champion for the first time in school history, the Greyhounds got to experience life with a target on their back all year. They put together a solid run and nearly topped eventual NCAA champion Duke in the tournament's first round before falling in overtime. Wins over traditional early-season opponents Delaware and Towson got them off on the right foot, but a hyped rematch with 2012 NCAA finals foe Maryland resulted in the first of three regular-season losses, coming by a combined four goals. Duke and Denver also topped Loyola, which ended the regular season on a high note by beating Johns Hopkins for the first time since 1999. It would be the last victory on the year, however, as Ohio State surprised the Hounds with a lopsided 18-11 win in the ECAC semifinals and Duke took yet another one-goal victory in the NCAA opening round.

High Point: The last time Loyola beat neighbor Johns Hopkins, Bill Clinton was in the White House and Dave Cottle was three years away from leaving Evergreen for the University of Maryland job. A 29-minute scoreless stretch in the second half paved the way to Loyola's win, which was only the fourth one in 51 tries for the Hounds.

Low Point: A week after the high came the low, as Ohio State scored nine unanswered goals in the ECAC first round playoff game to turn an 11-9 Loyola lead into a 18-11 Buckeye victory in Geneva, N.Y. Jesse King (4G, 1A), Dominique Alexander (1, 5) and Logan Schuss (5, 1) all had monster games against the usually stellar Loyola defense, which could have ended the Greyhounds season as it knocked them out of ECAC AQ contention in their final season in the league. Loyola still grabbed an at-large bid.

2014 Preview

Best Case: If the Greyhounds can do their cold-weather training right, a hard early-season stretch could fuel a very strong RPI before fields in the north are even free of snow, with games against Virginia and 2013 NCAA qualifiers Penn State, Towson, Lehigh and Duke among their first six contests of the year. New league challenges in the Patriot rule much of the March and April schedule, which could provide insurance in the way of a good league tournament seed to assure an NCAA berth via the AQ.

Worst Case: The trouble with scheduling a tough out of conference slate is you have to win the games to get the full benefit — if the Greyhounds stumble out of the gate or suffer some early injuries, they could find themselves in a hole that's tough to climb out of before the late March start to the teeth of the Patriot League schedule. If that happens and they don't recover to get a favorable league playoff seed, the annual showdown with Johns Hopkins to close the year could be just for Charles Street bragging rights rather than NCAA seeding.

Self Examination: Charley Toomey on...

A Justin Ward (Sr.)
"He is absolutely the quarterback of this team. When he's back [behind the net], we know that guys are going to be at the right spots and a good decision is going to be made. The young guys take notice too. Our attackmen are learning the game the right way via a guy who has really made himself a great player. Every day, he's watching film with coach Metzbower. He's one of the guys you feel very good about leading your team when you're a coach."

G Jack Runkel (Sr.)
Runk is playing like a senior. I think it's really exciting that we're going into this new league and as coaches we know that we're firmed up in the goal and don't have to worry about that. His confidence and ability to lead the defense as a senior lets us sleep at night.

SSDM Pat Laconi (Sr.)
He's probably been our most consistent guy over the last four years. A lot of people talking about our short sticks will point to [2013 graduate Josh] Hawkins, but Laconi has been the one who has often drawn the other team's top guy. Watching him play this fall and seeing him elected captain, we're really excited about where his game is at the moment.

Lacrosse Magazine will continue its 2014 college lacrosse preview throughout January and into February, with team-by-team breakdowns of the top teams in NCAA Division I, II and III men's and women's lacrosse. Follow the countdown at LaxMagazine.com/LMRanks and on twitter at #LMRanks.


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