Friday’s entry is the fifth installment of a week-long series taking a look at each of the seven Division I programs in this state according to their order of finish from last season. Check back on Saturday for a preview of Mount St. Mary’s, and The Sun’s lacrosse preview is slated to be published on Thursday, Feb. 17. Today is Loyola’s turn.
Overview: The Greyhounds enjoyed one of their best starts in the program’s history when they won nine of their first 11 contests. But an 11-10 triple-overtime loss to Cornell in the first round of the NCAA Tournament capped three consecutive setbacks and a disappointing end to the season. Loyola figures to be in the hunt for the first Eastern College Athletic Conference Tournament crown, but Denver, last year’s regular-season champion and the host of this spring’s tournament, stands in the way.
Reason for optimism: A defense that tied for third in the country in fewest goals per game surrendered bid farewell to starting defensemen Steve Layne and Kyle Cottrell, but the unit does return starting defenseman Steve Dircks and starting goalie Jake Hagelin. Junior Dylan Grimm and sophomore Reid Acton are poised to join Dircks as starters, and Nick Disimile, a fifth-year senior who made four starts last spring, is a valuable resource. Sophomore long-stick midfielder Scott Ratliff is evoking memories of All-American P.T. Ricci, and sophomore Josh Hawkins and freshmen Pat Laconi and Kyle Duffy are battling for time as shor-stick defensive midfielders. “I think we’re going to be a strong team defensively,” coach Charley Toomey said.
Reason for pessimism: The Greyhounds offense ran through the attack last spring, and not much is expected to change this season. The problem is that the midfield is unproven. Senior Eric Lusby registered 20 goals and five assists, but he is still recovering from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in his right knee and may move to attack to reduce added stress on the knee. Seniors Stephen Murray and Chris Basler started last year, but they are getting pushed by a group that includes Bucknell transfer and fifth-year senior Chris Palmer, senior D.J. Comer, junior Pat Byrnes and sophomores Davis Butts and Tyler Foley. Toomey is encouraged by what he has seen from the midfielders in the preseason. “I think the knock on us in years past has been, ‘Can their middies score?’” Toomey said. “From what I’ve seen, I believe our middies are capable of scoring.”
Keep an eye on: Loyola will lean on its senior leaders like attackman Matt Langan, face-off specialist John Schiavone, Dircks and Hagelin, but Toomey said the team will need contributions from its younger players. Freshmen and sophomores scored seven of the Greyhounds’ eight goals in a scrimmage against UMBC last weekend. “Our leaders are going to be in the junior and senior classes,” Toomey said. “They’re going to lead this team, but some of our talent that’s coming into the mix, they’re making names for themselves. They’re following those seniors and putting themselves in good positions to help Loyola.”
What he said: The key could be Hagelin, who ranked eighth with an 8.24 goals-against average but appeared to falter towards the stretch run of the season. Hagelin took it upon himself to work harder in the offseason and practice to maintain his conditioning and focus for the entire season. “I think Jake puts more pressure on himself than anyone else is going to put pressure on Jake,” Toomey said. “…This is Jake’s job, and this is Jake’s team. Jake’s pushing himself to be the best. He wants to finish strong, and all indications are he’s ready to finish strong.”