Maryland-Loyola: The un-championship

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Sports,College,Kevin Dunleavy

Terps-Greyhounds had much to overcome this year

Loyola entered the season unranked. Maryland entered the postseason unseeded.

Monday afternoon when the teams meet in the NCAA lacrosse championship, it will be one of the most unlikely matchups in the 42-year history of the event, between schools located 35 miles apart, who haven’t played in 14 years, but have coaches who are best of friends.

Sunday in Foxborough, Mass., Loyola’s Charley Toomey and Maryland’s John Tillman talked of their friendship, which blossomed after Tillman succeeded Toomey as an assistant at Navy. With Toomey remaining in Annapolis to coach at the Severn School, Tillman was often a guest at his home.

“One year my Christmas tree fell down,” Toomey told reporters. “My wife’s first phone call went to John Tillman and he was at our house picking up the balls and rectifying that situation for me.”

Toomey and Tillman remain close. They run lacrosse camps in the summer and exchange ideas throughout the season. Toomey joked about Tillman’s reluctance to schedule his team.

“He says he doesn’t want to play a friend, and he gets this,” Toomey said.

Tillman has had other reasons for dodging Loyola, citing Maryland’s long-standing rivalries with other teams, the need to schedule with RPI in mind, and his desire to play games in recruit-rich areas such as Philadelphia and Long Island. Loyola and Maryland played 18 times from 1940-59, but only twice since. Their last meeting came in the 1998 NCAA semifinals, a 19-8 Terrapins victory.

“We feel like we’re a national school. Our roster reflects it,” Tillman said. “If we just stay so Maryland based, I think it will hurt us. But if picking up Loyola gave us a better chance to be successful, we have to look at it. And based on this year, it looks like they’re going to be good for a really long time.” 

Doubts about Loyola (17-1) came in the preseason as the Greyhounds were considered a decisive underdog in the ECAC to 2011 NCAA semifinalist Denver. But Loyola quickly proved its worth vaulting to No. 1 in the rankings for the first time in 13 years and earning the top seed in the NCAA tournament, which the program has never captured.

“We’ve been playing with a chip on our shoulder all season,” junior Josh Hawkins said. “Even being No. 1 seed in the tournament, we’ve had doubters and haven't been expected to win the games that we have.”

Toomey, in his seventh year, has always stressed defense, but this year, Loyola has morphed into an up-tempo, quick-strike team, thanks to athletic defensive midfielders Scott Ratliff (12 goals, 83 ground balls, 35 caused turnovers) and Hawkins (61 ground balls), who can transform loose balls into fast-break opportunities, and attackmen Mike Sawyer (51 goals) and Eric Lusby (50, goals, 17 assists), two of the deadliest shooters in the sport.    

Severna Park graduate Lusby, a fifth-year senior and a former midfielder who suffered a torn ACL and MCL last year and redshirted, has been on a playoff hot streak, scoring 18 points in three tournament games. Saturday in a 7-5 victory over Notre Dame in the semifinals, Lusby had five goals and an assist.

“We’ve always felt like we’ve been dangerous on both sides of the field,” Toomey said. “I think Eric will be the first one to give our midfielders credit and certainly [feeder] Justin Ward a lot of credit for getting him the ball in those areas.”

Maryland (12-5) is in the title game for the second straight year as an unseeded team. The Terrapins lost the title game last year, 9-7, to Virginia. But this team bears little resemblance to the senior-dominated squad Tillman inherited in his first year in College Park.

“The way we had to coach this team had to be drastically different,” Tillman said. “We really needed to take the temperature of our players, talk to them, trust them, and coach the way they needed us to coach them, not the way they wanted us to, but the way they needed us to.”

With three new starters at close defense and two at attack, and a season-ending shoulder injury to midfielder Jake Bernhardt, Maryland gelled in fits and starts, closing the regular season with a 13-11 loss at Colgate.

But in the playoffs, the Terps have improved in each game, culminating with a 16-10 victory over Duke on Saturday in which the Terps hit 16 of 29 shots, led by midfielder Drew Snider, who scored four goals on five shots. The senior has scored 10 goals in the tournament.  

While Maryland is motivated by last year’s title game loss, Loyola still feels the sting of being disregarded in the preseason.

“We knew what we had in our locker room and we wanted to prove we could make it all the way here,” Lusby said. “With that in mind, we want to take it like we’ve done all year, make it about ourselves.”

NCAA Championship Game

No. 1 Loyola vs. Maryland

When: Monday, 1 p.m.

Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.

TV: ESPN

Kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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