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April 21, 2010

Lambrecht: Loyola Defense Draws Line in Sand

by Gary Lambrecht | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online | Lambrecht Archive

Loyola goalie Jake Hagelin has the hot hand, with at least 13 saves in each of the Greyhounds' last four wins.

© Dave Adams

The Loyola University men’s lacrosse team doesn’t bother with tricks while playing its stifling brand of defense. The Greyhounds don’t take chances by extending too far from the goal in search of forced turnovers. They don’t try to confuse opponents with lots of disguised double teams and changing alignments.

What Loyola does is live by the rules of good, solid, man-to-man principles.

The Greyhounds maintain solid position and spacing with effective switches and excellent communication. They get physical by applying on-ball pressure, and they force opposing shooters into uncomfortable spots with their off hands. They take away backside cuts that lead to open, high-percentage shots. They gobble up ground balls, force offenses to fire away from the outside and loathe having to slide.

And, when all else occasionally fails, the top-ranked scoring defense (6.7 goals per game) in the country leans on the hottest goalie in the land.

The Georgetown Hoyas found out on Saturday what is no longer a secret in Division I circles. The Loyola Greyhounds have got this defensive thing down, and then some.

To watch Loyola suffocate visiting Georgetown with masterful defense in Saturday’s 11-6 victory was to watch a team that could be the most dangerous playoff product the school has produced in a decade.

Fifth-year coach Charley Toomey has mixed the right ingredients at Evergreen. The Greyhounds, 8-2 for the first time since 2002 and ranked No. 7 this week, have a superb faceoff man in John Schiavone, who has won 59.9 percent of his draws and ranks seventh in the NCAA. Their balanced offense, led by attackmen Collin Finnerty and Matt Langan and midfielder Eric Lusby, is averaging 10.3 goals.

But this team’s identity starts at the other, less glamorous end of the field, where junior goalie Jake Hagelin and close defensemen Steve Layne, Kyle Cottrell and Steve Dircks start Loyola’s engines.

“We’re not a takeaway defense. There’s nothing flashy about us. We’re just a solid, sit-down defense that more or less puts a line in the sand,” Cottrell said. “We cover up the inside, we avoid slides well, and we keep [shooters] down the alleys. We’re a pretty simple, disciplined defense. We just want to be reliable. When we shut teams down, the whole team’s energy snowballs.”

Loyola drained the energy from a potent Georgetown offense by shutting out the Hoyas for a span of 19:30, including the entire third quarter, while allowing just a pair of second-half scores. The man-down unit blanked Georgetown on four extra-man chances, while improving to fifth-best in the nation (.781) in that area.

The Greyhounds have won five in a row for the first time in three years, and are in firm control of the ECAC and an automatic NCAA tournament bid. And their defense is looking like a Green Wall these days.

Hagelin, out of Boys' Latin (Md.) and tops in the NCAA with a 6.7 goals allowed average, has saved 61.7 percent of the shots he has seen, good for third in the nation. He also is snapping off outlet passes that get Loyola’s strong clearing and transition games going.

“I’m just playing with a lot more confidence now,” said Hagelin, who has at least 13 saves in each of Loyola’s last four victories. “Our defense is allowing me to see a lot of shots from 15 yards out. We watch so much film together. It sure helps to have three seniors in front of you.”

Actually, Dircks, a 6-footer, is a fourth-year junior, back after missing the 2009 season with a knee injury. You’d never know it by the way he and Layne, a third-year starter and the team’s best cover guy at 5-foot-9, harass their assigned attackmen with such quickness and stick skill. At 6-foot-3, Cottrell eats up a nice chunk of space while patrolling the crease.

The unit is completed up top by junior long-stick midfielder Kevin Hinton and a band of athletic short-stick midfielders, led by seniors Taylor Ebsary and Michael Crimmins and freshman Josh Hawkins.

Since last losing to Duke, 8-5, in the inaugural game at the Ridley Athletic Complex, the Greyhounds have permitted just 28 goals during their five-game winning streak.

Loyola now must handle its success by taking down Hobart and Denver to seal the ECAC race. If it then beats a desperate Johns Hopkins team in the regula -season finale, Loyola should host a first-round NCAA tournament game. Then, it’s off to the dance, where a talented defense and a hot goalie can take you places.

“Sure, we talk about the tournament [which Loyola missed last year],” said Hagelin. “But we’re only focused on one thing this week, and that’s Hobart.”

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