May 13, 2010

Toomey Says Losses Made Loyola Tougher

by Steven Russolillo | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Loyola defenseman and co-captain Steve Layne has been hampered by a sprained knee and is a game-time decision for Saturday's NCAA tournament first-round game at seventh-seeded Cornell.

From “pins and needles” to instant jubilation, the Loyola men’s lacrosse team is headed back to the NCAA tournament after a happy ending to Sunday’s selection show.

The Greyhounds (9-4, 6-1 ECAC) withstood a two-game losing streak at the end of the regular season and earned an at-large bid to the Big Dance, one year after finding themselves in a similar situation only to get snubbed by the selection committee.

But this year was a different story, as some quality wins and a strong schedule put the No. 11 Greyhounds in the tournament for the third time in the past four years. Loyola will travel to Ithaca, N.Y. to face seventh-seeded Cornell on Saturday afternoon.

“We were the last team announced. We were sitting on pins and needles pretty much throughout the entire selection show,” said Loyola fifth-year head coach Charley Toomey. “So, it was just a sigh of relief and sheer excitement knowing that this group will have at least one more opportunity to play together.”
For Loyola, what seemed like a clear-cut path to the tourney just a few weeks ago turned contentious pretty quickly. The Greyhounds won nine of their first 11 games and were undefeated in conference play. But a 12-4 debacle against conference foe Denver at Invesco Field at Mile High followed by a 9-6 home loss against Johns Hopkins last week put Loyola's bid in danger.

Loyola struggled mightily against Denver in part because the Pioneers slowed the tempo down, giving the Greyhounds fewer opportunities on offense. Their four goals were a season low.

“In Denver, they play defense with their offense,” Toomey said. “They slowed the ball down to a snail’s pace, which really frustrated us. I thought [Denver head coach Bill] Tierney pulled a page out of his early days at Princeton.”

Loyola witnessed the same sort of style last week against Johns Hopkins. Although the score doesn’t show a vast improvement, Toomey said his squad played significantly better against the Blue Jays. He found several reasons to be optimistic that his team is getting back on track.

“We wanted to get back to playing a tougher brand of lacrosse, and I thought we did that,” Toomey said, noting the Greyhounds attempted more shots than Hopkins and had a better clearing percentage. “The disappointment was that we just didn’t finish our opportunities. But if we had played that way out in Denver, it certainly would’ve been closer.”

Loyola will need to take advantage of its opportunities against Cornell if it has any hopes of advancing beyond the first round. Cornell, which played in last year's NCAA championship game before losing in overtime to Syracuse, also received an at-large bid after a 10-9 overtime loss in the Ivy League semifinals last week against Princeton.

The Big Red is no stranger to the postseason, as this marks its seventh straight season in the tournament. Cornell’s sensational offense features sophomore Rob Pannell (25g, 45a) and senior Ryan Hurley (39g, 11a). “They might have the most dynamic attack in lacrosse right now – 120 points between two players. That’s pretty special,” Toomey said. “There’s no way in the world that Cornell is going to slow the ball down. They’re going to play and go after their opportunities.”

The Greyhounds counter with senior attackman Cooper MacDonnell, the ECAC Offensive Player of the Year who led the team with 22 goals despite missing three games in March with a shoulder injury. He has scored at least one point in 28 straight games, a streak that dates back to April 2008.  

Junior goalkeeper Jake Hagelin also earned a top honor this week, as he was named ECAC Goalkeeper of the Year. He posted a 7.86 goals against average, tops in the ECAC and third-best in the country. Loyola is second overall in Division I in scoring defense as of this week.

An X-factor for the Greyhounds is the availability of senior defenseman and co-captain Steve Layne, who missed last week’s loss against Hopkins with a sprained knee. Layne, who originally suffered the injury against Hobart on April 24, played against Denver on May 2, but decided last week that he was going to rest the knee in hopes of getting it stronger for the tournament. He’s day-to-day and will be a game-time decision, Toomey said.

Loyola last played in the NCAA championships in 2008 when it got bounced by Duke 12-7 in the first round. The winner of Saturday’s game will face the winner of Syracuse-Army.

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