February 10, 2012

Loyola Supporting O'Sullivan in Time of Need

by Matt Forman | LaxMagazine.com

"We need to put our arm around Sean right now," Loyola coach Charley Toomey said about junior midfielder Sean O'Sullivan, whose mother, Mandy, is battling pancreatic cancer.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

A year ago Maryland and Duke rallied around Ryan and Kevin Young, the twin brothers whose mother, Maria Young, passed away in mid-April after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.

On Wednesday at the Baltimore-area coaches' media day, Loyola's Charley Toomey told Lacrosse Magazine that Mandy O'Sullivan, the mother of junior midfielder Sean O'Sullivan, has been battling the same disease that affected the Youngs — pancreatic cancer.

Maryland players wore purple ribbon stickers on their helmets to raise awareness for the Lustgarten Foundation, a nonprofit organization supporting the treatment and prevention of pancreatic cancer, and fans wore purple t-shirts with "Forever Young, MY" on the back.

Efforts like those showed how teams can come together as a family in times of great emotion — sadness or joy. Toomey is asking the same of his team. Sean is one of five O'Sullivan children — all of which played lacrosse at Westfield (Va.) High — but he has 42 brothers at Loyola.

"We need to put our arm around Sean right now," Toomey said. "That's what makes Loyola special — our lines of communication, our locker room, the Jesuit philosophy, the counseling, the support. We're a family."

After Toomey met with the players' parents after the Greyhounds' scrimmage against Maryland last Saturday, he used the O'Sullivans' fight with pancreatic cancer as an inspirational tool for his team at Tuesday's practice.

"We had a tough day at practice. Our guys were probably feeling bad about their legs. They had worked out the day before. We looked a little slow. And I just challenged them; I think it challenged them in the right way," Toomey said. "This woman is a fighter. All you've got to do is go up and down. You've got to dig in, because somebody always has a tougher job than you. It's not bad to be able to be able to walk out on that field and play for two and a half hours for a coach with a whistle. Pretty easy to do. When times are tough, times are a little tougher somewhere else.

"Every night say a prayer. Pray for Mrs. O'Sullivan. Think about Sean, think about his family. And let's take care of each other."

Maria Young's story became increasingly public in 2011 as she agreed to share it in hopes of raising awareness for pancreatic cancer. According to an article from December in The Connection newspapers "Centre View," O'Sullivan was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer in March 2010.

Sean O'Sullivan sat out last year at Loyola after transferring from Army, where he spent two seasons and scored 16 goals in 2010. Toomey on Wednesday said O'Sullivan is expected start at midfield for the Greyhounds, Lacrosse Magazine's preseason 19th-ranked team. The seventh-year coach addressed that and several other topics at the media event:

Two-Way Transfers

Along with O'Sullivan, Loyola in 2012 will have the services of fellow transfer Chris Layne, who sat out last season after spending two years at North Carolina, where he played short-stick defensive midfield. But Toomey sees Layne, whose brother Steve was the team's MVP and co-captain in 2010, and O'Sullivan as "old-school middies" who have the athleticism and wherewithal to play defense and stay on the field for offense.

"We think of those guys can be two-way middies," Toomey said. "It's nice when you get a guy you feel like can play both sides of the field, it allows you to maybe keep their players on the field, play some early offense. But they also are guys that play man-up and play man-down for us. They're talented players, and they're really going to help our program."

O'Sullivan and Layne will replace the graduated Chris Basler and Chris Palmer, while Junior Patrick Fanshaw, who mostly played attack in 2011, will move back to the midfield.

Junior Josh Hawkins, arguably the team's most athletic player, has been recovering from a back injury and could be out for the early portion of the season. Sophomore Pat Laconi has emerged in that role.

"We've played without Josh Hawkins, who's a pretty big part of us on the defensive end allowing us to transition the ball," Toomey said. "He hasn't played. He'll be back eventually, but it's a day-to-day with the training room. We anticipate being a fully healthy team certainly by the Towson game [Feb. 25]."

'Healthy Rivalry' in Goal

A two-time All-American at Loyola in the early-90s, Toomey knows a thing or two about goaltending. And having stood between the pipes, Toomey isn't a fan of his goalies playing halves. So while junior Michael Bonitatibus and sophomore Jack Runkel have split time thus far in the preseason — they're in a battle to replace four-year starter Jake Hagelin — Toomey doesn't have any intention of continuing the trend once the regular season kicks off against Delaware.

"It's a good problem to have, I guess," Toomey said. "We were hoping to try to settle in after the Maryland scrimmage. All they did is they both went out and played great. Between the two of them we had 13 saves and three allowed, so it's hard to name a starter coming out of that weekend. I've never been a proponent of playing halves. I don't see us doing that. So we're going to rely on this weekend to figure some things out."

Runkel started and played the first half in Loyola's scrimmage against Maryland last weekend, and Bonitatibus is scheduled to do the same against Harvard on Saturday.

"The biggest thing is that it's a healthy rivalry in our locker room. The message to those guys is this: We're in a day-to-day competition. I'm not looking for a gamer," Toomey said. "I want the guy that's going to lead us Monday through Friday, and Saturday, as opposed to just relying on a gamer. They each bring something to the table. Bonny is very athletic. He's scrappy. He's quick to get out of the cage. Runk takes up a lot of it, and he's a leader, and he's a presence in the cage. They're just so different."

Double Duty

The Greyhounds won 56.6 percent of faceoffs last year, and nearly all of those were taken by All-American John Schiavone, one of the top specialists in the country. Now that Schiavone has graduated, senior J.P. Dalton should take the majority of the draws, while junior Phil Dobson and freshman Devon Lepsch are in the mix. Toomey also mentioned Brendan Donovan, a transfer from Robert Morris who's not listed on the team's roster.

"We're asking J.P. to take faceoffs, and we're asking him to play midfield," Toomey said. "He's a captain for us. We've got to figure out who that second guy is, or is somebody ready to push him and give him some time off. It's tough to take faceoffs, and then play a regular shift, but J.P. has really impressed us in the early part of this spring."

Lusby at Left Side

While sorting things out at faceoff and in the cage, Loyola won't have to worry about its attack. Junior All-American Mike Sawyer (31 g, 5 a in 2011) is the team's star scorer, and he will be joined by fifth-year senior Eric Lusby, who earned first team All-ECAC honors as a midfielder in 2010 but only played two games last year while recovering from a torn ACL and MCL.

"We missed Lusby last year," Toomey said. "He's healthy now and looks great. He was a former all-conference player that I think, because it's been so long ago, people kind of have forgotten. We're really looking for Eric to step in on that lefty side where we had a slew of guys last year. Eric is not only a talented player and a guy we're going to rely on, but he brings four years of the locker room back to the table. As a captain, now he's speaking up in that locker room about handling the off-the-field stuff and pushing us the right way off the field. Any time you can have a fifth-year guy in your locker room physically, that's going to help your program."

Pointing the Finger

Toomey has watched the ECAC's composition and dynamic shift since Loyola joined the conference in 2005. Prior to the 2008 season when the Greyhounds won the league and earned an automatic berth into the NCAA tournament, Georgetown had won four of the last five conference crowns. Now, with the Hoyas in the Big East, Denver has been atop the ECAC the last two years.

"When we came into the ECAC, we probably were pointing our finger at Georgetown, and I think we've competed at a pretty high level with Georgetown," Toomey said. "Now we're all pointing our finger, as a league, at Denver. And that's what we need to do. We need to figure out what we need to do to travel out there and be successful [April 14]. We're looking forward to this. We welcome Michigan into the league as well. I think that move is great for the sport."

Did Toomey have a chance to see Denver in Champion Challenge?

"I DVR'd it," he said. "But I definitely turned it on, and I wanted to turn it off as quickly as I turned it on. They looked pretty daggone good. Mark Matthews is going to be a bear. I don't care if it's January 31 or the early part of May. He's such a talented player. We'll worry about that in a couple of weeks. Right now, it's all about Delaware and starting to prepare for the early part of the season."

comments powered by Disqus

More Headlines