May 27, 2012

All-Maryland Final Set for Championship Monday

by Gary Lambrecht |

Tewaaraton Award finalist Mike Sawyer has been overshadowed by hot-shooting Eric Lusby (18 points in the NCAA tournament). Could Sawyer be primed for a big game against Maryland? "I think he's ready to make it happen," teammate Josh Hawkins said.
© Kevin P. Tucker

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Loyola University was unranked in most preseason top 20 men's lacrosse polls, and the Greyhounds have reflected on that perceived slight throughout the building stages of the most successful season in the program's Division I history.

The University of Maryland was supposed to be down a bit this spring, retooling somewhat after the exit of a huge senior class that carried the Terps to last year's NCAA championship game. And Maryland has collected a few warts along the path that has led to its 12-5 season.

But here they are, two schools from the same state, taking over center stage at Gillette Stadium in Monday's NCAA tournament title.

Here is Loyola (17-1) going after its first crown. Standing in its way is Maryland, the much bigger state school down I-95 about 35 miles from downtown Baltimore in College Park, where the Terps have been starved for a title since winning their only NCAA tournament in 1975.

The game marks the first time Loyola and Maryland have faced each other since Maryland defeated Loyola in the tournament semifinals in 1998, and it marks the first time two schools from the state of Maryland have battled in the season's final game since Johns Hopkins beat Maryland in 1979.

It features a feel-good story about two coaches – Loyola's Charley Toomey and Maryland's John Tillman – who are former Annapolis neighbors that remain close friends. Each spent part of their formative years coaching at Navy, where Tillman replaced Toomey in 1995.

Toomey, in his seventh season at Loyola, has led the Greyhounds to a school-record number of victories with an up-tempo offense and the killer, lefty-righty scoring combination of Eric Lusby and Mike Sawyer – Loyola's first pair of 50-goal scorers ever.

Tillman, who in his first two seasons at Maryland has become the first coach in tournament history to take an unseeded team to two national title games, has guided the Terps through the peaks and valleys that typically accompany a program with such a turnover in leadership.

"We've been best friends for many years. We own camps together. We pal around in the summer together," Toomey said. "He's a guy that maybe right now I wish I hadn't game-planned with [on the phone] throughout the season, because I think he knows us as well as we know him. John Tillman is one of those coaches I know is in my corner. Not on Monday."

"Charley is as good as they come in terms of character and friendship. He's a good coach. He's a better friend," Tillman said. "It's a little bit awkward in certain ways, but we realize what's at stake for both schools and for our guys and what they've invested. It's going to be a really tough challenge, because when you play the No. 1 seed and the No. 1 team in the country, they pose a lot of problems."

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