February 25, 2013

Washburn: Maryland-Loyola Should Be February Tradition

An annual Maryland-Loyola matchup would be a great way to make the most of February lacrosse, writes Evan Washburn.

Editor's note: Evan Washburn, the former Delaware defenseman and current CBS Sports Network and NBC Sports Network lacrosse commentator, will be providing a weekly column for LaxMagazine.com during the Division I men's lacrosse season. He worked the sideline for NBC during Saturday's Maryland-Loyola game.

by Evan Washburn | LaxMagazine.com

Everyone has an opinion about February lacrosse.

Some think this is a spring sport, and that we shouldn't be watching games until the snow has melted. Then there are the diehards who will take lacrosse at any point during the year.

I have a warm place in my heart for the winter season. It probably goes back to my Delaware days where we always kicked off the year when most teams were still going through pre-season conditioning.

Still, there was a time where I could understand the argument for waiting until March, but I don't want to hear it anymore. Not after witnessing No. 1 Maryland and No. 2 Loyola go after it in wintery conditions in front of nearly 6,000 fans on Saturday.

The rematch of the 2012 national championship game lived up to its billing, with quality play and palpable intensity.

Despite downplaying a revenge factor, the Terps played with an emotion that only comes from the disappointment of being just one game short the national title. And they've come up short two years in a row.

For all of the storylines that went into this game, the one that resonates the most is that this was the first time the Maryland and Loyola men's programs have met in the regular season since 1989. The truth is that Hounds and Terps have not met on a regular basis since the 1950s.

This is a game that needs to be played every year, and why not in February?

The connections between the programs go far beyond their close proximity (about 35 miles apart). The two head coaches, Maryland's John Tillman and Loyola's Charley Toomey, consider one another family, first becoming friends back when Tillman followed Toomey as a Navy assistant and lived in the same neighborhood in Annapolis, Md.

"Charley is the definition of a friend," Tillman said this week of his Greyhounds' counterpart. "To find a friend that has all the characteristics he has, is rare."

This game tested the friendship, with weekly phone calls and texts between the two put on hold. But after the final whistle it was obvious the relationship wouldn't leave Loyola's Ridley Athletic Complex strained.

After Maryland's 12-10 win, the two teams gathered for the handshake line. Each coach made their way down the line shaking each player's hand and then finally made it to the end, a spot reserved for head coaches.

Despite the obvious disappointment of a loss, Toomey made no hesitation to crack a smile and give his friend a big hug and congratulations.

These are the moments and stories that make great rivalries.

Beyond the sidelines, Maryland and Loyola are programs on an upswing, capitalizing on success by tearing up the recruiting trail. To think that each year this game will pit No. 1 vs. No. 2 is naïve, but with the talent the two programs are bringing in and the history being built, the game will not disappointment.

Conference realignment has made scheduling an out of conference opponent very difficult, a reality that has an effect on the future of this game.

Loyola is leaving the ECAC for the Patriot league, while Maryland is headed to the Big Ten. These two teams are currently not scheduled to play again in the regular season.

The message from Loyola's athletic department is that both sides want this game to happen on a regular basis. The hope is it's not a matter of if, but when they can work it out.

Winter lacrosse is not going anywhere, so let's just make it better.

Fans love something they can count on. Let's make Maryland vs. Loyola a February institution.

From the booth

A lot of benefits come from winning a national championship. The attention of bringing a title to Loyola gave Charley Toomey the chance to be involved in the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

The impact was shown Saturday. At an earlier charity auction for the foundation, one could bid on a chance to be a Loyola lacrosse player for a day. The family with the winning bid was on the field for Saturday's game against Maryland, taking part on every aspect of game day including the pre-game meal.

Stock up, stock down

Maryland, UP — The Terps have put up 51 goals in three games and are coming off a 12-10 win over former No. 1 Loyola. The first midfield of John Haus, Mike Chanenchuk and Jake Bernhardt is the best in the country.

Penn, UPA 14-9 win over No. 14 Duke was an impressive way to start the season. The Quakers outscored the Blue Devils 8-2 in the second half. Is this the year that Penn breaks through? We will know more in the first week of March, when they take on Denver and Lehigh.

Lehigh, DOWN — It was a rough weekend for the Mountain Hawks, losing two games in Colorado to Denver and Air Force. The Lehigh defense, which was so stellar in 2012, allowed 33 goals in the two losses.

Duke, DOWN — Three losses in the month of February does not kill a season, but giving up 41 goals in those three games is a cause for concern. No. 1 Maryland pays a visit this Saturday in what is shaping up to be an early-season must-win for th Blue Devils.

Check back to LaxMagazine.com each Monday throughout the season for more columns from Evan, and follow him on Twitter @EvanWashburn.

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