April 12, 2013

Loyola, Denver Hope to Continue Budding Rivalry Beyond Saturday

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com

After Saturday, there is no guarantee that Loyola and Denver will meet in the regular season, since the Greyhounds are on the move to the Patriot League in 2014.

As rivalries go, the Loyola-Denver series is barely past the infancy stage. The two schools have faced each other just five times since the ECAC was revamped in 2010, following the breakup of the Great Western Lacrosse League that once included Denver.

Yet, this odd conference pairing of schools nearly 2,000 miles apart has become a notable subplot in the sport's growing landscape.

Until last season, Loyola had yet to beat the Pioneers, who had won the league title for two straight years under coach Bill Tierney. Then came 2012, when the Greyhounds broke through in a big way by going 3-0 against Denver en route to an 18-1 finish that culminated in the school's first Division I championship in any sport.

Two of those wins were by one goal — a 14-13 overtime battle in the ECAC tournament semifinals and a 10-9 slugfest in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals. The Greyhounds impressively won twice at Denver in a late-season span of 18 days.

All of which adds a compelling backdrop to Saturday's invasion of the Ridley Athletic Complex in Baltimore by No. 4 Pioneers, who are determined to take down the sixth-ranked defending national champions.

Each team is 9-2. Each team is loaded with scoring threats. Each team was playing entertaining, high-scoring, fast-paced lacrosse before rule changes imposed that needed boost on the sport in 2013. For NCAA tournament resume reasons, Loyola needs Saturday's game more than Denver, which is considerably ahead of the Greyhounds in RPI (2 vs. 11) and quality win ranking (7 vs. 22). Whatever happens, these two will be the top seeds in the upcoming ECAC tournament at Hobart.

And after Saturday's Senior Day at Loyola, there are no annual guarantees that the Greyhounds and Denver will meet in the regular season, since Loyola is headed to the Patriot League. Next year is out. Tierney and Loyola coach Charley Toomey are already trying to work out an arrangement to play a non-conference game in 2015.

"I'd love to play [Denver] every year," said Toomey, whose team will not have to fly to play a single Patriot League game after needing airfare to reach the majority of ECAC road games. "If you're going to showcase the game in the Midwest, Denver is not a bad place for us to be. I've really enjoyed the rivalry with them."

A future Denver-Loyola regular-season game almost certainly would have to be played on a Saturday in February (fans bring your parkas). Toomey is intent on avoiding a mid-week game, especially one wrapped around a Patriot League tilt.

"You don't want to play a Wednesday game in Denver then play Lehigh or Army on a Saturday," he said. "That's crazy. You'll get your brains beat in. Whatever happens, Bill and I really want to figure out a way to work this out."

"We don't know where [in what conference] we're going to be next year. I'm sad Loyola is leaving the league. It certainly changes us dramatically," Tierney said. "We're like weird step-sisters with the distance between our schools, but it's a huge rivalry.

"I love Loyola's players. One of my best friends is their offensive coordinator [David Metzbower, former longtime Tierney assistant at Princeton]. The ECAC has been such a tough league, and Loyola gave it such validation last year."

Pioneers' fine line of success

Denver offers a perfect example of the fine line that exists between success and failure throughout Division I.

A year ago, the Pioneers had one of the most high-powered offenses in the sport, yet finished 9-7. Denver came up one goal short on six occasions and piled on the heartbreak by losing four games in overtime, including a triple-OT loss to Notre Dame.

In 2013, with the remarkable attack duo of Eric Law (25g, 23a, 59.5% shooting) and Wes Berg (33 goals, 43% shooting) leading the charge during an injury-plagued season — Denver will be without star midfielder and senior Jeremy Noble for the sixth time at Loyola — the Pioneers have flipped the crunch-time script by going 3-1 in one-goal games.

Denver came from three goals down in the final seven minutes of regulation to take an 11-10, overtime thriller over Air Force on March 26. The Pioneers then escaped with an 11-10, double-OT win over Bellarmine on Saturday. They needed an astonishing 57 shots to overcome a 20-save performance by senior goalie Dillon Ward.

"There are an incredible number of one-goal games in the game now, and maybe this stuff tends to balance out," Tierney said. "But this team has a group of seniors who are really good leaders. They just seem to have a little bit more [heart] inside of them."

Orange on solid footing

Does anybody remember that Syracuse started the season with a one-goal loss to Albany in the Carrier Dome and a plodding, 6-2 win over Army? Since then, the Orange have — dare we say — quietly put it together with a great stretch against a solid schedule.

Wednesday night's 13-12, come-from-behind victory over visiting, No. 2 Cornell not only marked the seventh win in eight games for the eighth-ranked Orange. It also put Syracuse (8-2) in firm position to nail down a top four seed in the NCAA tournament.

This is the best midfield depth seen at the 'Cuse in five years. JoJo Marasco, Luke Cometti and Scott Loy have combined for 39 goals and 30 assists on the first unit, while Henry Schoonmaker has led the second group with 14 goals. Syracuse has averaged 14.5 goals in its last six victories, including a 13-12 squeaker over Princeton.

Loy left the Cornell game with a leg injury, although Syracuse appears built to last with excellent balance while Loy gets back to full strength. The Orange has seven scorers with at least 10 goals and 15 points.

Hopkins, Virginia face last stands

Who would have thought that in mid-April, Johns Hopkins and Virginia would be in such predicaments?

No. 15 Hopkins is close to a do-or-die situation against top-ranked Maryland on Saturday in the 110th meeting between the two schools. The Blue Jays (6-4) have one victory over a team with a winning record. That would be unranked Towson (7-5).

Virginia (5-6) has lost five straight for the first time in 47 years, appears headed for its first losing season since 2004, and has beaten two opponents with winning marks. They are Drexel (8-3), which fell to No. 17 after getting drilled by Penn State last week, and Stony Brook (6-5).

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