December 10, 2012

#BestOfLax 2012: LM Picks Top Players, Coaches

by Lacrosse Magazine staff | | Twitter

Colgate's Peter Baum emerged on the national scene in 2012. "I certainly didn't foresee a 97-point season," he said, "but I definitely felt good coming into the year."
© Greg Wall

Nearly 34,000 votes were cast in Lacrosse Magazine's "Best of Lacrosse 2012" polls in October, and we thank each and every one of you who voted. The final results of the year-end fan voting can be found here.

Now it's time to roll out our staff picks as they appear in the December issue of LM alongside those fan vote results.

Check back to this month for more Best of Lacrosse 2012 content and talk about it in the comments section below or on Twitter using the hashtag #BestOfLax.

Best Men's Player

Peter Baum, Colgate

A season in which fans expected Steele Stanwick and Rob Pannell to match against each other for alpha male took a different course as the weeks progressed in the spring. Pannell broke his foot in Cornell's second game of the season and Stanwick's Virginia squad dropped back-to-back games in April, making the Cavaliers chances at a national championship repeat appear more questionable than anticipated.

All the while a kid named Peter Baum kept putting in goals and putting up points for Colgate. The Raiders strung together five straight Patriot League wins before falling to fellow Cinderella story Lehigh in a conference championship game that featured a combined 30 goals. By then, Baum had made a name for himself, or at least forced people to ask who he was.

The Oregon native, born in Seattle and raised in Portland, finished his junior season leading the nation in goals (67) and points (97), and with the Tewaaraton Award in his hands. The Raiders offense averaged more than four goals per game than it did in 2011. Colgate went 14-4, beat Maryland to end its regular season and handed previously unbeaten UMass a loss in the first round of the NCAA tournament before losing to Duke in the quarterfinals.

Baum bumped down to attack from midfield in the early-season and the move by the Colgate coaching staff proved instrumental. His final point total was the most for a Tewaaraton finalist since Duke's Matt Danowski in 2007.

"Peter is just a different kind of player. He's a hybrid type," first-year Colgate coach Mike Murphy said after the Tewaaraton ceremony. "They honored Matt Danowski and Ned Crotty, past winners, earlier tonight. That's what we talked about doing with Pete — being a midfielder, being an attackman. He was just a lacrosse player. We needed to put Pete in positions to be successful, whether that was up top, behind the goal, on the wing, coming out of the box, whatever. We just needed to get Peter the ball."

Fan Vote

Brendan Mundorf 29%
Steele Stanwick 25%
Peter Baum 18%
John Grant Jr. 14%
Paul Rabil 14%

Being from the West Coast — Baum was the first male Tewaaraton winner born and raised west of the Mississippi River — he wasn't entirely sure how his skills would translate to the college game, but he knew he wanted to make an impact. He thought he could do so at Colgate, where both of his parents attended and his father played lacrosse.

Baum has made an impact, but not even he expected to put together a season in 2012 worthy of Lacrosse Magazine's Best Men's Player honors.

"I certainly didn't foresee a 97-point season," said Baum, who was a two-time US Lacrosse All-American at Lincoln (Ore.) High and won an Oregon state title as a junior in 2008. "I never like to put goal and point total estimates or expectations out there before the season. I never like to predict how I'm going to do. But I definitely felt good coming into the year."

Best Women's Player

Taylor Thornton, Northwestern

Fan Vote

Michelle Tumolo 40%
Brittany Dashiell 34%
Taylor Thornton 19%
Katie Schwarzmann 5%
Taylor Cummings 2%

Thorton, the 2011 IWLCA Defender of the Year, had a different role this season, but she performed it just as well. As an offensively minded midfielder in, the junior more than doubled her points total from 15 to 34. And she did it while remaining tough as nails on defense and in transition. Even while spending more time on attack, she still led the team in ground balls (58) and was third in caused turnovers (28).

"Taylor has improved her offensive ability quite a lot, and I think she's doing the same thing defensively, which is very rare, to have a shut-down defender be so explosive offensively," Northwestern coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said.

To get there, Thornton couldn't rely as heavily on the impressive speed and strength that made her the nation's best defender in 2011. So she worked with teammate (and 2011 Tewaaraton winner) Shannon Smith to improve her stick skills, and took more shooting reps during and after practice. Thornton also spent time in the backyard with her brother, Blakely, practicing dodges. Whatever a big brother could dish out made NCAA play feel like a paid vacation.

"He's a 6-foot-2 guy, a big guy. He played football at Penn, so I just work on dodging him and getting hit by him and getting pressured, so it doesn't really affect me when I get hit throughout the game. Because I've experienced much worse," she said.

Thornton was the Honda Sports Award National Player of the Year for women's lacrosse and the American Lacrosse Conference Player of the Year. She was the first Tewaaraton finalist to hail from Texas, and earned her second first-team All-America nod. Oh, and she led the Wildcats to their seventh title in eight years.

Best Men's Coach

Charley Toomey, Loyola

Fan Vote

Jim Berkman 54%
Charley Toomey 29%
Kevin Cassese 12%
Dave Cottle 3%
Alex Smith 2%

Charley Toomey stole our hearts with his hard-working, aw-shucks niceties all season, then shocked the lacrosse landscape by leading Loyola to a national championship nobody saw coming.

Along the way, Toomey had a renaissance man's touch. He relied on under-recruited players from non-traditional regions, like Tewaaraton finalist Mike Sawyer of Waxhaw, N.C., and arguably the nation's top long pole, Scott Ratliff of Marietta, Ga. He turned the Hounds loose, employing a run-and-gun style in an era of stall tactics, after an offseason coaching seminar let him turn over the keys to the offense to coordinator Dan Chemotti, which included elements of box lacrosse. When opponents tried to slow down the Greyhounds, he was content to battle in the half-field, forcing them into the teeth of the defense. He took the team on a bonding retreat into the mountains of western Maryland, which forged a chemistry that carried them to the national title.

Toomey, a 1990 graduate of then-Loyola College who stood between the pipes the last time the Greyhounds played in an NCAA final, was determined to deliver for his alma mater. He embodied the varying personalities of his players, and gave Loyola an undeniable swagger.

Ranked No. 19 in Lacrosse Magazine's preseason poll, and 21st in another iteration, Loyola ran 21 sprints on the last day of its fall practice in 2011 for every team that ranked ahead of them. Come Memorial Day weekend, when Toomey stood at midfield with the NCAA championship trophy and tears running down his face, there was no doubt: The Greyhounds were the top dogs.

Best Women's Coach

Kelly Amonte Hiller, Northwestern

Fan Vote

Kate Livesay 35%
Kelly Amonte Hiller 25%
Mandee O'Leary 19%
Gary Gait 15%
Jen Larsen-Beck 6%

It wasn't just what Kelly Amonte Hiller did this year, winning her seventh NCAA championship in eight years. It was how she did it.

Amonte Hiller knew defenses would collapse on 2011 Tewaaraton Winner Shannon Smith, so she revamped the attack, told Taylor Thornton to shoot more, made freshman Casey Bocklet (22 assists) team's No. 2 feeder after Smith and shifted senior Lacey Vigmostad from midfield to low defense. And that was just to get started.

"Teams turn into completely different teams," sophomore midfielder Alyssa Leonard said of Amonte Hiller's ever-evolving approach to the game.

She kept tweaking the lineup throughout the year. Only seven Wildcats started in all 23 games, and one was goalie Brianne LoManto. With the shifting cast of characters, Northwestern raced to a 21-2 record and yet another NCAA title. Amonte Hiller was named the 2012 IWLCA Coach of the Year, the fifth time in her career that she has been so honored.

She is now 32-2 (.937) in the NCAA tournament and 196-30 (.867) overall in her 12 seasons as a head coach. She ranks No. 1 in both winning percentages. Northwestern's 9-7 semifinal victory over her alma mater, Maryland, put her postseason record over the top.

Both Amonte Hiller and her college coach, Cindy Timchal, were inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame this year. Timchal served as Amonte Hiller's presenter at the ceremony.

"Kelly was all business on the practice field," Timchal, now coach at Navy, said. "She wanted to do more than everybody else. One time, she asked me 'What else can I do?' and I said 'Do you want to drive the bus? You're already doing it all.'"

A version of this article appears in the December issue of Lacrosse Magazine, the flagship publication of US Lacrosse. Don't get the mag? Join US Lacrosse and its 400,000-plus members today to start your subscription.

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