April 15, 2011

Loewen, Jackson Bring Circus to Limestone

by Jac Coyne | LaxMagazine.com | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Sophomore Riley Loewen (above) has turned into the deadliest finisher in Division II after the arrival of fellow Canadian and former Juco player of the year Shayne Jackson. The duo has the Saints dreaming of a third national championship.

Now that he's the athletic director at Limestone, former Saints men's lacrosse coach Mike Cerino has a lot on his plate. Still, he'll carve out a minute or two during his busy day to sneak down to the film room and take a look at how the No. 1 team in Division II is doing.

Earlier this year, Cerino ambled down the hall and ducked into the lacrosse offices while the staff -- head coach J.B. Clarke and assistant Chris Barrett -- watched video of the Saints 11-9 win over Le Moyne, a victory that started Limestone's race up the polls. Cerino's coaching vision instantly focused on two of the attackmen.

He recognized sophomore Riley Loewen, a player recruited out of British Columbia during Cerino's penultimate season, immediately. It took a little while to make out the second player, but the box tendencies tipped him off that it was Shayne Jackson, an Ontario native and the 2010 junior college player of the year out of Onondaga, who matriculated at Limestone over the winter.

What unfolded on the screen made Cerino lean in a little closer.

"I was watching them on film, I think it was against Le Moyne, where they ran a beautiful pick-and-roll play on an inbounds," Cerino said. "I said to the coaches, 'Wow, when did you put that in?' They said, 'We didn't, it's just something they do.'"

Welcome to the Limestone offense, an on-the-fly, high-powered, box-centric, risk-taking attack spearheaded by Loewen and Jackson that Clarke has dubbed, mostly affectionately, "The Circus."

Clarke, the long-time Washington College coach, has coached prototypical box guys before in his career -- Gewas Schindler at Loyola, for one -- but he has marveled at the confidence both Jackson and Loewen show in skills rarely seen in American field players.

"They do things down there that you can't coach, especially in our youth leagues," Clarke said. "We tend to not let our kids throw it behind-the-back, or backhanded, or around-the-world and all those things. We'll come down here on a 4-on-3 and Shayne will throw an around-the-world pass back to the point."

Clarke admits that he has to grit his teeth from time to time, and there is a risk-reward aspect to their style, but the results are hard to argue with. Not only are the Saints 12-0, but they lead all divisions in scoring. In addition, Jackson leads the country in points (5.08), while Loewen is atop Division II in goals (3.58).

"He's pretty lenient about letting us do a lot of behind-the-back stuff and letting us try stuff out in practice," Loewen said of Clarke's approach to the productive high-wire act. "It's worked out pretty well from there. He'll let us know if something doesn't seem right, but most of the time it's okay."

"We don't really think about it," added Jackson. "We don't want to do it all the time, just when we have to. Sometimes it's a little much, but it's fun."

The fun really started with the addition of Jackson to the Saints' frontline. Loewen had a solid freshman year, amassing 37 points in the shadow All-Americans Mike Poerstel and Jake Rogalia, but it wasn't until Jackson arrived with his pinpoint box passes that Loewen has exploded.

"The connection those two have started once [Jackson] showed up on campus," Clarke said. "It's kind of bizarre, to be frank."

"After the first couple of practices I knew the guy could feed the ball pretty well," Loewen said. "We just kept going out there and he kept on finding me on the field with all of his passes."

Jackson, in his usual understated way, has a more fundamental analysis for Limestone's Canadian connection.

"It was really easy," he said. "I just give Riley the ball and he puts in the net."

It sounds simplistic, but the knack both players have shown for finishing is bordering on incredible. While "The Circus" draws cheers from the crowd because of the high risk involved, and there certainly are a number of errant passes, the duo is stunningly efficient in front of the cage.

Loewen has 43 goals this season on just 71 shots -- a staggering 60.6 shooting percentage. While Jackson has nearly twice as many assists (40) than he does goals (21), he still scores at an above-average rate of 46.7 percent (21-for-45). Similar to why Loewen is having a breakout season, his shooting percentage -- and that of the entire team (43.8) -- is due to Jackson's basic approach to feeding the ball.

"If the guy's open, you just have to give it him," Jackson said.

Loewen and Jackson have brought their Canadian game to South Carolina, but they are by no means the first installment of the box brigade. Nick Carlson, Jake Lawson and Travis Gillespie, among others, have all donned the Limestone uniform before starting successful careers in the NLL, and there are several young Canadian players on the current roster apprenticing under Loewen and Jackson.

"There has been a strong Canadian influence on the program whenever we've been very successful," said Cerino, who won the Saints' first national title in 2000.

Limestone hasn't been to the national title game since 2005, and its last championship came in 2002. It's a drought that could very well come to an end this season, as the Saints have serious aspirations to play on Memorial Day. If they do, Baltimore better be ready.

"The Circus" doesn't come around that often.

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