May 1, 2014

Aussie Paton Led Loyola To First Patriot League Title

By Laurel Pfahler | | Twitter

Paton never knew the impact she would make on her Loyola squad as a freshman, but she definitely had her international experience to boast. (John Strohsacker)

Marlee Paton was playing beyond her years and above her stature long before she arrived on the campus at Loyola University (Md.).

The 5-foot-5 senior midfielder first caught the eye of Greyhounds coach Jen Adams at a camp in Melbourne, Australia, when Paton was a mere 12 years old and blending in with players much older than herself.

Adams, a fellow Aussie, said she knew then Paton would be something special, but she couldn't have imagined the impact the young player would end up making on her program. Paton helped No. 12 Loyola (15-4) secure its fourth straight NCAA tournament berth last week, lifting the Greyhounds to the Patriot League title their first season in the conference.

The Greyhounds wrap up the regular season Saturday at their former Big East foe Syracuse.

"Some players just have that it factor and you notice it very young," Adams said. "She is small in stature but big in presence, and she's had that since she was a kid. She's just tenacious. That competitive spirit she has and ability to infuse her own style on it is noticeable. She made herself noticed in every drill.

"She was a little peanut but I remember that first encounter thinking, 'She is going to be phenomenal. I've got to keep an eye on her.' She was highly sought after, but I was fortunate to have a pipeline in Melbourne and to have made a connection with her and her family. We were fortunate to be able to bring her here to Loyola. She's made a tremendous impact."

A three-time Tewaaraton semifinalist, Paton helped Loyola to back-to-back Big East championships her first two years and so far has two first-team All-American honors. She also etched her name in the record books as the first player in Loyola women's lacrosse history to reach 100 goals, 75 assists, 200 points and 100 ground balls for her career – obtaining those first three by the end of junior year but needing just one ground ball to reach the century mark coming into this season.

Paton, a four-year starter and two-time captain, leads the team with 47 goals, 25 assists, 33 ground balls and 34 caused turnovers this season, guiding Loyola to 13 straight wins since a 2-4 start. She was named the Patriot League's Midfielder of the Year, her second conference Player of the Year nod.

"I've been tuning up every aspect of my game since I got here," Paton said. "End to end, I've learned the importance of hustle, getting ground balls and not just trying to score goals – those are things I've learned to love."

Her contributions certainly extend beyond what she does with possession of the ball.

"The best players can get noticed without the ball and she can influence the game in all aspects, seemingly effortlessly, whether it's getting a key turnover on defense, getting the draw or just helping her teammates excel," Adams said. "You go out on the field and it just looks like she was born with the skill she has but I see the effort she puts into it. She's worked hard to get where she is."

Adams said Paton's creative game and ability to stay calm under pressure have improved tremendously since she first came to Loyola.

Paton always seemed to be a step ahead of her peers, though.

But then again, she also had the advantage of arriving at Loyola in 2010 with a level of international experience that most American freshmen could never dream of. She has played in two FIL World Cups for Australia, including winning a silver medal in Prague in 2009 and a bronze medal in Oshawa, Canada, in 2013.

Adams also played on both those teams, something that had an impact on Paton when it came to her college recruiting.

"I was thinking for a long time I would play [college lacrosse in the U.S.], but it wasn't really until I tried out for the national team in 2009 that I got my second wind and realized how much I loved lacrosse and high intensity training," Paton said. "I was getting better and better and then playing with Jen in Prague, she took me under her wing, and seeing some of the other Australian players who went to Loyola helped convince me it was the right place."

Adjusting to the American game and college training regimen was difficult at first, though it never showed on the field. Australian lacrosse is much less structured and much more laid back, Paton said, and it's more of a family social gathering than a competitive environment.

Paton said she had experienced intense training with the national team but not to the extent of what most college teams do on a daily basis. Having a coach who was blending her own Australian style with the American game helped Paton fit in right away.

"You have to be structured in college lacrosse, but one thing [coach Adams] has really prided herself on is creativity, pushing the boundaries, and I think all her players know they have the freedom to do that within reason," Paton said. "In that sense, it feels a lot more like Australian lacrosse because there's a bit more freedom for creativity there."

It wasn't difficult getting used to Adams as a coach rather than a teammate. Paton was only 17 on the 2009 national team, while Adams, who had just finished her first year as Loyola's head coach, served as a captain and naturally took on a coaching role within the squad.

"It was a smooth transition because I had so much respect for her as a player already," Paton said.

Adams said Paton's maturity helped the two balance their friendship with their player-coach relationship.

It is that maturity level that has made Paton an effective captain, as well. Though not as vocal as many of the team's previous captains, Paton's leadership by example has worked well with her teammates, Adams said.

It just took a while for Paton to realize what an impact she could make through her captaincy.

"She's coming into her own and adapting her own leadership style and learning it's just as powerful to lead by example," Adams said. "Sometimes people think they need to fit the mold as a cookie-cutter leader and say certain things and be a certain way, but when you don't speak a lot, what you do say is very important. She does what she needs to do, and her leadership is just as important as anything else she does on the field."

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