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The Greyhound

The Greyhound

Expectations high for men’s lacrosse

After last year’s early exit from the NCAA tournament head coach Charley Toomey and the No. 16 Greyhounds are eager to prove they are still a title contender. It took double overtime for Duke, the eventual national champion, to oust the Hounds and advance. Loyola returns a number of key players from last year’s squad that finished 11-5—including All-American defender Joe Fletcher, and All-ECAC attacker Justin Ward—but must replace important contributors.fletcher 2

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“It’s a cast of characters, a lot of guys to rely on, including Matt Sawyer and Kevin Ryan at the midfield,” says Toomey. Jeff Chase and Jason Crane are also expected to make an impact along with the return of Kyle Duffy and Pat Laconi. Junior Nikko Pontrello will likely start at attack alongside Brian Schultz and Ward. Pontrello ran with both the midfield and attack last season.
The biggest challenge for the Hounds however, is nine new opponents on their schedule. “It’s the fear of the unknown,” says Toomey. Loyola opens their season at the University of Virginia; the Cavaliers are ranked eighth in the Warrior media poll and have a legitimate shot to play on championship weekend.
Also new to Loyola’s schedule is Penn State, a tournament team from last year which is poised to make a return to the postseason. “These are the types of games early on that get you prepared for May, Penn State is going to be there, Virginia is going to be there, Duke is going to be there, Johns Hopkins is going to be there; so to be able to play these types of games, whether it’s in an away venue or at home, prepares our young team for what’s down the road in May,” Toomey said.
This season also marks Loyola’s first year in Patriot League lacrosse play. “I think it will be good for the University now that we’re all in the same league, we see the same opponents coming to town in different sports and hopefully we can develop a hatred for some of the Patriot League teams,” Toomey said.
The jump from the ECAC to the Patriot League may seem like a downgrade in terms of quality teams, but the Hounds will have their work cut out for them if they expect to win as newcomers.
“It’s a great league and I’ve watched from afar as our soccer teams and basketball teams have prepared for new opponents and the challenges they’ve faced,” said Toomey. “Every team has a different style of play, we know that Bucknell is going to be a very aggressive 10-man riding type team and we know that Lehigh is very physical; so we’re trying to figure out our opponent on a week-to-week basis and that’s going to be a challenge.”
Loyola is the preseason favorite to take the Patriot League title, but must go through the likes of Lehigh and Bucknell to do it. Lehigh edged the Bison last year to win the Patriot League title and on selection day, Loyola received an at-large bid, while the Bison stayed home.
The Hounds open the Patriot League with a road trip to Massachusetts where they face Holy Cross before an incredibly important game at Lehigh. “It’s exciting to get on a bus and go play a game instead of getting on a bus to get on a plane to go play a game,” said Toomey, “we’re excited to have some new local rivalries as well.”
The Greyhounds return home in early March for a rematch with Duke. Loyola lost twice to the Blue Devils in Durham, NC last season, first by a score of 9-8 in the regular season before dropping the rematch 12-11 in double overtime in the tournament. A win over the defending champions could be extremely important for the Hounds come selection day, if they once again find themselves without an automatic bid. With two ACC opponents on their schedule, the Hounds will need at least one win to convince the committee.
After the Patriot League tournament in late April, the Greyhounds will have a date with archrival Johns Hopkins. Loyola defeated the Blue Jays at Homewood field last season 8-4 ending a lengthy losing streak in the series and effectively eliminating Hopkins from a chance at the post season.

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Expectations high for men’s lacrosse