Courtesy of being the only team in Division I to score at least 10 goals in every game this season, Loyola’s offense has been getting a lot of attention. But the defense is proving that it is just as capable on the other end of the field.
Entering last week, the No. 8 Greyhounds had ranked eighth in the nation in defense, surrendering an average of 7.7 goals per game. After two convincing wins in which opponents scored a combined total of 11 goals – including five by UMBC in an eight-goal Loyola victory Saturday night – the defense has trimmed that average to 7.1 goals.
The unit has been buoyed by an experienced group led by close defensemen Dylan Grimm, Reid Acton and Joe Fletcher, short-stick defensive midfielders Josh Hawkins and Phil Laconi and long-stick midfielder Scott Ratliff.
“I think the difference from last year to this year is everyone’s on the same page this year,” said Grimm, who has recorded 19 groundballs and 10 caused turnovers. “Everyone’s talking with each other. We play much more as a unit. Last year, it was kind of more as individuals on the defensive end. This year, we’re one unit.”
The defense’s cohesion was especially important as the team welcomed a new goalkeeper in either junior Michael Bonitatibus or sophomore Jack Runkel. Runkel has started the Greyhounds’ last five contests, but Grimm insisted that the unit would have been comfortable with either goalie.
“[W]hat’s awesome with both goalies is either keeper in the goal is going to be good for us,” he said. “We supported both of them equally and whoever stepped in wasn’t going to affect us. We had each other’s backs.”
Besides keeping opponents at bay on the scoreboard, the defense has also demonstrated a knack for initiating the offense. The unit has caused an average of 9.6 turnovers per game, which would rank eighth in the country.
The ability to cause turnovers can lead to transition opportunities, which is an area Loyola excels in.
“I think they play so hard and so well together,” coach Charley Toomey said. “They know where each player is in transition and allow us to play defense that if the ball hits the ground, we become a dangerous group.”
*Off to an 8-0 start, the Greyhounds are just four wins away from matching the 1999 squad that won all 12 regular-season games before falling to Syracuse in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals. Junior attackman Mike Sawyer acknowledged that the players are proud of their successful start. “It’s something to hang your hat on,” said Sawyer, who leads the team in both goals (29) and points (36). “It’s a great start, but you can’t focus on it. You’ve got to focus on the next game, and we’ve got [Eastern College Athletic Conference foe] Ohio State coming in next week.”
*UMBC (2-4) played Saturday’s contest without junior midfielder Dave Brown, who has been suspended two games for violating an unspecified team rule. Coach Don Zimmerman conceded that the absence of Brown, who has posted three goals and five assists in five games (including four starts), impacted the offense. “We need all of our guys," Zimmerman said. "We only have 35 guys that dress. So we need everybody out there, and not having Dave certainly hurt us. We’ll be looking forward to getting him back [against Towson on April 4] and being at full strength.”
*Zimmerman was severely displeased with the 32-17 differential in groundballs in favor of Loyola, and on three separate occasions, he emphasized that groundballs would be a subject of discussion and exercise during practice this week. “One of the things we will work on starting on Monday is we’re going to do everything off the ground,” he said. “We need to get better at picking up the groundballs. The faceoff statistics were heavy their way, and their faceoff guy was very good. But there were a lot of 50-50 groundballs that I felt we could’ve gotten, and we just didn’t get. Give some credit to Loyola for that, but also our guys have to get better at digging them out.”Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times