Review & preview: Loyola

Here is the seventh and final installment of a series that checks in with the seven Division I programs in the state to give a glimpse into the past and the future. Teams are scheduled to appear according to the chronological order in which their seasons ended. Monday’s visit was with Maryland. Tuesday’s visit is with Loyola.

REVIEW

The good: In a season in which the Greyhounds tied a school record for most consecutive wins to open a year and captured the program’s first Eastern College Athletic Conference tournament crown, everything paled in comparison to capturing the university’s first national championship. The on-field results were rewarding, but the off-field chemistry between the players was also thrilling for coach Charley Toomey. “At the year-end meetings, the kids had a taste of success, and they’re wishing it didn’t end,” he said. “They wish they had one more practice, and they wish they had another game. They really enjoyed each other, and they really enjoyed this run, and I believe in my heart that they understood what it took to be a successful program, and I think they were willing to come back and continue the work ethic that we started this year.” … Both Denver coach Bill Tierney and Duke coach John Danowski called Loyola the most complete team in the country, and that was exemplified by nine of the 10 starters opening all 19 games this spring. Toomey also made sure to spread the credit to his coaching staff of defensive coordinator Matt Dwan, offensive coordinator Dan Chemotti and faceoffs guru Steve Vaikness. “I felt like I had the most complete staff in the country,” Toomey said. “I felt like Coach Chemotti had his end clicking on offense, Coach Dwan on the defensive end. The way we communicated with our team, I felt like there was a level of respect, and they knew what they needed to do in each game. Steve Vaikness at the X had us poised to make a run with [senior] J.P. [Dalton] in a year when we didn’t expect J.P. to be our faceoff guy. So I think it was a complete effort by everybody in our locker room.” … The team found its goalkeeper of the future in sophomore Jack Runkel, who didn’t overtake junior Michael Bonitatibus as the full-time starter until the fourth game of the season. Runkel may not have made the eye-opening saves, but he was steady and sturdy in Loyola’s system, and that’s all that was required of him. “I thought the game slowed down for him,” Toomey said of Runkel. “One thing that he did in the latter part of the year that may have changed his routine was he played a little flatter in the cage and gave himself a little more reaction time. I felt like in the championship game, he was seeing the ball and he was catching it. On game day, I don’t really have an opportunity to hear what he’s saying, but he directed that defense as well as any goalie that I’ve seen. Even when we got scored on, there was a sense of composure and a [sense of], ‘OK, let’s get the next one.’ There was no finger-pointing, and it all starts with Jack.”

The bad: Trying to find flaws in an 18-1, NCAA title campaign might seem nitpicky to the extreme degree, but the Greyhounds were an Eric-Lusby-shot-hitting-the-goal-post-in-overtime away from edging Johns Hopkins, 10-9, and becoming the first national champion to complete a perfect season since Virginia in 2006. But Toomey said the 10-9 loss on April 28 actually benefited the team. “I don’t think we would’ve won the next game if we beat them,” Toomey said, referring to the 14-13 overtime decision against Denver in the ECAC tournament semifinals. “In our heart of hearts, we really believed that if that ball had gone in, we might not have had the same focus that we needed to win a bigger game in Denver in the first round of the ECAC tournament. I feel like that was the reason we were able to be the team that we were. We learned an awful lot in the loss, and I really believe that may have been a blessing in disguise, that we were on the south end of that game.” … After outdueling Denver junior Chase Carraro, 17-5, in the quarterfinals, Dalton went just 4-of-26 against Notre Dame in the semifinals and Maryland in the final. But Toomey pointed out that only Colgate junior Robert Grabher and Bryant freshman Kevin Massa took more draws than Dalton (394) did. “We thought that J.P. gave us everything he had at the faceoff X,” Toomey said. “There may have been times when we wished we had healthier competition behind him, to help him in practice, but I thought that those guys worked awfully hard, and I thought our wing play made up for an awful lot. But that was a position where we didn’t expect J.P. to be the No. 1 guy. He took almost 400 faceoffs for us, and that’s just an incredible effort from him.”

PREVIEW

Personnel changes: The largest void to fill emerged with the graduation of attackman Eric Lusby, who led the team in goals (54) and points (71) and set a new NCAA tournament record for goals (17). Lusby’s left-handed shot balanced the offense with junior Mike Sawyer’s right-handed tendencies, and Toomey said a candidate from a group that includes sophomore Brian Schultz, redshirt freshman Jeff Chase and incoming freshman Zachary Herreweyers could emerge. “So we’ve got some lefty guys that are certainly going to have that opportunity to compete for it,” Toomey said. “They each bring something different to the table. Probably Jeff Schultz would be the guy who can sling it from the outside, but you have to change a little bit how you play offense because with his hands free, Eric was pretty dangerous, and we kind of got used to playing that way at the end of the year, which was a lot of fun.” … The defense boasts a shutdown defender in sophomore Joe Fletcher and another imposing starter in junior Reid Acton, but the unit will miss Dylan Grimm, who graduated. And Alex Yackery, the fourth defenseman, has also graduated. Sophomore Derek Zook and freshman Alex Klincewicz and junior long-stick midfielder T.J. Harris will vie to start, but they have large shoes to fill. “We need a glue guy,” Toomey said. “We need a guy that’s going to be consistent, and he’s going to be a tough one to replace. … But our guys will compete and the guy that works the hardest this summer is going to get those reps early in the fall.” … Dalton’s departure means the team must find a new faceoff specialist. Sophomore Brendan Donovan, freshman Devon Lepsch and incoming freshman Kyle Gangemi have the background and experience to step into that role, but Toomey would prefer that a starter is not asked to shoulder another responsibility. “We definitely feel that it’s important that it’s not [junior midfielder] Davis Butts and it’s not [junior long-stick midfielder] Scott Ratliff,” Toomey said. “We want to give him a faceoff guy that [Vaikness] can work with on a daily basis – similar to what J.P. did.”

Forecast for 2013: Sunny. Loyola, perhaps the most balanced team in the nation, may retain that reputation against next spring. Finding a successor to Lusby looms as the most significant challenge with regards to personnel, and it will be incumbent on the next starter to perform well and keep the pressure off of Sawyer on the other side of the box. The holes created by Grimm and Yackery will also be a priority, and the squad needs a capable faceoff specialist to keep feeding the offense. But the Greyhounds return a plethora of talent throughout the roster and will be bolstered by their impending identity as the reigning national champions. It’s not a stretch to speculate that Loyola could be the first repeat NCAA titlist since Syracuse won in 2008 and 2009.

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