Quietly and methodically, Loyola College is working its way back into the national soccer picture.
Coach Bill Sento's Greyhounds advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals in 1986 and '87, but 1988 was a major disappointment. They experienced a rocky start at the beginning of 1989, but Loyola has been nearly unstoppable during its last 22 games, going 15-1-6.
The latest victim was Towson State, as sophomore Rob Elliott took advantage of two Tigers errors yesterday to get his sixth and seventh goals of the season in a 2-1 Loyola victory. It snapped a 15-game unbeaten streak Towson State had on its home field and strengthened the Greyhounds' status in the South Atlantic Region.
Loyola, 7-1-4 overall and ranked No. 4 in the region behind Virginia, American and George Mason, knows it needs to keep winning to have any hope of getting an at-large entry to the NCAA tournament. Sento has told his players what is needed, and they have delivered since a season-opening 3-0 loss at William & Mary.
"We really embarrassed ourselves in that one," Sento said. "It was a very, very frustrating way to start a year, but it was also a blessing in disguise, because it woke some people up. The guys regrouped pretty quickly."
Adversity strengthened Loyola in September.
Junior back Tom Donahue, as steady as any Loyola player in 1989, suffered a fractured cheekbone in the William & Mary debacle and missed most of the month. Steve Nichols was just coming back from a preseason injury of his own, but the senior out of Boys' Latin has performed admirably at sweeper.
Sento was called away to be with his sick father, and on the day he died the Greyhounds pummeled UMBC, 4-0. That was after a tie at Maryland, and before a 2-0 whipping of nationally ranked Philadelphia Textile. The other draws have been with Hartwick, George Mason and George Washington, all recent NCAA tournament teams.
"Things are looking better and better for us, and we're going in the right direction as far as getting back in the NCAAs," Sento said.
There will be more opportunities to make news in the St. Louis Umbro Classic next weekend, but first Loyola needs to take care of its own Budweiser Tournament. In Saturday's semifinals, the Greyhounds meet fellow Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference member St. Peter's at 3 p.m., with Fairleigh Dickinson and Hartford playing in the other semifinal at 1.
Sunday's championship game is at 3. Tickets are $4 for adults and $2 for students, and Loyola's best chance for a crowd at Curley Field is a meeting with Hartford, which has a strong Columbia flavor. Chris Williams, a sophomore from Wilde Lake, was the North Atlantic Conference Rookie of the Year in 1989.
Although Loyola won't get much notice for repeating as MAAC champion and is looking beyond its conference, Towson State must settle for doing well again in the East Coast Conference, where the Tigers are defending champions. Towson State is 5-4 overall, and all four losses have been by one goal to South Atlantic foes.
Barry Stitz tied it 1-1 late in the first half, but Elliott pounced on a weak clear by the Tigers for the game-winner with 15 minutes gone in the second. Towson State will try to begin a new home streak Saturday (2:30 p.m.) against Virginia Commonwealth, whose first-year coach is Lincoln Phillips, the former Howard University and Maryland Bays boss.