Loyola's Cottle embraces season of championship expectations

March 01, 1991|By Bill Tanton | Bill Tanton,Evening Sun Staff

As Loyola College opens its lacrosse season tomorrow at home against Rutgers, collars are tightening at Evergreen.

For a half-century Loyola played the old Indian game and was an also-ran, certainly never a contender for the national championship.

That's all changed now.

The nation's lacrosse coaches have picked Loyola and Syracuse as co-favorites to win the NCAA championship this year.

Perhaps the clincher came this week when Tony Seaman, the highly respected coach who switched this year from Penn to Johns Hopkins, handicapped the field for '91.

"Loyola College, when you consider what they accomplished last year, the number of returnees they have and the great coaching they have, they are the odds-on favorite by far," Seaman said.

Yes, the Greyhounds reached the national championship game last year. Yes, they have seven starters returning, including three All-Americans. And yes, Dave Cottle has more than proven himself as a coach, going 71-31 in nine years at Loyola.

But odds-on favorite? By far?

This is a whole new situation for Loyola. For the first time, Cottle is under real pressure. People expect him to win.

Before practice yesterday Cottle sat in his office with two assistants, Dave Allan and Don Zimmerman. Cottle was asked what it was like to feel the heat.

He smiled and looked at Zimmerman, who for the previous seven years was the head coach at Johns Hopkins, which has won or tied for 42 national championships.

"I'm starting to find out how Zim felt every year," Cottle said.

As everyone who knows Dave Cottle understands, he will not wilt under the pressure.

He is a hard-nosed, self-confident competitor who revels in the notoriety, even the high expectations.

"I'll tell you one thing," he said. "It makes you leave no stone unturned in your preparations. We do have a good team and we expect to have a good season. It makes you feel that if something goes wrong, you don't want it to be your fault."

Cottle, 35, almost single-handedly has put Loyola in this position. Nine years ago he began a building job that may now be ready to bear championship fruit.

Loyola has enjoyed seven straight winning seasons. During the 1987 season the team broke into the Top 10 and has stayed there. The Hounds finished fifth in 1988, third in '89. Last year they wound up No. 2 behind Syracuse, which "three-peated" by beating Loyola in the title game, 21-9. It was the first time a Loyola team in any sport had played for an NCAA Division I title.

"The players want to make '91 even better," Cottle said. It appears the players are there to accomplish that. There is strength at every position.

The attack of Jim Blanding, Chris Colbeck and Kevin Beach may be the best in the country. Freshman Pat Ervin, from St. Mary's, will help at attack, Cottle said.

The midfield will be led by senior co-captain Sean Smith and sophomore Paul Cantabene. Kevin Anderson will join the team when basketball ends. Gene Ubriaco, who redshirted last year after a preseason knee injury, will help. So will two of the top junior college players of '90, Fred Haas and Gary Miller, both from Essex Community College, and "the greatest name in lacrosse," Cottle said, 6-foot-3 freshman Mfon Udo, from Jamaica High in Queens, N.Y.

The defense returns intact, and two-time All-American Gary Beach may be the best long-stick midfielder in the country. In the goal Tim Dunnigan succeeds two-time All-American Charlie Toomey, and Toomey is back as an assistant coach to help with the transition.

Starting tomorrow, this talented cast will be expected to deliver.

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