No one, not even coach Dave Cottle, is quite sure what to make of this Loyola lacrosse team.
The Greyhounds are making a habit of squandering comfortable leads. After blowing a seven-goal advantage in the opening win over Rutgers and a five-goal edge in the loss to Virginia, Loyola did it again yesterday in its own invitational tournament.
This time the Greyhounds bolted to a 4-0 lead -- and blew it. They were obliged to come from behind on two final goals by Fred Haas midway through the fourth quarter to edge Princeton, 10-9.
"In the past we were a blue-collar team that won with hustle," said Kevin Beach, who scored twice. "Now we have more ability, and maybe we're overlooking the fact that we've got to work hard for all we get."
For one thing, Cottle says, "our offense is leaderless." In this respect, Loyola misses the departed Brian Kroneberger, a peppery midfielder.
"Kroneberger was a fantastic leader," Cottle said. "The only way a leader emerges is by a team playing games and somebody rising to the top."
Cottle liked what he saw of two transfers from Essex Community College, Haas and Gary Miller. When Loyola was trailing, 8-6, they scored three of the team's last four goals.
"Gary came to me and said, 'I'm going to finish it,' " Cottle said. "We were looking for someone to score, and he was confident. He scored the tying goal and Haas scored the last two."
Loyola came into the game off a 24-4 romp over Ohio Wesleyan in Saturday's first round. Princeton came in battered from its 9-7 win over Penn State and without its best defenseman, David Gaines of Gilman, who sprained an ankle.
"We were beat up," Princeton coach Bill Tierney said. "Still, we figured if we stayed close the first half [it was 6-3 at intermission], we could go from there on adrenalin.
"It wasn't that we ran out of gas when Loyola scored four straight goals in the fourth quarter. Their kids were as tired as ours. In a game like this, it's emotion. We ran out of emotion, not gas. It was a matter of a good team, Loyola, that kept plugging when it was down and finally getting us."
If anyone had told Tierney before the season that Princeton would be 4-1 at this point, he'd have settled for it, especially considering that Johns Hopkins and Loyola were among the opening opponents.
Cottle, although less than thrilled with the team's play, felt fortunate to escape with a victory.
"The good thing is we beat a team that's going to be in the playoffs," Cottle said. "If we had lost, we wouldn't have shown yet we could beat a strong team. It would have been a tough one."
The Greyhounds will travel to Notre Dame Saturday to fulfill a contract obligation: Loyola needed a fourth team for its invitational last year and the Irish obliged.
"This trip is half of our travel budget," Cottle said. "We won't do it again."