The last things on Jim Blanding's mind when he arrived at Loyola College were 100 goals and a string of NCAA tournament appearances.
"I never thought about either one," Blanding said. "I just wanted to play as a freshman. When I came, Loyola wasn't ranked much higher than 10th."
Now, as fifth-ranked Loyola enters its fifth straight NCAA tournament with today's match against Brown at Curley Field, Blanding has 96 goals and is on the verge of becoming the fifth player in school history to score 100. The senior attackman from Camillus, N.Y., ranks second in career assists (83) and third in points (179).
Loyola coach Dave Cottle got his first look at Blanding when he was scouting high school players at the Empire State Games in New York. Later, Cottle traveled to West Genesee High to talk to the lacrosse seniors.
"Afterward, Coach Cottle patted me on the back and said, 'I like the way you play,' " Blanding said. "That individual interest he showed was the spark that brought me here. That and the fact it was a small Jesuit school, and the weather was better."
Said Cottle: "We sensed his parents wanted a small school so he wouldn't get lost. We played on that. We're one of the few schools with an enrollment under 3,000 in Division I lacrosse."
When Blanding was growing up only 10 minutes from Syracuse, he idolized the Syracuse and Hobart players. Later, he realized a dream by playing before 19,000 at Rutgers in the 1990 NCAA championship game against Syracuse and being named a first-team All-American.
Loyola was bumped from the tournament in the quarterfinals last year, and the loss strengthens Blanding's resolve now.
"Last year was a big letdown, but this season hasn't been and won't be," Blanding said. "We've peaked in practices the last two weeks, playing as well as we ever have."
"We haven't shot as well," Cottle said. "We fail to take the extra step or telegraph our shot or hit the pipes or just don't take smart shots."
Cottle says part of the problem is that the Greyhounds don't prosper on grass. They're 6-0 on artificial turf, including 4-0 at home on Curley, and 2-3 on grass. Four of their last five games -- when their scoring dipped -- were on grass fields. The fifth, a 22-7 rout of UMBC, was at Curley.
"We're a turf team, no doubt," Blanding said.