The first time he saw Marc Harrison play soccer, Loyola College men's soccer coach Bill Sento just happened to be in the neighborhood.
Three years ago, Sento had gone to Tampa, Fla., to watch the Final Four of the NCAA Division I tournament. While watching a nearby exhibition game between two club teams, he couldn't help but notice a kid with field presence, ball-control skills and a wicked shot to boot.
With recruiting thoughts dancing in his head, however, Sento's hopes were dased. He learned that, after graduating from East Lake High School (Palm Harbor, Fla.), Harrison was headed overseas to stay with some family members while training with a club team in Liverpool, England.
Fast forward to early 1992. While going through some old notes, Sento decided to call Harrison's home and inquire about him. Harrison had just returned after eight months of training. Sento asked if Harrison would be interested in checking out Loyola. Harrison agreed to come for a visit. The timing was impeccable.
"We were getting into March by that time, and most of our recruits had made commitments," Sento said. "Getting Marc was the icing on the cake."
Harrison took the last full scholarship being offered that year, and the Greyhounds have been thrilled with his choice ever since.
As Loyola prepares for the opening round of the NCAA Division I tournament today against James Madison -- the Greyhounds' first trip to the tournament since 1987 -- it's hard for them to imagine being 18-2-1 and in this position without Harrison.
Harrison, a sophomore midfielder, leads the Greyhounds with 12 goals and five assists, and has accounted for nearly 20 percent of their scoring. He has been named Player of the Year in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
"It was a good decision to come here," said Harrison, who established himself as a force as a freshman, when he scored eight goals and had five assists. "This team plays the type of soccer I like to play -- a good, skilled brand of soccer with a lot of short passing. I think the crowd likes that style."
Harrison made his presence felt immediately this year. During the Greyhounds' 8-1 start, he had three two-goal games. His assist to teammate Billy Heiser was the difference in a 1-0 victory over then-No. 9 Fresno State that established Loyola on the national scene.
And two weeks ago, Harrison ended a brief slump by converting the biggest goal of the season against William & Mary. His penalty shot gave the Greyhounds a 1-0 victory that went a long way toward qualifying them for the NCAA tournament.
"I think I've contributed more this year, and not just with the goals," Harrison said. "They've been able to get a little more defense out of me, which is what Coach Sento wanted me to work on last summer. I actually didn't reach my goal. I wanted to get at least 15 goals, but I slumped toward the end of the season."
No problem, says Sento. Not only does he see Harrison playing a critical role in whatever good things happen to the Greyhounds in the postseason, but also with only four seniors graduating, Sento sees Harrison in the middle of a bright picture for the next two years.
"Marc really has his game together. His technical and tactical abilities are as high as anyone I've ever coached," Sento said. "I'd like him to be a little more assertive in going to the goal, but the big plus is his consistency. He's usually on target, and it's a blistering shot. You can't give Marc too many chances."
NCAA DIVISION I MEN'S SOCCER TOURNAMENT
NO. 8 JAMES MADISON (19-1-1) AT NO. 18 LOYOLA (18-2-1)
Site: Curley Field
Time: 1 p.m.
Outlook: Loyola begins its quest for its first Division I national championship by returning to the tournament today for the first time since 1987. The Greyhounds, who have beaten three ranked opponents, are riding an 11-game unbeaten streak and have outscored their competition, 59-7. Marc Harrison (12 goals, five assists) leads a balanced attack that includes Bill Wnek (five goals, five assists), Chris Doyle (6, 2), Brian Geraghty (5, 4) and Doug Willey (5, 4). Loyola will also benefit from the return of Billy Heiser and Billy Harte from injuries, which will strengthen its defense. Goalkeeper Zach Thornton, top-ranked in the nation, has a school-record 16 shutouts. James Madison, which has beaten the Greyhounds once in six tries, is led by Brent Bennett (13, 5), Mark Mathewson (11, 4) and Kaarlo Kankunen (7, 9). Goalkeeper Brian Bailey, a product of Hammond High, is ranked eighth in the nation with a 0.61 goals-against average. The Greyhounds have not lost at home in two years.