Foes can no longer overlook Loyola's little attackman

May 07, 1994|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Sun Staff Writer

Only one NCAA Division I school recruited Loyola senior attackman Sean Heffernan two years ago, but Johns Hopkins definitely will have an eye on him today when No. 3 Loyola plays host to the No. 6 Blue Jays at Curley Field (2 p.m.).

One can't help but notice Heffernan. Off the field he's the guy with the grunge hairdo who plays drummer in an alternative rock band.

On the field he wears No. 3. He's that 5-foot-6, 145-pound attackman who buzzes in and out of zones, and frustrates bigger defensemen.

"He's definitely the spark plug of their offense," said Brian Kuczma, a freshman defenseman for the Blue Jays. "We want to take him out of the game because he's their primary feeder. We've got to stay on his hands."

It's been hard for anyone to stay on top of Heffernan. His gnat-like reflexes and quick passes have produced 34 assists this season, 11 short of the record set by Gary Hanley in both the 1979 and 1980 seasons. When opponents have cut off the passing lanes, Heffernan has shown the ability to go one-on-one. He has 15 goals.

"I think he really cares about the team," said Loyola coach Dave Cottle. "He talked about going to the Final Four and the championship from Day 1 when no one else was thinking that. He works hard and is very unselfish.

"If he was 6 feet 9 and weighed 260 pounds, we probably wouldn't have gotten him."

Loyola has a habit of working with overachievers. The knock on Heffernan when he came out of Essex Community College two years ago was too small, too slow. Even Cottle didn't make an offer until midway through the season.

"I was getting a little concerned that no one was going to recruit me," said Heffernan, a first-team junior college All-American from Dulaney. "I thought I had done well my last season at Essex.

"I was seriously looking at Salisbury. My brother, though, told me that coach Cottle had a reputation of working with smaller attackmen."

Players such as Jim Blanding (5-7, 155), Mike Ruland (5-3, 135) and Pat Ervin (5-8, 145). Heffernan has become a steal, too.

"I recruited him because he was a lefty feeder, and he made us a more effective offensive team," Cottle said. "He is one of the few guys that makes another player better by getting them the ball."

Heffernan was primarily a feeder last season, trying to get the ball to senior All-American attackman Kevin Beach. But this season, he has been a feeder and a scorer.

"My role changes from game to game," Heffernan said. "We don't have that one person going to the goal. We rely more on movement and distribution now.

"I love the challenge each week, especially against some of the bigger schools that didn't recruit me. Hopefully against Hopkins, I'll do both."

Hopkins struggled defensively early in the season, but the Blue Jays' starting unit of Kuczma, fellow freshman Aaron Van Horn and senior Jason Pressman has made tremendous strides.

Kuczma and Pressman have become strong man-to-man defenders who have excelled in clearing situations. Kuczma has even contributed two goals.

But with the exception of Princeton's Kevin Lowe, Hopkins probably has not seen an attackman as versatile as Heffernan.

"On film, he looks like one of the best," Kuczma said. "We expect to play him man-to-man for most of the game. Besides trying to shut off the passes, we have to stop him off the fast break. That's when he does most of his scoring."

Said Heffernan: "They're getting more experienced each game and I guess they will throw a mixture at us. I would love nothing better than to end my career and beat Hopkins. That would be something."

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