Loyola draw less than perfect

12-0 Greyhounds face formidable opponent in Syracuse in NCAA

May 21, 1999|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Hey, Loyola, enjoying perfection yet?

By finishing the men's lacrosse regular season with a 12-0 record, the Greyhounds were congratulated with the toughest tournament draw, a Sunday quarterfinal date against No. 8 Syracuse.

Despite being the No. 1 seed, Loyola has heard about the Orangemen's 16 straight trips to the Final Four about 16 hundred times, and would beg anybody to bring up the fact that the top seed has never failed to reach the national semifinals in the 28-year history of the Division I playoffs.

And as a team without a grass field, the Greyhounds relocated practices to Goucher College on Wednesday. But right on cue, the sprinklers chimed in to rain on Loyola's tournament parade, too.

"We got it coming from all sides," Loyola goalkeeper Jim Brown said with a grin.

Still, the Greyhounds recognize the solution: Beat Syracuse. But here's the problem: No team has eliminated the Central New York powerhouse from the quarterfinals since 1981.

So remember, Loyola has playoff experience; Syracuse has playoff excellence. It's a distinction that has many insulting the undefeated top seed with an underdog role.

For the Greyhounds, it's a simple matter: End The Streak and elevate the program.

"We still have a lot of ghosts in our closet," defenseman Tim O'Hara said. "We still haven't proved to everybody what a team we are. I think until we win the championship, people are going to have doubts. We're trying to change that, but people still look at us as a second-tier team."

Only a year ago, Loyola carried the same credentials -- the top seed along with a 12-game winning streak -- into its semifinal game vs. Maryland.

The Greyhounds did wonders for their reputation, all falling into the negative category. They trailed 10-1 at halftime and never closed the deficit below seven goals. After scoring half its goals off the extra man and recording its worst defensive effort in three years, Loyola limped off in a 19-8 defeat and hounded itself with the stigma of the largest margin of defeat ever for a top seed.

It's not exactly the best impression in your first game before 21,000 fans.

"That was definitely an embarrassment," attackman Gewas Schindler said. "We feel that embarrassment still. It's fueling our engines. I've never been in a game that lopsided."

"We don't like what happened last year," O'Hara said. "It feels like it was yesterday. We remember that feeling on the bus ride, and we're not going to let that happen again."

Loyola has coupled that determination with the pressure of living the high life.

Last year, the Greyhounds didn't spend a single day as No. 1 and were the surprise top seed of the tournament. This season, Loyola sat atop the rankings for the last eight weeks of the regular season, and the only surprise on tournament selection day was being placed in the same bracket as Syracuse and Princeton.

For those who annually bark about the Greyhounds' schedule, Loyola posted a 5-0 record against this year's tournament teams, exhibiting a flair for dramatics each time.

The Greyhounds routed Charles Street rival Johns Hopkins, 14-5, for their first win at Homewood Field and captured the No. 1 ranking on March 12. They outshone one of the nation's top offensive teams in Delaware, scoring four goals in less than a minute to rally to a 19-11 win. And they sacked Syracuse with their defense in a 10-8 victory, stifling the Orangemen and holding them to single digits for the first time in the 12-game rivalry.

"When we became the hunted, it was something that I thought early in the year we were very uncomfortable with," said Loyola coach Dave Cottle, who leads all active coaches with 12 straight NCAA Division I tournament appearances. "As it grew on us and we had it longer and longer, I think we've become more comfortable with it.

"For us to continue this thing on would be an incredible achievement for our program, our players, our coaches and our school. We've accomplished all of our regular-seasons goals; now we have to accomplish our playoff goals."

And that's to remain flawless. Loyola's only other undefeated regular season in its 61-year lacrosse history occurred in 1989, when the Greyhounds slid over the likes of Salisbury State, Adelphi, St. John's and C.W. Post before bowing to North Carolina by seven goals in the quarterfinals.

This time, however, Loyola legitimately expects to make a run at being the 11th team and only the sixth school to taste perfection.

Syracuse has completed that feat twice, the exact amount of times the Greyhounds have won in the quarterfinals. The Orangemen have also won 24 playoff games since 1988, while Loyola has competed in 19.

But it's not about tearing down Syracuse's tradition; it's about creating a new one.

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