Youthful talent fuels Towson's rocket rise

Even Seaman blinks at seeing 10-3 record

May 02, 2001|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Senior goalkeeper John Horrigan knew the turnaround would happen. But Horrigan did not expect to be wearing a Tigers uniform when Towson University reclaimed a place on the men's lacrosse map.

Two months ago, the Tigers were full of youth and promise and determined to avoid the program's fifth consecutive losing season. Today, Towson is full of youth and promise and closing in on the school's first NCAA tournament berth in five years.

And Horrigan, one of the few seniors around to savor the change, is enjoying every moment of it.

"I didn't think it would happen while I was here," Horrigan said. "It's an awesome feeling, going into a game and feeling like we should win. It's like that with every game now."

The Towson revival, which began with the hiring of coach Tony Seaman two years ago, is in full swing.

The ninth-ranked Tigers, who stumbled to a 3-10 finish a year ago to complete their worst record since moving to Division I in 1980, are 10-3 and recent owners of the nation's longest winning streak at eight.

They just missed pulling off an upset against Johns Hopkins four days ago. The last time Towson won this many games was in 1991, when the Tigers went 12-4 and played in the NCAA championship game.

A victory in today's America East tournament semifinals over visiting Vermont would move top-seeded Towson within one step of a guaranteed trip to the NCAAs. Should the Tigers follow up with a victory Saturday over the visiting winner of today's Hofstra-Delaware semifinal, Towson would advance to the national tournament as America East's automatic qualifier.

"If the devil had come to me in January and told me we'd be 8-5 this year, I would have jumped at it and said, `You've got my soul,' " Seaman said.

"Our first goal was to be a .500 team that could get one of the four spots in the America East tournament and, hopefully, have a home game. We felt that was realistic. This has been a great ride. The kids sure have worked for it."

For the most part, the kids are driving the bus at Towson, where only six seniors, three of them starters, form a slice of the Tigers' 41-man roster. Twenty-eight spots belong to freshmen and sophomores.

This might be the most precocious lot south of Princeton. It includes sophomore defensemen such as takeaway artist Danny Cocchi and fleet-footed Adam Baxter, who missed last year with a knee injury.

It includes sophomores such as Hunter Lochte (Boys' Latin), who leads the midfielders with 24 points. The return of senior midfielder and superb faceoff specialist Justin Berry from a season-ending knee injury has provided a huge boost.

Then there is the fast-growing attack of junior Brad Reppert and sophomores Ryan Obloj and Kyle Campbell. Reppert (Loyola) led the Tigers in scoring a year ago and is second on the team in goals (23) and tops in assists (26) in 2001. Obloj, the team's most balanced scorer last year, is at it again with 19 goals and 17 assists.

Campbell (Mount Hebron) is the straw that has stirred the offense, not to mention the most unlikely first-team All-America candidate in the area.

He originally signed to play at Loyola, where he struggled academically before leaving the school in early 1999 and enrolling at Howard Community College. Over the next 18 months, he earned an associate's degree without playing organized lacrosse.

He decided to rejoin the game at Towson, partly because he knew senior defenseman Mike Machiran from his Hebron days, partly because he liked what he saw in Seaman and his rebuilding work. Campbell has blossomed dramatically into one of the nation's top scorers, with a team-high 42 goals and 55 points.

"I saw a couple of [Towson] games last year and I saw that they had talent and they were young. I liked that," Campbell said. "I didn't see myself as a standout player who would score 40 goals. I just try to make everybody better."

Campbell was at the heart of a midseason turn of events that stamped the Tigers as a team on the rise.

His four goals helped Towson establish itself as an America East contender with a 10-7 win at Delaware on March 24. Two weeks later, he scored seven times to lead the Tigers to a 16-12 victory at Hofstra, which basically has owned the conference for the past seven years.

But it was Campbell's seven-goal show on March 31 in a stunning, 19-14 victory at Loyola -Towson's only Top 10 victim this year - that made Tigers fans believe.

Seaman is enjoying some personal vindication this spring. Fired by Johns Hopkins after taking the Blue Jays to four Final Fours in eight years, he arrived at Towson after the ouster of 30-year coach Carl Runk.

"We knew we had to recruit athletes. It wasn't about getting the best attackman or the best defenseman. We needed numbers," said Seaman, who brought in 38 recruits with his first two classes, 35 of whom are still in the program. "This is a great place to work. That [Hopkins' termination] is still like a wound in my heart. This year, I've been reminded that I can coach again."

Seaman did something similar at Penn in the early 1980s by turning a losing program into an Ivy League power overnight. Six times in eight years, the Quakers qualified for the NCAAs, reaching the Final Four in 1988.

Horrigan might not be around to witness that trip in uniform, but he sees the Tigers moving onto that stage.

"I think the right [team] personality was always here, but I don't think the talent was," said Horrigan, who has a 58.4 save percentage and has allowed a solid 7.8 goals per game. "Coach Seaman has brought in the players with the talent and the heart to win. He's an excellent coach and a player's coach. You really want to win for the guy."

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