Sullivan legging it out for Loyola

Lacrosse: After six surgical knee procedures, the Greyhounds' senior limps onto Curley Field one last time today against Johns Hopkins.

May 04, 2002|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

To understand why Michael Sullivan took his commitment to the Loyola College lacrosse team to the extreme, look to basketball and a coach known as Yoda.

A senior who leads the Greyhounds in goals, 26, and surgical knee procedures, six, Sullivan will limp onto Curley Field one last time today against No. 1 Johns Hopkins. He calmly recounts a medical history that limited his mobility before he turned 22, and becomes animated only when the discussion turns to the selfishness that ended a high school basketball season.

It's apparent that team values were preached at his household in Abington, Pa.

Sullivan has caddied for his brother, Jim Jr., a professional golfer who reached the PGA's qualifying school last winter. He has two sisters - Katrina, who swam for Penn State, and Amy, who was a third-team lacrosse All-American for Delaware. Their father played basketball for Princeton in the early 1970s, and there's a little of former Tigers coach Pete Carril in all of the Sullivans.

"What was a more valuable lesson for me, scoring 38 points in a high school game, or being pulled by Carril against Dartmouth because my man scored?" the elder Sullivan said. "Michael went to Pete's camp three years in a row. He learned that what you do for, and with, the team is what really counts."

Michael's high school athletic career ended on a basketball court in February 1998, by his first knee injury. When he was a sophomore, his Abington team missed out on a Pennsylvania District tournament that included Kobe Bryant and Richard Hamilton. When he was a junior wing, Abington's serious aspirations were ended by dissension, as the "point guard wouldn't pass the ball and the shot-blocker wouldn't play defense."

Earlier this week, when Sullivan won Loyola's John R. Mohler Award, given to the senior male who excels in athletics, scholarship and character, he thanked his coaches and the college for giving him a chance. No other Division I lacrosse program made him an offer, and in the Greyhounds, Sullivan found the bromides his father passed on from Carril.

"In a couple of years, it's not going to be pleasant," Sullivan said of the chronic pain he expects to encounter. "If you don't like sports, then you think I'm incredibly foolish, but I feel that if I quit, I wouldn't be giving myself a chance. That, and my teammates, kept me going. A lot of people play athletics, but there aren't many who get to experience what I'm a part of. Competing at this level, competing with the guys on this team, they make it worth it."

Sullivan found teammates who cared in 1998, when he was more than an hour late for a get-acquainted lunch with a Loyola recruiting class that included Michael Donlin, Bryan England and Brian Marchellos - and they waited.

When Dave Cottle left Loyola for Maryland last September, Sullivan's father placed a thank-you call, and the coach answered that Michael was a rare influence, a leader who changed a locker room's demeanor when he entered. Having caddied on some of the nation's premier golf courses, he's used to offering advice, and his example has been priceless to a young team.

In fall ball, the Greyhounds missed new coach Bill Dirrigl, because Rutgers wouldn't release him from his contract, and Sullivan, who was rehabilitating from the bilateral knee surgery he underwent last May. When a family emergency disrupted Dirrigl's preparation for last month's game at Butler, he alerted his assistants, then Sullivan.

If it wasn't for that upset loss, No. 8 Loyola would be a lock for the NCAA tournament, and Dirrigl credits Sullivan for the early-season run that had the Greyhounds ranked as high as No. 3.

A seventh surgery, albeit one that he's delayed, became a necessity March 2, when Sullivan drew the defense and assisted on the goal that gave Loyola an 8-7 win at Hofstra. The celebration was tempered when he collapsed with fresh damage to his right knee, which had buckled the previous May on the same field, in an NCAA quarterfinal against eventual champion Princeton.

His long-term health again in jeopardy, Sullivan nonetheless started in a March 9 win over Duke. Dirrigl figures that Sullivan overdid it March 30, in a 15-7 victory at Towson that was a big step toward the Colonial Athletic Association title.

"Michael knew what Charles Street meant to me," Dirrigl said. "He put the team on his back that day. He moved more in that game than he's probably capable of moving. To be honest, he hasn't been able to recover."

Once one of the game's most versatile midfielders, Sullivan is now an attackman who can't practice and in some games hasn't strayed beyond the crease. He insists that there have been games when he was a liability, but hasn't his struggle symbolized Loyola's? Predictably, his answer was unassuming.

"I don't have the ego to say that," Sullivan said. "You shouldn't even be writing a story about me. You ought to be writing about our defense. They're the reason we're still in this thing."

Six painful reminders

Loyola senior Michael Sullivan has undergone knee surgery six times.

Date Details

Feb. 1998 Reconstructed torn left ACL

Feb. 2000 Repaired left meniscus

Feb. 2001 Removed left meniscus

May 2001 Reconstructed torn ACL in both knees

Feb. 2002 Repaired right meniscus

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