Loyola resurfaces as contender

Two more wins should get 'Hounds into tournament

Men's notebook

April 19, 2006|By GARY LAMBRECHT | GARY LAMBRECHT,SUN REPORTER

The Loyola Greyhounds aren't quite there yet, but just returning to the neighborhood has given the men's lacrosse program a long-awaited jolt.

After back-to-back losing seasons, after failing to reach the postseason for four straight years, and after the school went through a traumatic offseason by firing coach Bill Dirrigl, Loyola suddenly has emerged as an NCAA tournament contender.

The Greyhounds showed signs of midseason life 11 days ago by jumping on Rutgers early, then cruising to a 9-4 victory. But that was merely a teaser for Saturday's come-from-behind, 14-10 defeat of second-ranked Georgetown.

That marked the first win over the Hoyas since 2001 and the biggest victory since that season. It catapulted Loyola to No. 14, and it put the Greyhounds (5-4) in position to finish strong in the Eastern College Athletic Conference and secure an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament.

"Things are really coming together for us. The kids believe," said coach Charley Toomey, the ex-Loyola goalie and former longtime assistant who replaced Dirrigl four months ago. "It will be May before we know it, and we're still playing for something."

Give the Greyhounds credit for the way they grind and hustle and share the ball. Give new assistant Bobby Benson credit for bringing life back to the offense. And give Toomey credit for convincing his players they could do this, even after falling to 3-4 with discouraging road losses to UMass and Syracuse.

This is one resilient group. The Greyhounds lost sophomore attackman Shane Koppens, last year's leading scorer, before the season. They lost attackman Patrick Kennedy last month, after he had become their leading scorer. Into the void stepped junior attackman Ryan Rabidou, who did not score in 2005, but had a hat trick against Georgetown and is second on the team with 14 goals.

Junior attackman Jordan Rabidou went into a faceoff slump, then pulled a rib muscle against Rutgers. Junior midfielder Andrew Spack has stepped up to win 25 of 33 draws in the past two games.

Now, the Greyhounds must handle success, and do it on the road, where they are 1-4 this year. If Loyola can take down Fairfield and Hobart in the next two weeks, they will finish 6-1 in the ECAC and should make the NCAAs, regardless of what happens against Johns Hopkins on May 6.

"We always felt we were good enough. We just needed to take that next step," Ryan Rabidou said. "But we can't let this get to our heads. We haven't won anything yet."

Peyser returns

Hopkins sophomore midfielder Stephen Peyser said he never seriously entertained the idea of applying for a redshirt season, especially after getting the go-ahead from doctors in early April to begin practicing again.

Peyser, who missed the season's first eight games with a broken jaw he suffered in the final preseason scrimmage against Georgetown, played for the first time in Saturday's 11-4 loss to Maryland. His first-half goal, a 14-yard runner that recalled some of his 10 goals during a promising freshman year, might have been the highlight for Hopkins, which got nothing out of leading scorers Kevin Huntley and Paul Rabil.

"I don't believe in the whole redshirt thing. I'm planning to graduate in four years," said Peyser, who added he might have applied for the extra year, had his recovery stretched much further into the season.

Shaking off rust

No. 1 Virginia has rolled to an 11-0 record with the nation's top-ranked offense, a defense that probably does not get enough credit, and the Cavaliers have been relentless since Day One.

Will inactivity expose a chink in Virginia's armor? Nothing else has.

With last week's scheduled game against Duke canceled, and with the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament reduced to a two-game, three-team affair that includes a bye for Virginia, the Cavaliers have two games left before the NCAA tournament commences on May 13.

Virginia plays host to Bellarmine, a second-year, Division I program, on Saturday, then will play either Maryland or North Carolina in the ACC tournament title game on April 30.

"This [layoff] wouldn't be my first choice, but we can't do anything about it. You get thrown a curveball, you deal with it," Virginia coach Dom Starsia said. "I think the team is thinking the same way. I think I've got a team with an edge, and they know it."

gary.lambrecht@baltsun.com

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