Long postseason wait is over for Greyhounds' senior class

Sticking with program results in NCAA berth

College lacrosse

May 11, 2007|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN REPORTER

Loyola senior attackman Ryan Rabidou was so agitated by the thought of not going to his first NCAA men's lacrosse tournament that he could not sleep the night before the 16-team field was announced.

Earlier on Sunday, hours before the bracket was unveiled, senior attackman Dan Bauers was so consumed with finally getting to the postseason that he played a round of golf to get his mind focused on something else.

Bauers, Rabidou and the rest of the Greyhounds are finally in a new place. Instead of wondering how another season went wrong, they are trying to figure out how to knock off fifth seed and host Albany on Sunday, in a setting they have craved for so long.

After a five-year absence, the Greyhounds, who played in 14 consecutive tournaments under former coach Dave Cottle, are in the postseason again. And after three straight shutouts on tournament selection day, including a painfully close call a year ago, the 13-man senior class has reconnected with a tradition that had been bruised before, and on its watch.

"You kind of feel responsible for the letdown in tradition. [Missing three tournaments] hurt to the core," senior midfielder Greg Leonard said. "Our senior class has built this program back to where it was and where it needed to be. It's something that's been hanging over my head for four years."

It has been a hard slog for these Loyola veterans, who finally have trained a spotlight on the school's benchmark sport for the right reason.

During their time at Evergreen, they have played for two head coaches and four offensive coordinators. In December 2005, they endured the dismissal of four-year coach Bill Dirrigl - who was let go after taking a leave of absence for personal reasons and welcomed the promotion of nine-year assistant Charley Toomey.

More than anything, the losses ate at them. When Loyola went into a rebuilding mode in 2004, numerous freshmen such as Leonard and midfielders Andrew Spack and Jordan Rabidou led a youth movement that yielded predictable growing pains.

In 2004 and 2005, Loyola went a combined 9-16, suffering back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1982-83, when the sport was in its Division I infancy. Cottle took over in 1983, began with a 5-9 year, then put up 18 straight winning seasons before taking the Maryland job in the fall of 2001.

"When I was in high school, Loyola was a top 10 program. They were so good for so long, and they were on par with the other schools [Maryland and Navy] I was looking at," said Bauers, a three-year starter who leads the Greyhounds with 28 goals.

"I'd always been on winning teams growing up. [Losing] was definitely a change, a shock. I kept thinking next year was going to be our year."

After a 5-8 finish in 2005 came an unusual offseason, with the upheaval surrounding Dirrigl and the hiring of Toomey, a former Loyola goaltender who guarded the net when the Greyhounds made their only appearance in the NCAA title game in 1990.

Ryan Rabidou, a second-line attackman, thinks the coaching change appeared more tumultuous to outsiders than it was to the players. No one transferred after Dirrigl's removal.

"From the outside, it must have looked like chaos, after two losing seasons and the whole coaching controversy," Rabidou said.

"I can honestly say our team bonded more. It definitely made us stronger. If you were going to leave your teammates behind over that controversy, I don't think you had any business being in our locker room in the first place."

Last year's 6-6 finish was a breakthrough year. Loyola upset then-No. 2 Georgetown in mid-April to vault into the playoff hunt. But a stunning loss at unranked Fairfield the next week hurt, and a heartbreaking, 7-6 defeat to Johns Hopkins two weeks later left the Greyhounds squarely on the tournament bubble. It burst a day later.

This year, Loyola bounced back from losing its first two games, to Notre Dame and Towson. The Greyhounds did it first by staging a furious second-half comeback to erase a five-goal deficit and win, 10-9 at Penn State, then by shocking top-ranked Duke, 8-7, in San Diego on March 10.

An 11-10 victory over Syracuse completed a 5-0 March, yet Loyola had trouble handling success once again by getting trounced the next week at Rutgers, 17-7. But after hammering Fairfield and Hobart, not even another loss at Hopkins last week could keep the Greyhounds from reaching the second season. Finally.

"It's been painful. You expect to win. It's Loyola College," Toomey said.

"[The seniors] came in and took their lumps together. But they're leaving the program better than they found it. We're going to miss this class."

gary.lambrecht@baltsun.com

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