Towson University lost five of its first six lacrosse games with longtime head coach Tony Seaman in the final year of his contract. But instead of panicking and nitpicking, Seaman has shown his team a lot of Love.
That's Love, as in goalie Travis Love, who replaced senior Rob Wheeler. Since then, the Tigers (4-5 overall, 2-0 Colonial Athletic Association) have won four of their last six games, including a 10-9 win against No. 12 Massachusetts Saturday that gave Towson its third straight victory.
It's not that Love, a junior, has been a one-man show breathing life into the program. The Tigers are getting help from a schedule that wasn't as tough as early in the season, and increased production from attackman Christian Pastirik.
But a lot of success started when Seaman inserted Love for Wheeler in Game 4 against Navy and Towson won its first game of the season, 10-9.
"He just gave us a spark," Seaman said. "Rob has had a great attitude since the change, and he has worked well with Travis. Travis is more of a gamer, and now that has transferred over to practices."
It had to be an agonizing decision for Seaman. Wheeler was the Tigers' starter last season, and played well — especially with Seaman's job on the line. But in the first three games this season, Wheeler had a goals against average of 15, and a save percentage of .362. Love has a goals against average of 9.06 and a save percentage of .583.
What's been the major difference?
Love is a better quarterback and communicator in the defense. He moves his players around and gets them in the right position. Love likes to talk a lot. In fact, he talks too much at times, even to the other team.
"We're just learning how to win a little bit," said Love, from Winters Mill High. "We've been solid on defense and our offense is scoring. It's a race to 10. If our offense can score 10 goals, our defense believes we won't give up that many. The No. 10 is up in our locker room."
Towson also might be benefitting from its tough early season schedule. The Tigers, like UMBC and Loyola, are caught in a tough position. To be able to draw top recruits and even be in position to reach the Final Four, the Tigers had to play a tough non-conference schedule, one that included No. 5 Maryland, No. 1 Virginia, No. 7 Loyola and No. 16 Stony Brook as well as Navy.
The Tigers were competitive in all of those games, but it's a long shot for them to win the majority of those games. But there are advantages.
"Virginia was hands-down better than anybody we've faced, and Maryland was No. 2," Seaman said. "So when you go play a ranked team like Massachusetts, you don't stand there saying, ‘Wow, we're playing a really, really good team' because we've already played some really, really good teams.
"Also, we just happen to play in the vicinity where they play pretty good lacrosse. So, how can you call yourself a lacrosse power when you're not playing a UMBC, Loyola, Navy, Hopkins and Maryland when they are in your own backyard? Over the years, we lost two teams on our schedule that we had never lost to in Sacred Heart and Robert Morris, and added two, Hofstra and Drexel, that are in the top 20."
But those tough losses have translated into future wins against teams like Delaware and UMBC. Towson is averaging a little more than nine goals a game paced by Pastirik (18 goals, 10 assists), Tim Stratton (10, 10) and midfielder Will Harrington (18, 4).
The Tigers are on a miniroll as in March 2009 when they won three games, and finished 4-2 in the conference. Towson eventually lost, 10-9, to Villanova in the CAA championship game, and failed to earn the automatic qualifying bid for the NCAA tournament.
Each mid- to late-season win helped saved Seaman's job, which is at stake again this season. Seaman downplayed that fact earlier in the season, as would most coaches, but they all have to be concerned.
Their livelihoods and reputations are at stake. For Seaman, he has been coaching 29 years and is one of the sport's all-time winningest coaches.
The big question is can the Tigers pull it off again in 2010, and save the coach's job?
"His contract is not something we talk about, but everyone has a heads-up about it just like last year," Love said. "I really don't know how long of a contract he has or what he is signed for, but we all know that if we don't win, a lot of people won't be around here very long."