This Saturday, No. 8 Loyola will visit No. 7 Denver in a key showdown that could determine the top seed in the coming Eastern College Athletic Conference tournament.
It will mark the third consecutive year that the Greyhounds will have traveled to the metropolitan area affectionately called The Mile High City, and the team is still seeking its first win there. The Pioneers beat Loyola, 12-4, at what used to be known as Invesco Field – the home of the NFL’s Broncos – in 2010, and Fairfield delivered a similar result with a 10-9 decision in the semifinal round of last year’s league tournament.
“We certainly haven’t figured out Denver yet,” coach Charley Toomey said Monday with a chuckle. “We’re going to try to do that this weekend. I think it’s about taking care of what you need to Monday through Thursday, making sure your academics are in place, making sure you’re having good, quality practices where you’re learning your opponent. But it’s also about handling some of the other things we’ve talked about like extra hydration this week and making sure that when we go out there, we’re putting our best foot forward and giving ourselves a chance. We’re not going to try to change too much this week. We feel like two very good teams are going to take the field in Denver, and we’re going to line up and we’re going to play and we’re going to rely on the fact that the opponent is Denver, not where it’s being played.”
Unlike their first trip to Denver two years ago, the Greyhounds plan to use last season’s visit to adjust to the city’s high altitude.
“I think the first time we went out and played Denver at Invesco, I looked at a guy like [junior shot-stick defensive midfielder] Josh Hawkins or [junior midfielder] Davis Butts or some of our better athletes, I felt like watching them come to the sideline after a quick run, they were trying to get air,” Toomey recalled. “And that’s the only time that I’ve really noticed it as a coach. You look at some of your better athletes, and they look like they’re just struggling to get that air, that recovery. Last year when we were playing Fairfield out in Denver, we did a much better job of handling that. So that’s what we’re going to try to replicate this week.”
One part of the travel itinerary the team won’t copy is practicing at the Air Force Academy’s campus in Colorado Springs, which is more than 800 feet higher than Denver. That strategy worked, but Toomey said the team – which is leaving Friday morning – can’t afford to leave a few days earlier to incorporate that portion of the trip into the travel plans.
“It’s already tough enough that the guys are missing Friday’s classes when we’re coming towards the tail end of the semester,” he said. “If we get back out there for the ECAC Tournament, it’ll be during exams. So it’s important that the guys are in classes and we’re getting proper rest and hydration and hopping on that plane on Friday to go out and play a game.”