Saturday’s NCAA tournament quarterfinal game against Denver in Annapolis should be a momentous occasion for the Loyola program. It will also be an unfamiliar setting.
The last time the Greyhounds had advanced to the quarterfinal round was 2001. That year, they edged Georgetown, 11-9, in the first round before losing to eventual national champion Princeton, 8-7, in the next round.
This season’s Loyola squad is 15-1 and the top seed in the tournament, but relatively inexperienced in the postseason. But junior long-stick midfielder Scott Ratliff maintained that the team’s 10-9 overtime loss to Johns Hopkins on April 28 before a sellout crowd of 6,000 at Ridley Athletic Complex in Baltimore has prepared the players for an expected large attendance at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
“That’s definitely something that we’ve talked about,” Ratliff said. “I think going back to the Hopkins game, that will be really good for us because that was our first time playing in front of a sold-out crowd in a crazy environment. So that game had more anticipation and more buildup than even this game. It was Homecoming against a huge rival. So that game felt like it had a lot of pressure, and I think early on, it showed. We made a lot of mistakes, and I think everybody had a lot of jitters. I think we got that out of the way, and we’ll be ready to go on Saturday.”
Should the Greyhounds win Saturday, they will play in their first Final Four since 1998. That’s a tempting distraction, but coach Charley Toomey has praised his team’s ability to keep outside influences at bay.
“I think it would be hard not to have those concerns, but all year long, they’ve addressed those concerns themselves, and we’ve watched them play out of those situations,” Toomey said. “In my opinion, we came out of our locker room against Johns Hopkins with 6,000 people here and had some jitters. But we put ourselves in a position to win a game late, and so hopefully, we’ll learn from that. Obviously, we’re on a grand stage, and the guys are going to embrace the moment and hang onto the importance of each minute. The one rallying cry that these guys have been talking about is, ‘It’s 60 miles, and let’s go one mile at a time.’ When it’s halftime, it’s 30 miles. Let’s not look further than one mile ahead. That’s really key for us.”