Lacrosse title caps riveting year for Loyola athletics

Greyhounds thrust the tiny Catholic school into national spotlight

May 29, 2012|Kevin Cowherd

Go ahead, tell me who's had a better year around here than the Loyola Greyhounds.

Adam Jones with the hot start and the new $85.5 million contract?

Ray Rice, who gets to prop up his feet and miss team workouts and wait for the Ravens to make him a rich man, too?

I'll Have Another with a Kentucky Derby and Preakness win and a shot at the Triple Crown?

Me, I'd argue for the 'Hounds, who hit a trifecta of their own and had the kind of year most small schools only dream about.

Here's all that's happened at Loyola since the beginning of the calendar year:

The men's basketball team won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference title and went to its first NCAA Tournament since dinosaurs roamed the Earth. (OK, since 1994.)

The women's lacrosse team won its second straight Big East Championship and advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year.

And the men's lacrosse team won its first national championship with that 9-3 thrashing of Maryland Monday up in that noted lax hotbed of Foxborough, Mass.

All in all, pretty heady stuff for the little Catholic school in North Baltimore.

What are they always yelling at Loyola games?

"Unleash the 'Hounds?"

I'd say not only were the 'Hounds unleashed, they pretty much snarled and trampled their way to greatness in three different sports this year.

So what's your impression of Loyola now?

Is it still: "Hey, great place to get an MBA. But when it comes to sports, it's strictly Snooze U?"

Is it: "Dead crickets make more noise than Loyola fans?"

If so, you need to take in a game at Reitz Arena and watch the resident wild man, Jimmy Patsos, whip up the crowd and get his team going in what's become one of the best sideline shows in college hoops.

Or you need to catch some lacrosse at the Ridley Athletic Complex, where the doldrums are gone from the 8-5 season the men posted in 2011 and the joint was jumping again this year for coach Charley Toomey and his underdog squad.

(Hard to believe now, but Toomey's 'Hounds weren't even considered Top 20-worthy by a lot of so-called experts at the beginning of this season.

"I knew we were better than where they had us," Toomey said Tuesday. "I didn't know how much better. But I knew we were better." )

Yep, things are changing big time at Loyola. There's a new energy now to the athletics programs. A new swagger.

And everyone connected with the school — students, athletes, faculty and alumni — can feel it.

"I think that it began with Jimmy Patsos and the basketball team . . . and that led right into lacrosse season," said Eric Lusby, the Severna Park kid who scored four goals for Loyola against Maryland Monday. "A lot more people were talking about Loyola than Johns Hopkins."

That's always a good thing when the subject is men's lacrosse. And having two other championship teams only helps Loyola at a time when colleges are competing ever more ferociously for students — and student-athletes.

"It gives us exposure in the national media and on a national stage that we would very likely not be able to afford," said Marc Camille, the school's vice-president for enrollment management and communications. "It puts Loyola's name out there front and center."

Camille said a little more than 12,000 students had applied to be part of Loyola's freshman class next fall.

"That's an all-time record," he said.

Most of those applications, of course, were sent before the men's basketball team and the men's and women's lacrosse teams completed their glittering seasons.

And while Camille said it was hard to quantify how many more applications the school would get because of the success of its athletics teams this spring, he added: "I think we'll probably break that record next year."

What a great ride it's been for Loyola, beginning when Patsos' team first lit up Reitz Arena this winter and culminating with that joyful celebration at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Eric Lusby holding the championship trophy as his teammates shot their index fingers in the air and proclaimed Loyola no. 1.

Near the end of a press conference with Toomey and some of his players Tuesday, the 'Hounds coach was asked: "What's it look like from the top of the mountain?"

He didn't hesitate.

"Sweet," was all he said.

Sweet year all around for Loyola.

Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays at 7:20 a.m. on 105.7 The Fan's "The Norris and Davis Show."

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