With first title, Loyola ranks right up there
FOXBOROUGH - When they looked at this year’s preseason poll and were nowhere on it, disrespect made the Loyola Greyhounds run wind sprints.
One spot for No. 20 Colgate, and another for No. 17 Princeton.
One for No. 12 Hofstra, and one for No. 11 Massachusetts.
One for every team picked to be better than them, but wasn’t.
“That’s the day that really sticks out in your mind,’’ said junior midfielder Scott Ratliff. “When that first ranking came out at the beginning of the season, we all felt disrespected.’’
They knew what their locker room was made of.
They saw the saves Jack Runkel made in practice every day, the sniper shots that Eric Lusby fired with the kind of velocity and viciousness that makes the tallest goalies shrink.
They knew how far their team could go, even if no one else did.
“I think we all kind of knew we had a special team, and not because of the talent or the athleticism, but because of how close we were and how much of a family we really are,’’ Ratliff said. “These really are my 45 best friends and my brothers.’’
They marched through the regular season with a purpose, winning their first 12 games. By the final two weeks of the season, they had gone from unranked to top-ranked.
They reached this weekend’s Final Four for the first time in 14 years, and when they got to Foxborough, they knew that completing their mission by dominating the Maryland Terrapins in a 9-3 win in the championship game Monday at Gillette Stadium and bringing Loyola its first Division 1 lacrosse title in school history was the only way to gain the respect they deserved.
“That certainly motivated us,’’ Ratliff said. “It was something that we kept in our minds all season.’’
They weren’t a high-wattage cast of first-team All-Americans. In fact, no one on either team in the national title game made the first team.
But they had players who saw the chance to make history and seized it.
Lusby, who had been scorching all tournament, scored four goals, giving him a record 17 for the tournament.
He finished the season with 54 goals, breaking the school record held by teammate Mike Sawyer (one goal, one assist). Sawyer was one of six Greyhounds to find the net Monday.
Three of Lusby’s goals came in the second half, and after single-handedly hammering the nails in the Terrapins’ coffin, Lusby called it catching fire at the right time.
On the sideline, teammates Pete Bowes and Brian Schultz kept giving him updates on how close he was to the record books.
“But it wasn’t a goal,’’ Lusby said. “We wanted to win a national championship, and if I had to score however many goals to get that done, I was going to do it.’’
The six-goal margin was the widest in a championship game since Virginia beat UMass, 15-7, in 2006.
After Maryland midfielder Kevin Cooper put the Terrapins up, 3-2, firing one over Runkel’s right shoulder with 10:40 left in the second quarter, the Greyhounds (18-1) responded with three straight goals to end the half, and held Maryland (12-6) scoreless for the next 40 minutes and 40 seconds, easily its longest scoring drought of the season.
The Terrapins were making their second trip to the national title game in as many years under coach John Tillman, and after tagging Duke for 16 goals in their semifinal win, it was a shock to see their offense falter.
“We felt like we were going to wash that first half away and know that if we could score and handle the faceoffs, there was a good chance we could get a couple, get the momentum and get them on the defensive,’’ he said.
But it didn’t happen.
Instead, Tillman watched his longtime friend, Loyola coach Charley Toomey celebrate. Toomey became the first coach to win a title in his first trip to the championship.
“You never like to lose, and my heart bleeds for these guys,’’ Tillman said. “But if we’re not going to win it, I’m so happy for a guy that does everything the right way.’’
The last time Loyola reached the final was 1990, and Toomey was in the cage for the Greyhounds. His history often came up among players.
“We talk a lot about returning this program to its glory days when Coach was playing here,’’ Ratliff said said.
Toomey said, on bus rides throughout the season, he would reminisce with his assistant, and Loyola alum, Steve Vaikness. But he made sure to separate the two teams.
“We don’t bring up past history,’’ Toomey said. “This is our team. This is a special group of young men that fought through a lot of things this year to put themselves in this position, and they stood tall on the biggest day.’’