Last weekend Winter Storm Jonas pummeled Baltimore with a record snowfall exceeding two feet. It was a potential blow to the preparation of the lacrosse teams that abound in the area, none more so than the Patriot League’s Loyola Maryland. The Greyhounds’ practice and play at the Ridley Athletic Complex, one of the city’s highest points, with exposure to gusting winds and drifting snow that sometimes elude lower-lying areas.
“For the guys in the locker room — and certainly for the coaches — we’ll take an extra 15 degrees colder for the facility we have now. It’s beautiful,” said Loyola head coach Charley Toomey. “And on game day, we’re not thinking about the weather.”
Toomey, the former Loyola goalkeeper and the program’s head man since 2006, has adjusted for the impact of the elements on practices at Ridley.
“Last year we made the mistake of trying to practice in the mornings and if you’re jumping out on that field at 7:30 or 8:00 a.m. you’re not giving yourself or your team a real chance,” he said.
The Greyhounds now work outside in the afternoon when the sun’s hitting the field, making their footing more sure and adding a few degrees to the air.
The university’s road crews do their best to keep the Greyhounds practicing every day, even following major snowstorms. Since it opened in 2010, Loyola has missed only one practice due to snow, despite a number of significant storms in the intervening years.
This year, the ability to get in ample practice time is crucial. The Greyhounds face the Virginia (USILA preseason No. 8) at Charlottesville on Feb. 13, and then host Johns Hopkins (USILA preseason No. 5) on Feb. 20. It’s a tough 1-2 combination following the opening bell; UVA (5) and Hopkins (9) have a total of 14 titles since the NCAA began a postseason tournament in 1971.
The Greyhounds are no lightweights. They are the only men’s lacrosse team in the Patriot League to have an NCAA Division I title, earning it in 2012 before joining the league. They are also ranked No. 14 by the USILA and are preseason favorites to win the Patriot League.
Facing Hopkins so early in the season is an added wrinkle for Loyola as the “Battle of Charles Street” between the two Baltimore lacrosse powers historically was played in early May. Last year the contest took a one-year hiatus when Hopkins’ schedule was impacted by joining the Big Ten.
“It’s going to be very new for us,” Toomey said of the game, and not just because of the change in weather. In the past, “You’ve probably watched every one of their games to date throughout the season, and you knew their roster and their kids’ tendencies,” he added. Hopkins will grapple with the same issue.
This year Loyola is most concerned with being as good as they can possibly be, without the benefit of extensive game film to scout. “We might have one on film on them. And they might have one film of Virginia on us. We’re both going to try to get the best product on the field as we can. The one thing in my opinion that’s lost (by the schedule shift) is that it was a such a great tradition to have our student body or their student body in the stands on a warm 70-degree day around exams,” said Toomey.
Last year, the Greyhounds lost an especially heart-wrenching Patriot League game against Holy Cross in early season snow at Ridley, 13-12. The temperatures were in the low 20s with wind gusts making it feel much colder. A steady, heavy snow fell as the game progressed. It was clear at times that the teams’ goalies and players had difficulty tracking the ball.
“I really felt like it was a safety issue. We wanted to change the balls out even before the game started to orange balls,” said Toomey. In that game, the ball was changed after halftime to orange to account for diminished visibility.
The decision was made by the Patriot League in the offseason that, if snow is a factor in a contest, orange balls will be utilized. This week, although the air was clear of precipitation, Toomey prepared his players for the possibility of seeing them in game action, “On one side of the field in practice we had a wall of white at the restraining line. So we threw those orange balls out and as you can imagine, there are 10-foot walls of snow inside Ridley. Anything that was shot high, the goalies had to track an orange ball. So I think in some small way just preparing with the orange balls in case come game day that arises, helped,” said Toomey.
Loyola recently had three standout seniors taken in the Major League Lacrosse (MLL) draft. They included Tyler Albrecht (second round, Atlanta), David Manning (fifth round, New York), and Zach Herreweyers (sixth round, Chesapeake). Manning is slated to return to the Greyhounds defense this season after missing last year with a knee injury. Albrecht, a midfielder, and Herreweyers, a senior attackman, hail from Canada.
When asked if it was a concentrated effort to pull Canadian talent given the success the defending champion Denver Pioneers, and others, have had doing the same, Toomey said: “Absolutely. We’ve always done pretty well out of the Toronto area. This past year we had the ability to go up into Vancouver and then to Victoria Island on the West Coast. Denver’s been doing a great job, pulling those kids south from the West Coast. We were able to pull two kids out of Canada down the road and we’re very excited about that.
“It’s definitely an area that we’re going to continue to tap into. The Canadians have meant an awful lot to our program,” he added. Any recruits from Western Canada have the added benefit of diverting talent away from the Canadian pipeline that flows to Denver.
Before paying attention to powers far afield, Loyola will need to improve in the Patriot League, where every game last year proved a battle.
“Patriot League rivalries are developing for us and you can’t think about Duke and Hopkins and that you’re going to roll through your league like we did in 2014. That’s just not going to happen; you’ve got a target on your back,” he added.
Toomey is confident that his Greyhounds are keeping things in the proper perspective to be successful in 2016, “I think the guys are pretty focused at the moment. Right now the most important thing for them is to win tomorrow’s practice,” he added.
Above: Loyola Maryland’s lacrosse team is poised to face the elements and a strong early season schedule in 2016. (Courtesy Tom Flynn)