May 22, 2012

MD1 Coaches' Conference Call Wrap

Toomey, Corrigan, Danowski, Tillman met media Tuesday

by Matt Forman and Corey McLaughlin | LaxMagazine.com

In selling the Greyhounds' lacrosse program to potential recruits, coach Charley Toomey and staff have played up the fact that lacrosse may be a bigger deal at Loyola than other schools that have big-time football and baskeball teams.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

Of the four teams in this weekend's men's final four, the Loyola Greyhounds, although top-seeded, represent the party-crasher in the bigger picture.

Duke has been to the last six championship weekends. Maryland, another traditional power, played for the title just last year. Notre Dame will play in its second semifinal in three seasons.

Loyola is in its first final four since 1998.

When it comes to the recruiting trail – the lifeblood of every program – it could be easy for a high school senior or junior, or now, sophomore, to overlook Loyola. The Baltimore Jesuit university of 6,080 enrollment doesn't necessarily have the same cache as brand names or powers that normally fill the lacrosse television airwaves.

Even Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan, who, like Loyola, is seeking to win his school's first Division I championship, said of the Greyhounds' recruiting approach: "For the most part, [Loyola] is not a team we see on every guy right now."

So what has been Loyola coach Charley Toomey's pitch in recent years?

"I don't think there are many schools out there that care as much about lacrosse as Loyola does," Toomey said on an NCAA men's lacrosse coaches' conference call Tuesday morning. "We don't play football, but we have a stadium that will rival any stadium in the country [Ridley Athletic Complex]. ... Come to Baltimore, play high-level lacrosse.

"The coaches believe that we're going in the right direction. You look at our numbers, we've always been in the top 10 defense, and we've always been that 10-16 ranked team. Some years [we were] in the tournament and some years knocking on the door and narrowly missing. Last year, we were ranked as high as No. 6.

"We felt like this was coming," Toomey said, "but for any team it takes a special year. But we feel very good about bringing kids to Loyola. We might not be an ACC school and have the allure of a huge basketball and football program, but we're going to point to our lacrosse program. You're coming to a place that cares about your sport."

Toomey credited assistant coaches Matt Dwan (defense) and Dan Chemotti (offense) "for putting this team together," though recruiting.

"They've worked very hard, beating the bushes," Toomey said. "We've gotten some kids out of some non-traditional areas that have stepped up for us."

Like two of their biggest stars: Tewaaraton finalist Mike Sawyer (Waxhaw, N.C.) and long-stick midfielder Scott Ratliff (Marietta, Ga.).

Toomey: Loyola Supporting Cast Must Step Up

"The more we watch tape, the more we believe we have to spread it around," Toomey said about attacking Notre Dame's vaunted defense. "We have to attack Notre Dame from different spots. If you're relying on one guy to be you're strength you're going to be in trouble. [Notre Dame] is a slide and recover team, they play a scheme that gives people fits. You need to count on guys other than Eric [Lusby] or Michael [Sawyer] to step up. It's not like we haven't seen teams that haven't shut two guys off or pressed out and gotten on their hands."

Toomey referenced the Greyhounds' 14-13, overtime win in ECAC tournament semifinals at Denver on May 2 as a blueprint for the Loyola offense to follow. Eleven different players scored the Greyhounds' first 11 goals, and Ratliff scored two, including the overtime winner.

"That's the type of effort we really believe we're going to need this Saturday," Toomey said.

High Praise For Kemp

Toomey, the former two-time All-American goalie during his playing days at Loyola, gave his scouting report on attacking Notre Dame netminder John Kemp.

"We don't want to overthink our shots," he said. "We feel like we've got pretty talented shooters on the corners. But we do talk to our guys about if you shoot a bad shot, it's going the other direction [with an outlet pass]. We haven't really been able to pinpoint where he's weak at this point, but I do know that Notre Dame plays such good defense that they force you into some low-angle shots. It seems if you're able to get back to the middle of the field you have some success."

Attacking Notre Dame's Defense Easier Said Than Done

Virginia coach Dom Starsia said the Cavaliers needed to be patient against Kevin Randall (above) and the Irish's slide-and-recover defense.
© Kevin P. Tucker

It seems easy in concept, but it's extremely difficult to execute: In order to beat Notre Dame, teams have to score more goals than the Fighting Irish. And in order to out-score them, teams have to break down their defensive system with "team" offense.

More than anything, Notre Dame challenges its opponents to find a balance in philosophy espoused by legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden: Be quick, but don't hurry.

"We needed to be patient," Virginia coach Dom Starsia said after the Cavaliers' 12-10 loss to Notre Dame in the quarterfinals. "It's hard to be patient and aggressive at the same time. There's a balance there that you have to meet. Even though we fall behind early in the game, if we start rushing, we're not going to get anything. They require that you spin the ball and move the ball, and work it, and get something good. We never lost track of that.

"They've got a system that they believe in. They pack it in. They challenge you to hit some shots. At the end of the day, you look at it and say, 'Jeez, there were a couple more we could've had.' But Notre Dame had a lot to do with that at the same time. They just do a really nice job. They're a patient, disciplined team."

You know what you're going to get from Notre Dame's defense. It's a sum-of-all-parts, seven-man operation that won't "let one man cost us a goal," as coach Kevin Corrigan once described it.

As for the Irish offense, you were never quite sure what kind of production to expect. In the first two games of the NCAA tournament, though, Notre Dame's offense has been stout — 12 different players have contributed 25 goals in two games, the Irish's highest two-game total since April 2011.

'The great thing about our team is, we don't have any more idea than you do who's going to step up in the next game," Corrigan said. "For multiple guys scoring, that's who we are. I can't say it any other way. That's who we've been all year. Golly, you look at our team and there's nobody you look at on our team and go, 'Look at the numbers that guy has.' Yet, as a team, we seem to find a way to be up by one at the end a lot of times."

Shooting Percentage Way Up

The biggest difference late in the season has been the Irish's shooting percentage, which was 25.3 percent entering the postseason, which ranked among the last-10 in Division I lacrosse. They've converted 43.1 percent (25-of-58) since.

What's the reason for improvement?

"Jeez, I wish I had an answer for you," Corrigan said Tuesday. "Our guys have done a great job shooting the last two games. But shoot, if I had that figured out, we wouldn't have struggled with shooting the way we have not just this year but the last couple years. It's something we've struggled to do consistently well, and I hope we're coming around on that."

Never Out Of a Game

As Corrigan mentioned Sunday, and then again Tuesday morning, Notre Dame has either won or been in a position to win every game this season. It lost in late February to Penn State, 4-3 in overtime, and dropped an 8-7 decision to St. John's in the Big East Tournament.

With their defense keeping the clamps on every opponent and their offense finishing at a higher percentage, the Fighting Irish have it all clicking.

"It's kind of a rare kind of season where you have the opportunity to compete until the last second of every game," Corrigan said. "I'm happy as a whole with our season and I certainly like the lacrosse we're playing, but I hope our best lacrosse is still in front of us."

Duke Learned From Losses to All Final Four Teams

"We've seen a more relaxed person in the goal," Duke coach John Danowski said Tuesday of goalie Dan Wigrizer.
© Matt Riley

Duke has played each of the teams in the final four this season – and lost to them all.

Notre Dame beat the Blue Devils, 7-3 in South Bend on Feb. 18. It was the Irish's season-opener and Duke second game of the season. Loyola beat the Blue Devils, 13-8, in Baltimore on March 10, and Maryland beat Duke, 10-7, on March 3 before the Blue Devils won the second meeting in the ACC tournament semifinals, 6-5.

"You're saying that we've lost to them all?" Duke coach John Danowski joked in response to a question about that fact. "We believe in making the toughest schedule possible. I learned that in my days at Hofstra, that you don't get big wins unless you have big games.

"That said, you cannot predict if teams are going to have great years. We didn't know that Loyola was only going to lose one game, or Notre Dame was going to go on and have a great year, as well as Maryland, but you continue to schedule the toughest competition you can find in order to prepare yourself for this time of year. That's what it's about."

"We lost to Notre Dame early in the season on the road. We lost to a great Loyola team on the road. And, after we had a great week of practice, Maryland took us behind the woodshed the first time we played them, so I think our team has learned from those experiences. Sometimes you discover your individual commitment and your team commitment when you lose, not when you win. It really focused everybody after those losses."

Focused on the Now

Asked about the focus needed to reach six straight final fours, Danowski said, "I learned in 2006 and 2007, to live for today here at Duke. ... We heard it from the stands in the Colgate section [at PPL Park on Saturday]. We heard the remarks referencing 2006 [rape scandal]. That lives with all of us. That's something that we protect fiercely, and we know that's let's concentrate on today's practice, being together tonight at dinner and having fun. We're not looking back and we're not looking forward."

Wigrizer Has Settled In

Dan Wigrizer, although he was the championship-winning goalie as a freshman in 2010 against Notre Dame, had been oft-maligned during his college career and shuffled in and out of the Blue Devils' starting lineup. This season, Danowski said Wigrizer has settled into his own.

"We've seen a more relaxed person in the goal," Danowski said. "We've seen him pick off some passes, and get into passing lanes, and do some thing that he hadn't done as well. But we've just seen somebody who stays between the pipes. Like a lot of young goalies, they've learned some bad habits that are really hard to let go of, because those habits have allowed them to be successful. But not at this.

"You need to stay between the pipes and learn to let go if you make a bad play, and know that it's not all about you and buy into the team thing. The club/AAU preparation that a lot of our kids have nowadays, that's not what they learn. It takes a while to accept being part of the team. Danny has done a really solid job of maturing."

Maryland Gets By After Tough Practice Week

The Maryland coaching staff and players had four days to prepare for Johns Hopkins during final exam week. The week began with the coaches falling asleep while watching film after getting back early Monday morning from Lehigh.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

John Tillman walked into the men's restroom of the press box at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on Saturday. Tillman had just watched Loyola top Denver on the same field where hours earlier Maryland defeated Johns Hopkins 11-5. Tillman exhaled and said to a reporter: "Phew. That wasn't exactly what I thought would happen."

A brief pause... Wait, Loyola beating Denver for a third time? Or Maryland dominating Johns Hopkins?

Tillman then echoed sentiments expressed earlier in the afternoon at his post-game press conference. The Terrapins didn't have a great week of practice. "We were pretty sloppy," he said. The Terps played the last NCAA tournament first-round game (Sunday at 8 p.m. at Lehigh) but the first quarterfinal game (Saturday at Noon.) After making it back to College Park at 3:30 a.m. Monday morning, the coaching staff fell asleep watching film of the Blue Jays. It was final exams week at Maryland. Five players took exams Monday, and several had papers due. They only had four days to prepare for Hopkins.

"But we had a good attitude," Tillman said. "And we kind of knew that. So we were like, 'We gotta hope they get it by the end of the week. It's not looking pretty right now, but we're hoping if they can get some rest on Thursday night and Friday night, maybe some good things will happen.'

Good things did happen. No explanation necessary, just trust in the process: Maryland is headed back to the final four for the second straight year, as Tillman became the first coach to lead an unseeded squad to back-to-back semifinals.

Tillman's Best Coaching Job?

On Tuesday morning's call, Tillman was asked whether he would consider this to be his best coaching job, considering the team's graduations and its journey throughout the season. The Terps graduated their entire close defense — Max Schmidt, Brett Schmidt and Ryder Bohlander — plus two starters on attack from last year's team, but they're headed back to championship weekend.

"I don't really think about it that way," Tillman said. "My big thing is, the kids are counting on me to put them in a position to be successful. So regardless of the record, I just have to make sure at the end of the day I look myself in the mirror and ask: Am I doing everything I can to help the program and help the kids. That's all I really care about. I'll always look at myself and feel like I could have done better. We lost a number of games this year, and we are where we are. We didn't win every game.... This really isn't about me. It's about our guys and our program. I have a dream job. I'm so lucky to be here. Every day I'm excited to go to work, because every day I feel like the luckiest man on earth."

Humility aside, Tillman is taking Maryland to consecutive Memorial Day Weekend appearances for the first time since 2005-06. The Terps are in search of their first national championship since 1975.

"Being here, and this is only year two for us, I was well aware of the expecations were when I took the job," Tillman said. "That comes with the territory. Some people look at it as a burden, and I look at it as something special to be a part of, and maybe something we can build off of. The expectation and traditions are such that we need to make sure we add to the great chapter in the great book of Maryland lacrosse. We really build off that."

Duke is Familiar Foe

The next pages of the Terrapins' continuing narrative will be written against Atlantic Coast Conference rival Duke, which Maryland will play for the "sixth time in 15 months," Tillman said.

"It's unique. There are sometimes decades where you don't play a team that much," Tillman said. "They're very familiar with us, us with them. At this time of year, they have a good idea of what our personnel is, and how we play and what some of our schemes are. You also want to be careful this time of year: It's hard to chagne who you are at this point. To try to overhaul what we've done and get away from what we're doing, could be a mistake. We've got to try do what we do as well as possible."


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