May 28, 2012

Top Dogs: Loyola Downs Maryland for National Title

Davis Butts celebrated Loyola's first NCAA Division I title with the crowd at Gillette Stadium on Monday after the Greyhounds took apart Maryland in a 9-3 win. 
© Kevin P. Tucker

by Gary Lambrecht |

NCAA Division I Men's Championship

* Lusby Breaks Tournament Scoring Record
* Terps Offense Dries Up in Another Title Game Loss
* Toomey, Tillman Finish Bittersweet Afternoon
* Live Blog Replay

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Loyola University junior attackman Justin Ward was breathing in the moment, standing and squinting in the hot sun beating down on the field at Gillette Stadium, while teammates celebrated all around him.

Yes, it was sinking in for Ward. Yes, the Loyola Greyhounds, who had started the year unranked with much to prove, had just finished making their point after a determined climb to No. 1 and top seed in the NCAA tournament.

Two days after digging down for a low-scoring, hard-fought victory over Notre Dame, Loyola took apart unseeded Maryland with a 9-3 victory that brought Loyola the first NCAA title in its Division I history. With the remarkable Eric Lusby leading the offense by scoring four goals, and the Greyhounds' dominant defense doing the rest in front of 30,816 fans, Loyola (18-1) left no doubt about who was top dog in 2012.

And as he stood amidst the postgame euphoria, Ward's mind drifted back to when it all began, nearly six months ago, on a late-fall day when Loyola learned its youthful team had been ranked No. 21 in a preseason poll.

"It was the last day of the fall, and being ranked 21st, that stung for sure. It made a lot of us pretty angry," Ward recalled. "We did 21 sprints for the teams ranked ahead of us. We felt like this program hadn't gotten the respect it deserved from a lot of people. That really sunk in our belly. I think we had some fire in there for the rest of the year."

The flame was burning strong throughout Memorial Day weekend, when one of the best offensive men's lacrosse teams in the country spent the holiday proving it was pretty sharp in other areas. By the time Loyola had suffocated unseeded Maryland, the Greyhounds had topped off their historic season with an emphatic point.

Loyola knows defense. Just ask the Terrapins, who last scored early in the second quarter and are still looking for their next goal after going scoreless for the game's final 40:40. Just ask the Terps, who ran into a brick wall in the form of goalie Jack Runkel, a close defense led by Joe Fletcher and Reid Acton and a defensive midfield sparked by LSM Scott Ratliff and short-stick man Josh Hawkins.

"Where do you start? Where do you stop? We won every single matchup [with our defense]," said Loyola head coach Charley Toomey, who watched Maryland get just two goals on offense and nothing from its starting attack. "Our short sticks [Hawkins and Pat Laconi] were in the best condition of anyone on the field. Jack Runkel [six saves] just stood tall. We knew Maryland wasn't going to let us run on offense, and we were ready to play a lot of defense. What a special group."

Make no mistake. The Greyhounds (18-1) are celebrating their first Division I championship largely because Lusby completed an incredible NCAA tournament run by personally out-scoring Maryland.

Lusby was the runaway winner of the tournament's most outstanding player award, and he set a record for tournament scoring with 17 goals, including nine goals in the season's last two games. He finished the season with 54 goals. On the season's last day, Lusby passed teammate Michael Sawyer, who scored once against Maryland and wound up with 52 goals.

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