Nike/LM NCAA Preview: No. 17 Loyola (Women)
For the Loyola women's lacrosse team, the Patriot League always will be its elixir.
Some wrote off the Greyhounds after they started 1-4 in 2015. Loyola defeated Virginia to ignite a 16-game winning streak in which they dominated the Patriot League, upset Syracuse and then beat Boston College in the NCAA tournament. The Greyhounds' 2016 schedule has a similarly parabolic trajectory, one that will be navigated by a much younger team.
Loyola at a Glance
2015 Record: 17-5
3 Big Things
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
The Greyhounds haven't exactly dominated in the circle, and things won’t get any easier after the graduation of Taryn Van Thof, who led the team with 91 a year ago and finished with 318 on her career, a Loyola record. The leading returning draw-taker, junior midfielder Bailey Mathis, won 30 in 2015.
1. The Greyhounds will be a lot younger in 2016.
Loyola got hit hard with the departure of the Class of 2015. Offensively, the team lost most of its key pieces, including Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year Annie Thomas (38G, 51A) and Midfielder of the Year Taryn VanThof (30G, 23A, 91DC). All told, Loyola lost all but three starters and just shy of 90 percent of their point output from last year.
"We have always had the mentality that we are just reloading with new, as well as existing talent," said Adams, whose projected starting lineup includes two true freshmen (Hannah Powers and Kristen Yanchoris) and a redshirt freshman (Sabrina Tabasso). "We are excited about the opportunities that a relatively clean canvas offers our program."
2. They will be led from the back.
The one place where the Greyhounds will have starting experience is in the defensive end, beginning with goalie Molly Wolf, who has started every game of her college career. Fellow senior Maddy Lesher (25CT, 46GB) was the Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year in 2014 and 2015, and junior Bailey Mathis (10CT, 9GB, 30DC) earned second team All-Patriot League honors at midfield last year.
"Our tone is set through our relentless level of play, and our defense plays a big role in that," Adams said. "We step out on the field [and] draw confidence from a consistent and experienced defensive group. Games will be won for us [if we can] match the intensity and play with presence at both ends of the field, though."
3. They will have to hit the ground running.
With nine first-time starters hitting the field against a brutal early lineup, there won't be much margin for error. To prepare, Loyola's players are returning from winter break early for training camp to make sure they're all on the same page right from the opening whistle Feb. 6.
"We have to make sure we are well practiced and prepared for tough, high-level play and feel confident in our ability to play any opponent," Adams said. "Our front-loaded schedule will be a great chance for us to hit the ground running and establish an early basis for what we need to be doing to hunt down a national championship."
Molly Wolf (Sr.) *
* returning starters
Entering her fourth year as a starter, Wolf has become one of the premier goalies in college women's lacrosse. The Baltimore native has improved her numbers in net every season, and enters her senior year having started 63 straight games for Loyola.
Joining a team that lost most of its offensive firepower, the Skaneateles (N.Y.) High star should be able to jump right into the mix under Adams' tutelage. After scoring 72 goals with 39 assists for the New York state semifinalist Lakers, there should be plenty of opportunities for an immediate impact with the Greyhounds.
After earning some fall-ball run as a freshman in 2014 among a very experienced group, Tabasso saw her season derailed by a knee injury. Fast-forward a year, and the former Harriton (Pa.) star should have plenty of room to operate now that she's back in good health.
Biggest Question Mark
Managing the Schedule
Loyola has never shied away from putting together a tough slate for any season. Since joining the Patriot League, that has become even more important, since the chance for quality wins for its NCAA tournament resume is fairly limited in-conference. But playing marquee games early and often is tough on a young team, and Loyola is certainly that this spring. If the Greyhounds can come out of an opening stretch of Florida, Syracuse, Johns Hopkins, Towson, Penn State and Virginia with anything approaching a .500 record, that would be a huge plus for this team.
Molly Wolf was one of just three goalies in Division I to finish north of 50 percent in save percentage. She has started 63 straight games. (John Strohsacker)
What rival coaches say about the Greyhounds
"They have a good GK that really sparks their team. Best team in the Patriot League."
"Maddy Lesher returns on defense. Weakness: Loss of Taryn VanThof on the draw and graduated a ton of top scorers from last year, including Burke, Thomas, VanThof and Schmidt."
"Athletic and energetic. A totally new team will take the field this year after graduating nine seniors."
"One of the strongest teams down the stretch last year, Loyola needs to find a way to replace nine starters. Drops in poll based on graduation of three dynamic attackers including second team All-American Annie Thomas and third team All-American Taryn VanThof."
"Jen [Adams] has done a tremendous job. They play creative, they have an outstanding goalie in Molly Wolf, and they are always spirited and athletic."
Returning players accounted for just 41 of Loyola's 284 goals. The rest graduated with the class of 2015. Only senior Maddy Blakeman, who scored 17 goals playing primarily as a midfielder last spring, returns as a double-digit scorer.
22 @ Georgetown
March 19 vs. Navy
The only two teams to capture a Patriot League championship since 2010, Navy and Loyola have gone head-to-head in the finals of each conference tournament since the Greyhounds joined for the 2013 season. Loyola has won both crowns since moving from the Big East, but with big graduation losses comes big hopes for knocking off the new bully on the block.
Early February Lacrosse
Needing to pack in as many quality non-conference opponents as it can, Loyola has pushed back its calendar to earlier than ever, opening with a trip to Florida on the first Saturday of February. For the first time since Adams took over the Greyhounds' program, players will return from winter break a week before classes resume to get back to work.
A brutal early schedule and youth will take their toll on the Greyhounds, but a wealth of talent remains. As long as they can keep ownership of the Patriot League and buy time to round into shape once the weather starts warming, Loyola should once again be a tough out when the NCAA tournament comes around.
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