Since opening the season with a 14-13 overtime loss to No. 2 Virginia on Feb. 6, No. 5 Loyola has reeled off four straight victories and is considered one of the hottest teams in Division I.
And the Greyhounds have more than one player to thank.
The team has had a different “hero” emerge in three of the four victories. Junior attackman Nikko Pontrello powered Loyola’s wins against No. 8 Penn State and No. 18 Towson. Senior attackman Brian Schultz recorded career highs in goals and assists in a rout of Holy Cross, and senior midfielder Kevin Ryan set a career best in goals in a convincing victory over No. 17 Lehigh.
While senior attackman Justin Ward (Old Mill) is still the quarterback, the diversity in scorers has helped make the offense difficult to pigeonhole.
“Early on in the year, everybody could kind of pinpoint a few names and I think as a coaching staff, we’ve been very happy with the number of guys that have really stepped up, and it’s probably because the team is sharing the ball,” coach Charley Toomey said Thursday morning. “We don’t have individuals, and the guys are playing fast like we’ve asked them to do. But they’re sharing the ball, and what it’s done is, it’s put different people in positions to make plays, and when they’ve been in that position, they’ve helped us.”
As if to almost support Toomey, the Greyhounds (4-1) rank third in the country in assists per game, averaging 8.4. Toomey said the players are keeping their heads up and looking for teammates in the offensive zone.
“When you’re not worried about who gets the credit, you tend to share the ball a little bit more, and with this team, it certainly starts with Justin Ward,” he said. “Justin Ward is our quarterback, and we’ve said it for three years. He’s done a good job of getting the guys into the tempo of the game. He’s done a good job of reading defenses and knowing where they’re sliding and then making adjustments within games. He’s that guy that puts people in the right spots and fortunately for us, they’re finishing their opportunities.”
Loyola has been one of the top finishing teams thus far, converting on 38.3 percent (75-of-196) of their shots and ranking third in the nation. Toomey said the players aren’t as concerned with generating the 40 shots the offense has been using as a benchmark in previous years or with holding the ball for high-percentage opportunities.
“I don’t think we’re thinking very much, to be honest with you,” he said. “I think we’re just going out there and playing and running our sets and playing so unselfishly that all of a sudden, a guy ends up with a ball in his stick and he’s got a great opportunity. At that point, he needs to make a decision. ‘Is there a better opportunity than the one I have right now? Or should I take this shot?’ I don’t think they’re over-thinking it, and I don’t think it’s been something that we’ve really stressed about. I think it’s just guys making good decisions on the field.”