Winning last year’s Eastern College Athletic Conference tournament was a breakthrough for Loyola. This spring, the program was just an overtime loss to Denver on April 13 away from completing an undefeated season in the league and earning the top seed in this week’s conference tournament.
The No. 5 Greyhounds (11-3) will face No. 8 Ohio State (10-3) in one semifinal Thursday night at Hobart in Geneva, N.Y. No. 3 Denver (11-3) and No. 19 Fairfield (8-6) will tangle in the other semifinal.
Loyola won the regular-season meeting against the Buckeyes, 9-4, on March 30, but coach Charley Toomey said there is no sense of comfort around that history or last year’s.
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“There’s a comfort level in that we feel like we have a plan on how to practice, and that’s probably more from the coaching staff,” he said Wednesday morning as the team traveled to New York. “… There’s a routine, and that’s something that we’re going to try to replicate, the routine and preparation for each game. Other than that, I don’t think from an Xs or Os standpoint that there’s a comfort level. Our guys know they have to go out and execute and make plays.”
Similarly, Toomey said the team is not content with its positioning for the NCAA tournament. Despite Saturday’s 8-4 win against No. 13 Johns Hopkins and adding another top 20 RPI victory to their resume, the Greyhounds are taking aim at trying to win the conference tournament and the accompanying automatic qualifier.
“The team knows that they have to go up and beat a very good Ohio State team and see where the chips fall,” Toomey said. “Fairfield has had Denver’s number the last couple times they’ve played them, but we’re not thinking about Fairfield or Denver. That’s irrelevant. We have to work hard to get through Ohio State, and that’s the mentality that this team has really started to take on, which is a good thing.”
But Toomey said he has noticed a certain level of calmness around the players. Perhaps that stems from capturing the first Division I national championship in school history, but Toomey noted that the demeanor is different from that of the 2007 squad that lost at Albany and the 2008 team that fell at Duke in the first round of the NCAA tournaments.
“I can remember driving down to Duke for the first round or driving up to Albany and you could sense some anxiousness on the bus,” Toomey recalled. “With these guys, it’s the next team and the next opponent and being a veteran group, they know the task at hand, and I’m enjoying being around this group. They’re starting to come into their own, and to hear the seniors talk about needing a good practice week and needing the scout team to give us a great scout look, they’re saying the right things, and they’re demanding it of each other. It’s definitely a group that is pretty composed and excited to play.”