By Aaron Kasinitz, The Baltimore Sun
3:18 PM EDT, June 21, 2013
Charley Toomey couldn't help but reminisce May 31 when he flicked on the television to watch the Charlotte Hounds play the New York Lizards in a Major League Lacrosse matchup.
As Hounds attackman Eric Lusby tied a game high with three goals and rookie Mike Sawyer added two scores in Charlotte's 13-7 victory, the Loyola coach thought back to when the duo led the Greyhounds' run to the 2012 national championship.
"Eric and Mike were both such great shooters for us and you're seeing that at the next level," Toomey said. "They have a great chemistry together and that comes from all of their time spent together as Greyhounds."
The comfort between Lusby and Sawyer, whose Hounds (3-4) host the Bayhawks (4-3) Saturday night, has helped the former NCAA champions make significant contributions to Charlotte's second-ranked offense.
In his second professional season, Lusby (Severna Park) is fourth on the team with 12 goals and Sawyer has tallied nine points in his first five career games.
Both players say their knowledge of the other gives them an edge over opponents. College teams practice five to six days a week, but MLL teams often struggle to build chemistry because they practice only once a week.
"Playing with each other for four years at Loyola, we know where each other is going to be and how we play," Lusby said. "It's cool because it's hard to get that chemistry going in MLL."
Lusby has seemed to benefit from Sawyer's presence on the team. He scored just two goals in the season's first three games — while Sawyer was still on the college inactive list — but has posted 10 goals in the four games Sawyer has played.
Sawyer, meanwhile, has tallied two assists to Lusby and scored his first career goal off of a feed from his former college teammate.
"We're both shooters, so he makes the same sort of cuts I would make," Sawyer said. "It makes it a little bit easier to find him and play off of him."
The relationship has even helped Sawyer off the field, as he transitions to the MLL game.
"Eric stepped in and gave me a little guidance," Sawyer said. "He was a rookie a little bit before, so he could help me in that way — just tell me what to look out for and how to adjust."
While both Lusby and Sawyer have had success this season, their roles have changed since they each scored more than 50 goals in 2012 to lead Loyola to its first national title.
Charlotte's roster already includes established MLL scorers like Ryan Young (Maryland) and Matt Danowski, so the former Greyhounds aren't the team's top offensive threats.
But Toomey said both Lusby and Sawyer have been valuable to the Hounds because their shooting ability spreads out opposing defenses. Since Lusby is left-handed and Sawyer is right-handed, the team can place a shooter on either side of the field.
Sometimes Lusby or Sawyer will get hot — like Lusby did in a five-goal performance against the Ohio Machine in a 12-7 win June 8 — and post big scoring numbers. Even if the duo isn't scoring, though, their presence gives Charlotte's other offensive weapons room to operate.
"Both of them have just an uncanny shot. They shoot the ball with such velocity," Toomey said.
Toomey would know. He relied rather heavily on Lusby and Sawyer's shooting ability while they were in college.
"We could put somebody behind the net," Toomey said, recalling his team's offensive philosophy during its title run, "and then with Eric and Mike we'd be dangerous from the left-hand side or the right-hand side."
It's a formula that has transitioned well to MLL. Since Sawyer was activated to play against the Hamilton Nationals on May 17, the Hounds have averaged more than 13 goals and Lusby's numbers have improved.
But beyond the on-field production and chemistry, Lusby and Sawyer bring an added dimension to the team. Though neither has completed a full MLL season, their experience of a winning an NCAA championship could be significant as the Hounds — who joined MLL last season — make a push for the franchise's first playoff berth.
Sure, the professional game is different, but Lusby and Sawyer understand the pressures that come with a single-elimination postseason. Plus, they've already developed an approach to winning championships that has worked before.
"We're going to do it the same way we did it at Loyola," Lusby said. "Just take it one game at a time."
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