I don’t know if you noticed, but, one week ago, Loyola became the ninth, and smallest, school to win an NCAA Division I men’s lacrosse championship, representing the culmination of a startling shift in the sport’s old guard that saw traditional powers toppled and caused some to wonder whether lacrosse north of the Mason-Dixon line was dead.
As former Baltimore Evening Sun sportswriter Bill Tanton recounted in his column in the May issue of Lacrosse Magazine, Loyola’s rise to the top was a remarkable one. The tiny Jesuit school with 6,500 students has a long tradition of playing lacrosse, but not a long tradition of winning at it; while Johns Hopkins, the university with which Loyola shares Charles Street in Baltimore, has put 64 Blue Jays into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame, the Greyhounds have had no one enshrined there.
Unable at first to attract talent---Loyola athletic director Lefty Reitz told Tanton that the team’s 3-25 record across the last three seasons of the 1950s was due to the fact that the ‘Hounds “can’t get anybody” to accept the athletic scholarships the school offered---Loyola nevertheless attained some success under part-time coach Jay Connor in the 1970s, albeit intermittently.
The program built momentum under head coach Dave Cottle, during whose tenure the Greyhounds were led to the NCAA championship game by goalie Charley Toomey in 1990 and earned a No. 1 playoff seed in 1999. Improved recruiting---Tanton noted that “Loyola’s athletes were better than Duke’s” in the Green and Grey’s 13-8 victory over the Blue Devils in March---and upgraded facilities (including a new 6,000-seat stadium) enabled Toomey, now the head coach at his alma mater, to guide the Greyhounds to a national championship.
The storylines of the 2012 NCAA Division I men’s lacrosse season have been the dropping back to the pack of established powers, the rise to the top of a once-downtrodden program at a small school, and the creation by Michigan of a template for making the jump from club to varsity status from which such Division I-bound programs as Boston University, Furman, High Point, and Marquette stand to benefit. That’s right . . . Furman is easing into the Division I ranks in both men’s and women’s lacrosse. Why in the world can’t Georgia do likewise?