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College Crosse's Impossibly Early, Definitely Perfect (Sort of), Rock-Solid (Maybe) Fall Ball Top 20: Loyola (17)

The 'Hounds could be a top 10 team. They could also be a drive from that destination.

Winslow Townson

The 2014 season is months away. Let's punch fate in the face and make wild assumptions about what could be the best 20 teams in the country next year.

Team: Loyola

Rank: 17

Important People: Justin Ward (A); Nikko Pontrello (A/M); Pat Laconi (SSDM); Zach Herreweyers (A); Jack Runkel (G); Joe Fletcher (D); Pat Frazier (D/LSM)

Formerly Important People: Mike Sawyer (A); Scott Ratliff (LSM); Josh Hawkins (SSDM); Chris Layne (M); Sean O'Sullivan (M); Davis Butts (M); Reid Acton (D)

Final 2013 Poll Positions: Media: 9; Coaches: 9

2013 Record: 11-5 (6-1, ECAC)

2013 Snapshot: Kaboom!

* * * * *

Nightmare Fuel
This is the impetus for a Death Cab for Cutie song:

  • Loyola loses three of its primary midfield options, cogs that supported a lethal attack and were able to buzz around the box as weapons with high explosivity strength. The three seniors had experience and a level of play hardened through battles at the collegiate game's highest level; that leaves a void that is difficult to address.
  • The graduations of Ratliff and Hawkins leave the 'Hounds without two of the better transition players in the nation. These are effort players with indomitable motors, losses that can be addressed differently but not with replicas. They gave the Greyhounds' defense an identity, and the circumstances they created aren't directly duplicable.
  • Sawyer -- for better or worse -- was a hammer for the 'Hounds, a high-usage player that was able to uncork fire from all over the field, stretching defenses and bringing a conscious feel to Loyola that was different than what other bombers contributed to their teams. Sawyer doesn't come from a mold; magnitude-driven players are unique in that they create vacuums necessarily. His role in Loyola's offense -- simply by existing -- was a major factor to the program's success, and the Greyhounds need to find a way to approach offensive possessions without the ability to find Sawyer in space and letting him try and push the ball through the torso of opposing keepers.
There are layered issues here, and those issues are tied to replacing assets that have pushed the 'Hounds up college lacrosse's hierarchy. Adopting a new look and feel is something that all programs need to deal with, but the Greyhounds are doing so with factors that are cumbersome.

A Thousand White Doves
There's all kinds of steam around Herreweyers. The Canadian finisher put up 19 goals in 2013 on 55 shots, all in a system that saw Ward and Sawyer dominate the bean. In fact, the sophomore attack is poised to take "The Leap" (at least according to people in polo shirts):

That potential is real -- Herreweyers has decent size, but it's his ability to ram home the ball that makes him so valuable to an offense that is going to experience growing pains in spots. His relationship with Ward could become one of the more valuable tandems in Division I lacrosse, both due to necessity and cosmic force. Even if Herreweyers only scratches the surface of his ability in 2014, though (this is, after all, a sophomore that is still growing into the Greyhounds' system (without the existence of Sawyer to take heat off of him)), the attack won't be asked to shoulder the entirety of Loyola's offensive needs: Ward was an undervalued asset last year, generating offense at a rate that should have placed him on the Tewaaraton watch list, and Nikko Pontrello should create value in the attack, forming a formidable trio to pressure opposing defenses. If the 'Hounds can get a modicum of contribution from their offensive midfield, that support will further grow the potency of Loyola's attack, alleviating total reliance on the unit to generate tallies and, consequently, putting opposing defenses in difficult positions to succeed. The Greyhounds' ceiling is tied, in part, to what Herreweyers' ceiling is, and that's something that Loyola likely feels good about.

The Stars, The Moon, Six Feet Under
The Stars: Top five campaign, cruising through the Patriot League in Loyola's inaugural season in the conference en route to the league's automatic invitation to the NCAA Tournament; double-digit wins and a high seed in the Big Barbecue; structured offense that is attack-driven and supported -- notably -- through the midfield with growing contributions; defense finds in leadership in the absence of Ratliff, Hawkins, and Acton; Championship Weekend potential with a quarterfinals reality.

The Moon: Challenges for the Patriot League title while working out the kinks in the early season; guts out victories while taking on minimal damage in the development process; if the NCAA Tournament happens, adventure in the postseason is heavily dictated by the team's draw in the Big Barbecue; Justin Ward continues to quietly dictate Loyola's offense, creating preferable circumstances for his teammates to excel; defense builds around Fletcher and creates competency; daily adventures work out in the Greyhounds' favor more than the opposition.

Six Feet Under: Offense can't coalesce its approach and becomes too focused on a handful of contributors, allowing opposing defenses to hyper-focus their efforts and stymie the 'Hounds; the holes on the defensive end are too deep to fill and Runkel's streakiness between the pipes exacerbates Loyola's defensive problems (due to overexposure and lack of consistent execution); makes the Patriot League Tournament but doesn't have the resume for a legitimate shot at the NCAA Tournament; Pontrello regresses and Herreweyers doesn't make "The Leap," needing to retool their games in the summer; Charley Toomey spontaneously combusts into confetti and the team names Pat Laconi as "Player-Coach," leading to horrific -- and confetti-littered -- results.