first_imgEven growing up in New Jersey, Pat Laconi was a huge fan of Maryland lacrosse. When he started receiving offers to play in college, though, the Terrapins never showed any interest.After college lacrosse’s traditional powers passed on him, Laconi chose to attend Loyola (Md.), a Catholic school in Baltimore with less than 4,000 undergraduates.Loyola shocked the nation in 2012, starting the season unranked then losing only one game on the way to its first national championship.For Laconi, now a junior, it was that much sweeter when the Greyhounds dismantled Maryland in the national title game.“Elation is not a good enough word,” Laconi said. “We wanted to get recruited by these big state schools, and a lot of us slipped through the cracks. Maybe we were late bloomers or just didn’t seem as viable to those types of schools.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textLoyola’s championship run, fueled mostly by players overlooked by college lacrosse’s historically dominant teams, embodies a shift in lacrosse nationally. Seven teams, including Syracuse, Johns Hopkins, Princeton and Maryland, have won 39 of the 42 national championships. Duke, the 2010 winner, and Loyola are the only teams to have won just once.Loyola’s championship run reflects the growth of the sport outside of its traditional hotbeds, coaches said. More interest in the sport, and consequently a larger pool of top-tier recruits, has leveled the playing field in recent years, and Loyola’s championship should only accelerate the trend.“Just look at our roster. We have players from Texas, Ohio, Florida and on down the line in addition to the traditional hotbeds,” Syracuse head coach John Desko said. “There are a lot more players around the country playing the game at a high level. As a result, there’s more parity in college lacrosse and I think you’ll continue to see that going forward.”Loyola’s remarkable run is a blueprint for the future success of smaller programs. Laconi and head coach Charley Toomey said the Greyhounds’ success in 2012 can be attributed to a combination of meticulous preparation, staunch defense and dazzling individual performances.The Greyhounds won their first 12 games with an average margin of victory of more than five goals per game. Johns Hopkins defeated Loyola 10-9 in overtime April 28, handing the Greyhounds their first and only loss of the season.Toomey said Loyola’s next game, a 14-13 win against Denver in the Eastern Conference Athletic Association semifinals on May 2, proved to him that he had a special team.“I was really taken aback that I had a sophomore starter saying, ‘We can’t wait to get on the plane and go play Denver. We need to get this taste out of our mouth,’” Toomey said. “To go back out there and beat Denver a second time, that’s when I started to think this was a unique group.”Loyola never lost the rest of the way en route to the national championship. Then-sophomore goalie Jack Runkel, who came off of the bench in Loyola’s second game of the year and eventually started in all but three games, led Loyola’s defensive effort.The Greyhounds allowed 5.5 goals per game in the NCAA Tournament. Runkel allowed just three goals in the final, a championship game record.Senior attacker Eric Lusby led the Loyola offense, scoring a record 17 goals in the tournament. Laconi, who played a contributing role at defensive midfield during the run, said defensive game-planning was the most crucial part of the tournament run.“Every single situation that we had the entire playoff run, except for the Canisius game, we knew every single thing the other team was going to do all the time,” Laconi said. “All we had to do was go to the correct place and show off our athleticism.”This year, people have been congratulating Toomey on winning one for “the little guy.” Toomey has experienced the struggles of small programs since his time in college, when he started at goaltender for a Loyola team that lost to Syracuse in the 1990 national championship game.Now, Toomey’s program is creating momentum for other small teams. One of the biggest implications of Loyola’s championship is that more programs are trying to get competitive, Toomey said.“From an administrative standpoint, you have some schools that are considering picking up the sport, which is great for lacrosse overall” Toomey said. “But you also have programs that do support the sport but maybe say, ‘We need to throw some more resources at the program.’”One such program is Villanova, which started phasing scholarships into lacrosse in the past year. Adding scholarships has been a challenge, but it makes the program more appealing, Villanova associate head coach Simon Connor said.The recruiting pool, particularly from places like Canada, has grown in recent years, he said. Connor attributes it to increased exposure for teams outside of the traditional elite. As the sport continues to grow and the recruiting pool gets bigger, smaller programs will continue to assert themselves, though not to the point of making the traditional powers irrelevant, Connor said.“I still think they’re going to be very good, but I think you’ll see more schools competing,” Connor said. “I don’t think Loyola’s championship is a fluke.”Toomey doesn’t know whether his program’s success will cause it, but he said the college lacrosse field will continue to even out in the next 10 years. He attributes it to the growth of the top-tier recruiting pool.Players like Lusby may slip through the cracks and into a smaller program, and another Laconi might go unnoticed by the nation’s elite.“It’s not just the traditional powers that are getting these great guys,” Toomey said. “There are enough to go around for all of us.” Comments Related Stories Where the light is: With more experience, Syracuse searches for way to reclaim past gloryLong way home: Maltz living boyhood dream after years on lacrosse outskirtsBall hawk: After decorated high school football career, Mullins thrives as defender on lacrosse fieldNet natural: Wardwell becomes force in cage after years of preparing for Division-I spotlightLighting it up: Syracuse’s new-look attack anchors offense, scoring responsibilities Published on February 14, 2013 at 3:16 am Contact Jacob: [email protected]center_img Facebook Twitter Google+last_img