The Loyola Greyhounds travel to Philadelphia to compete in the NCAA men's lacrosse semifinals. The Hounds will be taking on the Tar Heels of North Carolina Saturday at noon.
This weekend's trip is the program's fourth all-time to Championship Weekend. Just four years ago, head coach Charley Toomey led the Hounds to an NCAA championship title. He's stressing to his team just how unique the opportunity is in front of them.
"I've only been to three of them, I've been coaching for 21 years," Toomey said. "One as a player and two as a coach... so you're not given anything. You have to earn it."
Loyola has proved they can grit out victories - in the first round against Duke and last weekend again Towson. A big part of their success comes from a pair of freshmen.
On the offensive end, rookie attackman Pat Spencer has recorded two or more points in all 17 games this season. With his four points (3g, 1a) against Towson in the NCAA Quarterfinals, Spencer moved into a tie for third in single-season points (83) in program history.
"It's been exciting to be part of this team," Spencer said. "My teammates have really made it easy on me, my coaches made it easy on me. They've just allowed me to play with a lot of confidence."
Spencer is ranked second nationally with 2.76 assists per game and fourth nationally with 4.88 points, topping all other freshmen.
Defensively, the Greyhounds are anchored by freshman goalie Jacob Stover. In last week's victory over the Tigers, Stover made two saves in the final 30 seconds to seal Loyola's victory. He ranks second nationally in both goals-against average (7.14) and saves percentage (.591).
"I believe that the mentality that I bring to the defense definitely, I think helps," Stover said. "But I mean I have a senior and I have a junior and I have a sophomore in front of me and I'm the freshman goalie. I'm listening to them, they're leading me."
"Pat [Spencer] is running our offense and Jacob Stover's anchoring our defense and couldn't be more proud of those two young men at the moment," Toomey said. "But they're not doing it alone."
Senior attacker Zach Herreweyers has scored 23 goals in Loyola's last seven games. He's recorded 20 career hat tricks in 41 games. Junior attacker Zach Sirico has scored 12 of his 19 goals since the beginning of April.
Toomey became just the second coach in Loyola men's lacrosse history to record 100 wins on Feb. 27 against Lafayette. In his 11th season at Loyola, he is 111-23.
"I told them with each round, it becomes a little more special," Toomey said. "To have the opportunity to play in the Final Four, I just want our guys to enjoy the moment, to enjoy the journey that they've been on for the whole season."
Loyola won their first NCAA Division I Championship in any sport in 2012 when the men's lacrosse team defeated Maryland 9-3. The win capped an 18-1 season.