Aug. 26, 2004
Baltimore, Md. - With a very youthful squad in 2003, Loyola won its fifth consecutive regular season MAAC Championship and narrowly missed a third straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The Greyhounds lost a heartbreaking one-goal match in the conference championship game and enter this season with a renewed hunger for another championship and postseason success."We were a very young team last year," says Loyola Head Coach Mark Mettrick. "We add five new players this year after losing only two seniors. Hopefully these new additions will strengthen our squad and help us return to the national tournament."The `Hounds lose graduated seniors Steven Coleman and John Alecci yet return a solid nucleus of talent that includes 2003 MAAC Rookie and Offensive Player of the Year Omar Alfonso. Sophomore Gabe Ortega was a second-team All-MAAC selection in his first season with the Greyhounds while Michael Kolosvary and Danny Wheelan joined Alfonso and Ortega on the MAAC Rookie team, giving Loyola an outstanding sophomore class.Seniors Jim Gottermeyer and Jay Joyce will captain Loyola's young talent. They will be supported by fellow seniors Chase Franklin, Kevin Nash, Brian O'Connor and Greg Peters, all of whom will assume leadership roles."The senior class will be instrumental in keeping the team focused on its ultimate goal," adds Mettrick. "We will need their leadership to bind this group into an effective side. We have good individual talent, we need to become a good team."Behind the senior class is a junior group that includes John Dalziel, Mark Donnelly, Nate Lyden, Danny Mulcahy and Vinnie Piscopo. This class brings many scoring options and versatility with four of the five playing midfield and forward positions.The five newcomers include freshmen Ray Hassett, a standout at Saint John the Baptist High School (Long Island), who brings high school and club teammates Camilo Correa and Frank Spanos, two highly technical and gifted players with an abundance of soccer experience. Walk-on Michael Mallia, also a Long Island product, will compete for time while freshman Janson Blake brings size and athleticism to the Loyola defense.The strength of the team looks to be in its offense with a returning class that showed its knack for creating chances and scoring goals, accounting for 109 of Loyola's 118 points last season. Headlining the list of options needs to be Alfonso. His spectacular freshman campaign produced 17 goals, the most of any freshman in the nation. Alfonso led Loyola with six multiple-goal games and was honored the MAAC's top offensive player as well as garnering Rookie of the Year honors. Fortunately for Alfonso, who has worked hard in the offseason to avoid the sophomore jinx, he developed a very successful partnership with Nash, last year's second-leading scorer and another offensive option for Loyola.Nash is coming off his best collegiate season with seven goals and 20 points. He will fight Lyden and Piscopo for his starting job as well as Donnelly, a transfer from Mercer University who earned more and more playing time as last season wore on.Just like the forward position, the midfield is also loaded with options. Highly technical players and pure athletes give Loyola a good mix at the position, which is anchored by Joyce. A starter in all 21 of Loyola's game's last season, Joyce is a right midfielder with excellent speed and conditioning."Jay Joyce has become a legitimate impact player at Loyola," says Mettrick. "He has great competitive qualities and that's why he's been a captain the last two seasons."Wheelan, a two-footed technical player, returns after starting 19 games his freshman season. Dalziel started 18 games last year while sophomore Rade Kokovic started six times. They will all battle for a starting role on this year's squad, but will be challenged by the likes of O'Connor and sophomore Julian Cantillo, who have worked hard in the spring and summer and are ready to compete for significant playing time.Add in a quartet of freshmen talent and the midfield has a surplus of depth. Hassett is a versatile competitor who can also play the forward and defense positions while Correa is a left-sided skill player with tremendous touch. On the right side, Spanos and Mallia bring even more skill to the lineup for Coach Mettrick."We don't have a lot of game experience at midfield," says Mettrick. "We still have a lot to prove at that position."A lot questions also surround the defensive unit this season. Questions about who will play where and what system will best fit the talent head that list.Gottermeyer, who suffered a season-ending hip injury last season, leads the relatively young unit. Showing its youth, the Loyola backfield is anchored by Ortega, a sophomore who may be the most prominent Greyhound defender. Ortega earned second-team All-MAAC honors and was named to the MAAC All-Rookie team last season.Senior Chase Franklin is back after and excellent season in which he started every game. Kolosvary, who started 11 games last year, looks to get more consistent time this season and Blake, who comes to Loyola after being named the high school athlete of the year in Ottawa, Canada, will also compete for a spot in the lineup.In goal, Loyola used a trio of goalkeepers last season and all three return in 2004. Peters is the senior of this unit and may have the upper hand after pitching a complete game shutout of Villanova in Loyola's first preseason competition. He will, however, receive plenty of competition from a pair of highly qualified candidates in Mulcahy and sophomore Justin Chelland, who finished 2003 with five shutouts and seven wins in goal.The Greyhounds open 2004 with Princeton at home on September 3. They host George Mason two days later before playing in the Patriots' tournament the following weekend. Back-to-back games against 2003 Final Four participants Santa Clara and Maryland highlight the non-conference portion while tough games against Pennsylvania and William & Mary should get the `Hounds ready for MAAC play."Every year we try to build a schedule that will give us a chance at an at-large NCAA Tournament bid," says Mettrick. "I think this year's schedule is proof of that."A lot of questions still need to be answered before this team can cement its legacy into any history book. Mettrick now has the task of fitting all the pieces into a complete championship puzzle. They know it won't be an easy road, but the goals still remain high for a Greyhound team that won't settle for anything less than a national tournament berth.