Nov. 7, 2007
By Terence Foy
loyolagreyhounds.com Staff Writer
John Byford won MAAC Coach of the Year last year. Last year, he had stars.
This year, he is leading a young, resilient group into the MAAC Championships with a 5-0-4 record and probably his best coaching job since taking over the head coaching spot from Joe Mallia in 2005.
With their youth so apparent, the experience that the Greyhounds do have has been case to the forefront, and much of that experience belongs to the team's lone seniors, midfielders Brynn McGrath and Brittany Marano.
McGrath and Marano will lead Loyola to Poughkeepsie, N.Y., to take on Fairfield on Friday. The game will be a rematch of last week's 2-2 tie, a match that Loyola led 2-0 after an hour of play, but let the Stags back in before holding on for the draw.
"I think it's always tough to play a team two times in a week," McGrath said. "It will be a barrier in the back of our minds, but at the same time, they have to play us twice in a week, too."
The fourth-year duo on Byford's squad will be looking to put a nice finishing touch on their Loyola soccer careers. Marano was a part of the Greyhounds 2004 MAAC Championship team, but McGrath, who transferred to Loyola from UCLA after her freshman season, lost in the semifinals both years she's been at Loyola, to Fairfield her first year and in the semifinals to Siena last year.
"It would be awesome to end on a note like that," McGrath said. "It'd be awesome to play in a NCAA Tournament game and represent Loyola."
If the Greyhounds are going to get there, they will have to ride the wave of defense and surprising playmaking that has carried them all season. Sophomore goalkeeper Brittany Henderson has been sterling defending the net, stopping 86 percent of the shots she faced en route to allowing fewer than one goal per game.
Offensively, Loyola has been getting contributions from all over the field as seven players have notched three goals or more, while junior midfielder Theresa Ferraina leads the bunch with seven.
That formula for winning can be tenuous, but Byford sounds confident when talking about his team's chances this weekend.
Much of that confidence can be traced to McGrath, who Byford says has been a steadying force for the midfield. Coming to Loyola in order to be closer to home, McGrath says that she was attracted to Loyola because she had for so long heard only good things about the school and the program.
Now that she is in a leadership position, she is relishing the opportunity to give back.
"I think I've always been someone people look to, and I've tried to lead by example," McGrath said. "Being a captain and taking on a lot of the leadership responsibility, I think my teammates respect that I've been able to overcome a lot on and off of the field."
Marano, who has played in all but five games this season, has been an integral part of the Greyhounds success, as she has gotten the chance to play her natural position as a defensive midfielder. After bouncing around the field for most of her career at Loyola, Byford says Marano has excelled as a holding midfielder, also praising her work ethic and willingness to do what's asked of her when she's called upon.
In truth, Byford could have been talking about any of his players, and that's a testament to the job he's done this season.
Now he'll get to see whether is carries over to the second season.