It’s not often you can see a top five high school lacrosse team and top five high school volleyball team play on the same day, let alone on the same campus. But yesterday was not a typical day at Loyola High School.
At 3 p.m., the Cubs’ fifth ranked boys lacrosse team hosted 22nd ranked Crespi Celts on Loyola’s Smith Field; three hours later and fifty feet away, the Cubs’ fourth ranked Boys Volleyball team hosted the 24th ranked Notre Dame Knights inside Loyola’s Leavy Gymnasium.
Location wasn’t the only theme these two games had in common: both games saw the home Cubs get off to slow, sluggish starts and struggle to stay focused at times thereafter. Maybe the lapses in energy were the result of the highly favorited Cubs looking ahead at the bigger fish awaiting them on the calendar instead of the task at hand (the lacrosse team has a matchup against eighth ranked rival Palos Verdes on the 27th, while the volleyball team is set to make its first appearance in nine years in the prestigious Tournament of Champions in Santa Barbara this weekend). Or maybe it was simply that Thursday had been a long, tough day at school.
“It’s hard to say why somebody comes out flat-footed, but we did,” admits Loyola boys lacrosse head coach Seth Cohen. “We just came out flat.” And so did the boys volleyball team a few hours later. Thankfully for both squads, the two games shared another common theme: both teams overcame the slow starts to dominate a large stretch of the game and prove why they are both so deserving of their high rankings.
rnBoys LacrosseIf at first you don’t succeed ...
With the chance to clinch the Mission League on the line, Loyola was heavily favored going into Thursday afternoon’s matchup versus Crespi. And the Celts couldn’t have cared less. Thanks to aggressive, inspired play, Crespi dominated both the time of possession and the scoreboard in the first quarter. Senior attackers Sean Friedman, Cameron Radenberg, Alex Dixon and Seth Park each whipped one into the net to give Crespi the early momentum.
The Cubs, meanwhile, looked completely out of sync, and managed only one first quarter goal courtesy of senior tri-captain midfielder Harrison Mac. “The first quarter, we just played incredibly dumb, and we didn’t possess the ball at all,” says Cohen. “We probably had the ball maybe for a minute and a half the whole time.” “We were just being sloppy out there,” Mac says simply.
rnSecond quarter scuffle
After an immensely physical first quarter that saw Crespi come out aggressively, tempers on both sides flared midway through the second quarter and led to literal punches being thrown. A scuffle involving multiple players broke out along the sideline in front of Crespi’s bench, and resulted in one player from each team getting ejected from the game. “It was unacceptable,” laments Mac. “Us as Loyola, we don’t advocate that kind of behavior. After that, we told ourselves to start playing with class, and that’s it.”
rnFlip the script
Though the Loyola players weren’t proud of the scuffle, it certainly did seem to wake them up. Facing a 5-2 deficit at the time of the outbreak, the Cubs outscored the Celts 8-1 in the ensuing 18 minutes.
Mac was particularly fired up, galvanizing Loyola with four goals during that stretch, including an impressive sequence in which he scored two goals within 30 seconds of each other. “I knew that running their goalie wasn’t their strong suit,” explains Mac, “so I thought that if I could take advantage of that and put it [the ball] hard to the cage, either I’d have someone else slide to me and draw an extra guy, or I could take it to the cage.”
Mac also received plenty of help on offense from sophomore midfielders Jonathan Partamian and Ryder Mora (two goals each), freshman attacker Henry Hassenberg, junior midfielder Mike Lira and junior tri-captain attacker Sean Smith (one goal each). “We had a lot of fire, and we finally started to look for each other … push the action and be smart,” says Cohen of his squad’s second half turnaround.
“Once we were able to focus in, we were really able to turn it around, get together, and play our game like we’re used to playing,” adds Smith.
As stellar as Loyola’s offense was in the third quarter, the Cubs were perhaps even better on defense. Led by sophomore goalie Joe Theuer, who provided a number of sensational saves, the Loyola defense did not allow a single Crespi goal in the entire third quarter. “Joe is definitely our defensive counterpoint,” says Mac of the Cub goalie. “He holds down the fort. Whenever someone messes up, he’s right there to save us. We’re really fortunate to have such a strong stopper in the back.”
rnDon’t go quietly into the night
It looked as though Theuer and the Loyola D might shut down Crespi for the entire second half until, with just over six minutes to play, Dixon scored a goal to end Crespi’s scoreless streak and make the score 12-7. But shortly thereafter, Crespi scored again on a shot by Park, and then, less than a minute later, again on a flick from junior defenseman Dan LaCava. Suddenly, with 2:11 left in the game, the Crespi deficit was only four, at 13-9.
Loyola didn’t allow any more goals for the rest of the game, but the Celts’ quick burst did serve as a reminder to the Cubs that, its incredible third quarter notwithstanding, Thursday’s effort was far from their best. “We need to put together four quarters,” insists Smith in assessing his team’s future outlook. “We need to be able to stay focused … and click throughout the entire game.”
“We want to win every quarter, and win every quarter easily,” echoes Mac. “We just gotta capitalize on more opportunities.”
rnUp next: Chaminade
Although Loyola clinched the Mission League title with its victory Thursday, don’t expect the Cubs to spend the remainder of the regular season in cruise control. “One of our goals was to win the Mission League, and we feel pretty good about winning it, but we still want to go and sweep the league this year,” insists Cohen. “We have more than just aspirations to win the Mission League,” adds Smith. “We want to win out, undefeated.”
Whether it succeeds in staying undefeated in league play remains to be seen, but Thursday’s win did guarantee that Loyola will be representing the Mission League in the state playoffs, a showcase in which the Cubs plan to do a lot of damage. “I think we can go all the way,” says a confident Theuer. “What we have to do is focus as a team and keep our eyes on our end goal, which is to win LA and then go on to win the CIF...I think we can do it.”
“Last year we lost in the quarterfinals to Palos Verdes, and this year we want to make sure we get to that finals game,” adds Coach Cohen. “We’re hoping that it’s also against Palos Verdes, and we’d like to beat them. And if you do that and get to the championship, you never know what can happen.”
rnBoys VolleyballBack and forth we go
As arguably the best volleyball team in the state, Loyola is greeted by the most inspired effort of every opponent it faces. Thursday night was no different, as the Notre Dame Knights came into the matchup with energy to spare and every intention of taking out the Mission League’s top dog. And while the Cubs never faced a deficit nearly as drastic as the 4-0 deficit their lacrosse counterparts faced earlier that afternoon, they did suffer from a similarly lackadaisical start, finding themselves simply trading points back and forth with Notre Dame for much of game one.
“I think these guys were looking forward to the weekend [when the Cubs will be the number one seed in the Tournament of Champions],” suggests Loyola head coach Michael Boehle in assessing his team’s sluggish start Thursday. “They have the tendency to overlook their opponent at times, and we can’t do that. Especially when these guys [i.e. Mission League opponents] are the underdog and are gunning for Loyola every single time. We haven’t really been tested that much in the league, and these guys want to show they can play with us.”
Coach Boehle also thinks that some of the strategies he employed Thursday night in order to help prepare his players for the stiff competition they’ll face this weekend may have also played a role in Loyola’s subpar first game. “Our league is sometimes one-sided, so we’re trying to do different things,” explains Boehle. “We set goals for ourselves and try to work on certain things that are going to get us ready for certain matches. It just took us a little while to get it started, but we had a rule that was in place for the first game, and we had to follow that rule and that was we were going to set our middles only in transition. So in serve-receive situations, we weren’t allowed to set our middles. It just took a little while for us to get going, but it paid off.”
It sure did. Loyola found its groove roughly halfway through game one, and managed to gain some separation from Notre Dame. Senior outside hitter Matt Reilly and junior setter Casey McGarry were immensely active around the net, and senior libero Matt Douglas contributed a number of volley-saving digs to help Loyola build a 15-12 lead. Thanks to some clutch plays from junior outside hitter Connor Peterson and senior outside hitter Jimmy Hall, Notre Dame battled back to knot the score at 21.
But once again, Loyola found a rhythm, and generated a 4-1 rally highlighted by a vicious spike from senior middle blocker Kyle Jasuta to give the Cubs game one, 25-22.
“In the first game, maybe we were a little bit nervous,” claims sophomore outside hitter J.P. Reilly. “Some things just weren’t clicking. Our timing was just a little bit off. But we had to just get used to each other out there on the court. This was a team we had never played before. After we got into our groove and how we normally play, things got good from there.”
rnGame Two takeover
In game two, things got really good for Loyola. The Cubs dominated from start to finish to earn a 25-12 win. “We played our game, and it went pretty easily,” says Boehle of Loyola’s blowout game two victory. “The kids showed a lot of heart and dedication there.”
“I think we got all the kinks out in the first game, and in the second game, we were just kind of cruising,” adds Douglas. “Everyone was playing well, and everyone was stepping up.”
No one stepped up more than J.P. Reilly. The sophomore racked up several sensational spikes and blocks all throughout the second game, particularly during the home stretch, when he delivered the final hit on four of Loyola’s final five points, including the game-sealing spike. Loyola was also boosted by the play of senior outside hitter Luke Nassif both near the net and from the serve.
rnClearing the bench
With his Cubs holding a commanding two games to none lead, Boehle opted to sit his starters and rely on his reserves for the third and (Loyola hoped) final game. But Notre Dame had other plans.
Led by senior outside hitter Max Ball and senior libero David Decker, the Knights capitalized on Loyola’s removal of its starters to earn a 25-20 game three win and extend the evening. “I want to get guys in there and get some playing time, and they all earn it,” says Boehle. “And unfortunately, we couldn’t close it out, so I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place sometimes. You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I’m always proud of the effort, it’s just unfortunately sometimes you can’t close it out. It happens.”
rnShaking off the rust
Loyola sent its heavy hitters back out on the court for game four, which meant that the starters had to thwart off not only Notre Dame’s newfound momentum, but also the rustiness that had set in from sitting out an entire game.
In the early going, the Cubs appeared to be losing both battles, as their play resembled their tumultuous first game more often than its seamless second game. The Knights, meanwhile, continued to feed off the energy they attained in their game three win, and established a 12-11 lead.
Loyola responded by generating a 5-1 run highlighted by a McGarry ace serve and a spike courtesy of JP Reilly so emphatic that it incited a major spike in crowd volume. But there was one fight left in the underdog; fueled by Ball’s activity near the net, Notre Dame battled back to tie the game at 23.
Determined to call it a night rather than have to play a fifth and deciding game, Loyola received back-to-back spikes from McGarry and junior middle blocker Jack Truman to earn the 25-23 game four win.
According to the Cubs‘ personnel, holding off Notre Dame’s valiant last stand was a great test in mental toughness. “Things weren’t really going well because we were kind of rusty,” admits Douglas, “but we told each other ‘keep fighting and keep staying together. And we’ll pull it out eventually.’”
Loyola also appeared to be energized by a timeout called by Boehle late in the game. “I was just … concerned with the way we were playing the game,” recalls Boehle. “We had a very lazy, non-interested way of going about it. And I don’t want to play that way. I want to play fast. I want to play motivated. I want to play happy. I want to play excited. And we were bored … they looked bored, and I don’t like that.”
“These guys [the Knights] are coming out to compete, and we talk about that all the time,” continues Boehle. “I don’t care who’s on the other side of the net. They want to go and beat you, so you can’t take those teams lightly. Sometimes cockiness sets in as opposed to confidence, and that’s what I told them. We’re not a cocky team. We’re a confident team. Let’s get back to it and play our brand of volleyball.”
rnUp next: The Tournament of Champions
Like the lacrosse game earlier in the day, Loyola’s performance in the boys volleyball game had its coach delivering a relieved “I’m glad we got the win, guys, but ...” post-game speech. But also, just like their lacrosse-playing classmates, the Cub volleyballers will face a tough, worthy adversary in their immediate future. And they know that an on-and-off performance like the one they put forth on Thursday simply won’t cut it.
“We’ve got a big weekend coming up, and we gotta focus, because there’s going to be teams way, way better,” says JP Reilly. “We just gotta focus, and push.”
“I’m pretty excited about who’s in it,” says Boehle. “We’ve got five of the top ten teams in the CIF that are going to be up there ... I hope that we can finish in the top four, if not win this thing.”
Whether or not they take the tournament is anyone’s guess. But one thing’s for sure: with some of the toughest competition in the state champing at the bit to topple the tournament’s top seed, the Loyola Cubs most certainly won’t play bored.