A stalwart lacrosse defender, Loyola’s Shay Clevenger is always concerned about proximity.
She wants to stay tight on top scorers from opposing teams. She wants to ward them away from the Greyhound goal, and she seemingly is always around every ground ball. Clevenger also wants to keep loaded Loyola close to the top in the national rankings. The Greyhounds open 2021 No. 4 in the first Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association poll.
A year ago when she was looking for a new home, proximity played a part as well. Clevenger wanted to get closer to her old home in Woodstock, Md. The Marriotts Ridge High product packed up and left Louisville where she had starred as a freshman in 2019 and took her talents to North Baltimore.
She averaged 3.2 ground balls per game last spring, which led the Patriot League and ranked 22nd in the nation. She earned Patriot League Defensive Player of the Week honors in early March and was on her way to a great season before everything shut down due to COVID.
“Shay is an incredible team defender, one of those players always there to have her teammates’ back, front, side, whatever they need,” Loyola head coach Jen Adams said. “There seems like there’s more Shays on the field than just one. She’s always around the ball and always in helping situations and around ground balls. She has an uncanny knack of reading a play defensively.”
Adams said Clevenger’s skills and instincts are so ingrained in the Loyola defense that they elevate the entire unit. It’s no coincidence that fellow Greyhound defender Katie Detwiler was named preseason Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year.
“[Shay] allows our other players to play more aggressively,” Adams said. “Somebody like Katie Detwiler can go out and get after her opponent because Shay has her back if she does get beat. There’s a lot of confidence and trust on that defensive unit.”
Clevenger has always gravitated toward defense. A psychology major, she may not get inside opponents’ heads, but she’s never far away from them physically and ready to thwart any attack. Clevenger was the same way at Louisville, leading the team and ranking third in the ACC in ground balls as a freshman.
“I had a great year [at Louisville] but it just made the most sense to come home,” said Clevenger, a third-team IWLCA preseason All-America pick. “I wanted to be closer to my family, so the proximity drew me, and the family atmosphere at Loyola has been great. I didn’t ever feel like a transfer here.”
And while lacrosse keeps getting bigger, if you don’t believe lacrosse is still a small world, consider the case of Clevenger, now a pivotal performer on the Greyhounds’ suffocating defense thanks a lot to Maryland head coach Cathy Reese.
Yep. When Clevenger thought playing for Louisville wasn’t in the Cards for her anymore, a lot of local lacrosse powers were in play, including the Terrapins. Reese has Shay’s sister, midfielder Eloise, among her latest freshman class and the Maryland coach has a strong relationship with the entire Clevenger family.
“We got really lucky with the tip that [Shay] wanted to come back local and we had a great, natural conversation and felt really good about it,” Adams said. “Cathy was looking out for [Shay], she just wanted her to find a home and a fit that was right for her.”
Yeah, but the tip came from an opposing coach. This isn’t typical of college recruiting — though maybe typical of good friends, once on the same team and still on the same page.
“Cathy and I are best friends so she knows my coaching style,” said Adams, who was an assistant and associate head coach under Reese for five seasons. “I coached under Cathy and she has been an incredible mentor for many, many years. Cathy was looking out for the person before the player. That’s the way she is.”
Reese laughed and tried to make it sound not quite so altruistic.
“I think Shay is a great player and she has a great family. When she was looking to transfer — we have roster limits — and as much as I would have loved that chance to coach her, I think Jen is one of the best coaches in lacrosse, not only one of my best friends. It’s a great mix and a great spot for [Shay], though I wish it was Maryland.”
A more veteran-laden Loyola team is ranked ahead of Maryland this preseason, but the two teams share many traits, not the least of which is the attitude of their coaches.
“Jen always talks about having fun,” Clevenger said. “About being here for each other, having fun and the way we all love the sport. Our chemistry is the best and we’re so close on and off the field.”
There you go, Shay. Back to proximity.
And this year, she and so many of those talented teammates might just get Loyola close enough to contend for a national championship.
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Photo Credit: Ryan Samson/Loyola Athletic Communications