When the 2020 college lacrosse season ended prematurely due to COVID-19, the Loyola women’s lacrosse team was 5-0 and ranked No. 3 in the country, according to the IWLCA coaches’ poll.
All of the key contributors from last year’s Greyhounds team returned in 2021, but the season didn’t start the way Loyola expected it to. The Greyhounds lost to Syracuse, the eventual No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, to open the season, and then dropped a game to local rival Towson a few days later.
Suddenly, the team that had a potentially magical season taken away from it a year earlier was 0-2.
“We faced an incredibly talented Syracuse squad to open our season, and we got a little shell-shocked. I’ve said it — we got slapped in the face for the first game,” Loyola head coach Jen Adams said on Glenn Clark Radio May 11 of the Greyhounds’ 18-6 loss to the Orange in February. “In looking back on it now, I value that opportunity. I think it provided kind of a platform for us as a coaching staff to reevaluate what we wanted to do and needed to do and the ability to push away the season before.”
Loyola has reeled off 11 straight victories since the Syracuse and Towson losses, outscoring opponents 180-69 during the winning streak. The Greyhounds defeated Colgate, 17-6, in the Patriot League semifinals May 6 and Lehigh, 11-6, in the conference championship May 8 to earn the league’s automatic qualifier to the NCAA Tournament.
Loyola will take on Hofstra at Syracuse University May 14. The winner of that game will face the Orange May 16. If the Greyhounds are fortunate enough to advance, Syracuse will see a different Loyola team than it faced early in the season.
The Greyhounds learned from their early losses by identifying holes in their game and making adjustments as the season went along, according to Adams. An 18-6 win at Villanova March 3 steadied the ship, and 21-4 win against American March 6 got Loyola back to .500.
The smallest margin of victory during the winning streak has been three goals.
“I just think the confidence as you start to win games, we saw that kind of sparkle, that reunited energy about where this team could go and what they could do,” Adams said. “I just think they needed to get some games under their belt, some wins under their belt to latch back on to that confidence, and that confidence has really carried us through the Patriot League championship and hopefully into postseason play.”
On the offensive side, the Greyhounds are led by senior attacker Livy Rosenzweig (32 goals, 42 assists), senior midfielder Sam Fiedler (32, 13), junior midfielder Jillian Wilson (23, 16) senior midfielder Elli Kluegel (26, 6) and sophomore attacker Emily Wills (21, 11).
With 319 career points entering the NCAA Tournament, Rosenzweig is the program’s all-time leader in points. Adams said Rosenzweig, who is planning to return for a fifth year in 2022, “sets the tone” for the Greyhounds because of what she does on the field beyond scoring goals.
“That’s just crucial and key for our team,” Adams said. “She leads in such a way that inspires and motivates others, and I think they derive confidence from her. With how she plays the game, she’s so calm. She sees double teams, triple teams. She just takes it all in stride and plays the game. I think that kind of mentality is something that rallies the team and they all get behind, which is great.”
Loyola’s defense is anchored by senior goalkeeper Kaitlyn Larsson. She has started all 13 games in net for the Greyhounds, posting a .519 save percentage and 7.84 goals-against average. But don’t forget the defenders in front of Larsson, including juniors Katie Detwiler (16 ground balls, 5 caused turnovers) and Shay Clevenger (10, 11) and sophomore Riley Olmstead (6, 4).
Adams pointed out Olmstead, the sister of Loyola men’s lacrosse star Aidan Olmstead, as an under-the-radar contributor for the Greyhounds.
“She was phenomenal in our Patriot League championship — something that people watching the game may not have even picked up on or known,” Adams said. “But she’s been a staple markup defender for us and I think has stepped into that role, getting her first career starts and doing a really phenomenal job for us.”
Now, the task at hand is defeating Hofstra, which is 6-6 overall and lost in the CAA semifinals to James Madison. Senior attacker Alyssa Parrella (42 goals, 16 assists) will surely be on Adams’ mind heading into the May 14 contest, but the coach wants her team playing loose in the biggest games.
“I think postseason play comes down to just playing fearless,” Adams said. “You got here for a reason. It’s just stepping out onto the field, enjoying the process and making sure that our players come in with confidence into a game and that they play with that fearlessness that they’ve played with all season and don’t layer it with any pressures or expectations about what happens moving forward.”
For more from Adams, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Larry French