Ten games into the 2021 season, the Loyola men’s lacrosse team was 5-5 and the path to an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament was looking increasingly narrow. But the Greyhounds won their next four games — including key ones against Georgetown and Army — which put them in solid position.
As it turned out, Loyola didn’t have a chance to compete for the Patriot League championship against Lehigh — and the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament — due to a positive COVID-19 test within the Greyhounds’ program. Thus, the Greyhounds’ victory against Army in the conference semifinals May 7 seemingly clinched an at-large bid for Loyola.
The Greyhounds will play Denver in the first round of the NCAA Tournament May 16, and Loyola graduate long-stick midfielder Ryan McNulty thinks his team is peaking at just the right time.
“One of our captains, Matt Higgins, he’s a fifth year as well just like me. He made a great quote to the team just saying how we’re the chicken in the egg that hasn’t hatched yet, but right now we’re hatching at the right time,” McNulty said on Glenn Clark Radio May 12. “That stuck with everybody. We’re ready to hatch. We’re ready to get hot right now.”
Considering that Loyola, Army and Syracuse were vying for the final two at-large bids — and the Black Knights didn’t get in — it’s likely that Loyola-Army served as a play-in game for the tournament. Eight Greyhounds scored goals against Army, with graduate midfielder Peter Swindell, senior attackman Aidan Olmstead and junior midfielder Riley Seay all scoring two goals.
The Greyhounds had an 11-8 lead against the Black Knights with less than five minutes to go, but Army scored two goals in rapid-fire succession to push Loyola to the limit before the final horn.
“Beating Army on Friday night, that feeling that you get after running off the field — running to go get your goalie after a huge win — everything’s worth it with that sacrifice,” McNulty said, referring to COVID-19 restrictions. “It has been hard and it has been tough — I’m not going to sit here and say it wasn’t. It’s worth it is all I’ve got to say.”
McNulty has played all 14 games for Loyola, scoring four goals, dishing out six assists, picking up 42 ground balls and causing 18 turnovers. One of his goals this season was one for his own personal highlight reel, too:
McNulty is glad he came back to Loyola for a fifth year after last year was cut short. And since the NCAA has granted athletes a free year of eligibility with the difficulties of COVID-19, McNulty has an opportunity to come back for a sixth year.
One of the people who encouraged McNulty to come back to Loyola was former Johns Hopkins head coach Dave Pietramala. He has known Pietramala for some time and saw him at a lacrosse tournament last summer.
“He just told me that you don’t want to leave a year out on the table,” McNulty said. “It’s so worth it [to stay]. He said there’s nothing like college lacrosse, so I have made up my mind that I am going to take that extra year. His words kind of helped me see through that and then a lot of other people, but I’m definitely going to use that extra year, just take advantage of it while I can.”
But for now, McNulty is focused on beating Denver. The Pioneers are 12-4 thanks in part to the work of four 30-goal scorers: Ethan Walker (37), Jack Hannah (34), Alex Simmons (31) and Jackson Morrill (30). Should the Greyhounds take care of the Pioneers, they’ll face the winner of Duke-High Point.
The game will take place at Denver University, marking easily the longest road trip of the year for Loyola.
“There’s definitely a lot of restrictions with [traveling due to COVID-19], but no distractions is going to be our motto. Just got to keep our eyes on the prize, stay hot,” McNulty said. “I think right now our whole team is so happy that we’re in and we have this opportunity. We’re peaking at the right time, so it’s just going to take trusting your teammates and some discipline out there and we’ll get it done.”
For more from McNulty, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Larry French