Backed by a defense that allowed an average of only 5.0 goals per game over the course of the season, the Loyola Cubs steamrolled through the playoffs and won their second consecutive US Lacrosse LA/OC Championship on Saturday, defeating Orange County champion Foothill 13-4 at Palos Verdes HS.
Before last year, no LA-area team had won the LA/OC title. Now the Cubs have gone back-to-back, largely on the strength of their senior defensive unit. Anchored by goalie Joe Theuer (Tufts) and led by close defenders Nick Mohler (Boston University), Niko Econn (Air Force) and Morgan Lewis (Washington College), Loyola allowed only 20 goals in five playoff games. In 25 games over the course of the 2017 season, the Cubs (21-4) allowed an opponent to reach double digits only twice.
Saturday, the Cubs’ attacking, match-up zone gave Foothill fits, much like it did in a 13-7 Loyola win over Foothill in March. The Knights came in averaging 12 goals per game over their last six contests and had not scored fewer than nine in that span. Against Loyola, though, they managed to put only 10 shots on goal and didn’t score their third goal until 14 minutes remained.
By that time, the Cubs led 10-3 and the outcome was hardly in doubt. To be honest, the outcome wasn’t really in doubt at halftime, when Loyola led 8-2 … or even after the first quarter, when Loyola held a 4-1 advantage that was quite a bit more dominant than that score would indicate.
Loyola senior Ryder Mora (Maryland), a midfielder who has played attack down the stretch to balance the Cubs’ offense, had two goals and an assist as the Cubs took a 3-1 lead six minutes into the game. Loyola dominated possession time and peppered the Foothill cage with shots. Knights goalie Austin Mann (Whittier) had four saves in the first quarter, preventing an early blowout.
Less than five minutes into the second period, though, Loyola’s lead was 6-1, and the Cubs tacked on two more in the final 1:30 of the half to lead 8-2 at the break.
While a six-goal margin in a championship lacrosse game usually isn’t insurmountable, it was becoming readily apparent that this one would be.
Loyola scored in its half-field offense (7 goals) and in transition or unsettled situations (6 goals). The goals came from midfielders (4 goals) and attacks (9 goals). They were assisted (5 goals) and not (8 goals). Mora led the Cubs with five goals and two assists, and Henry Hasenberg and Wes Priestley each scored two. Mason O’Hanlon (Babson) and Jonathan Partamian (Syracuse) each had a goal and an assist, and Joe Peterson and Dom Trageser each scored one goal. Defender Mohler had an assist in transition.
While Loyola’s offense certainly was red hot, the Cubs’ dominance started at the face-off dot, where junior Aidan Hesse won 12 of 18 draws, and continued at the defensive end, where their match-up zone defense was all but impenetrable.
Foothill had almost as many turnovers (16) as it did shots (18). Junior attack Ellis Geis (Denver), who scored 62 goals on the season, scored only one on Saturday. On a number of occasions, the 6-foot-4 scorer resorted to lunging or diving between Loyola defenders to get a look at the cage, frequently ending up on the ground. He was helped off trainers twice.
Loyola ran waves of defensive midfielders in and out throughout the game, with starters O’Hanlon and Partamian pulling double-duty alongside sophomore LSM Will Kupiec, junior Robert Henderson, senior Luke McKenna and junior Griffin Chalmers, among others.
Foothill managed to put 10 of its 18 shots on cage, but Loyola’s Theuer saved six of them.