- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 23, 2012

BALTIMORE — The return of attackman Eric Lusby from injury coincided with Loyola’s rapid rise from a solid lacrosse program to a national title contender.

One of the few things that happens even quicker is Lusby’s potent shot, one of the most valuable weapons remaining for any team in the tournament field.

“You can’t see it in film,” attackman Justin Ward said. “I don’t think goalies really have a true understanding of how fast that ball’s actually moving and how quickly it’s getting to them in front of that goal. Regardless of whether it goes in the goal or goes wide or even hits him, the goalie gets an idea ‘Whoa, it’s coming.’ “

Thanks in part to Lusby, the top-seeded Greyhounds (16-1) will make their first appearance in the NCAA semifinals since 1998 when they face fourth-seeded Notre Dame (13-2) on Saturday in Foxborough, Mass.

Lusby was a capable midfielder for the Greyhounds two years ago. Moved from attack to accommodate lefty finisher Cooper MacDonnell, Lusby suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament while running back on defense in an NCAA tournament loss to Cornell.

He underwent surgery the next month and tried to be ready for the 2011 season, but estimates he was only at 60 percent when he played in two games on attack last season. It was clear he wasn’t himself, and he opted for a redshirt season.

“When I came back in the preseason in the winter, I could just tell my legs weren’t under me and my skills weren’t where I wanted them to be,” Lusby said. “I definitely wanted to work on that. The year we’re having this year is just unbelievable. I couldn’t have asked for anything [else] to happen.”

The first signs came in the fall, when the Greyhounds ascertained Lusby would make a difference. The concerns of whether he could carry or if his post-surgery mobility would hinder him quickly were squashed.

Oh, and his powerful shot never did go away, an asset that can provide an edge beyond simply scoring.

“I just get so mad when I miss the cage,” Lusby said. “First of all, you have to get the ball on cage to make a goalie make a save. If he can’t make the save and he gets hit by it, I don’t know if it’s going to make him think twice about trying to step in front of it, but it definitely will play into some mind games.”

Lusby’s production provides defenses enough to think about. He leads the Greyhounds with 61 points (45 goals and 16 assists) and ranks second on the team in scoring behind Mike Sawyer (51 goals), another strong shooter.

Saturday’s quarterfinal victory over Denver was a reminder of the hard choices Loyola forces foes to make. Denver shut off Sawyer, and an open Lusby tied a career high with five goals.

“People remember the Gaits for Syracuse,” Loyola coach Charley Toomey said. “I remember Rodney Dumpson. He was the third guy on their midfield and he could sling it harder than the other two combined; you just didn’t know where it was going. We have that on the right side and we have that on the left side, and that’s a dangerous, dangerous thing.”

Replicating the shot’s motion, though, is difficult. Lusby said he’s tried to teach it to others, without much success.

Not that it matters for Loyola. The comeback of one explosive lefty shooter is a significant component of the Greyhounds’ remarkable season.

“You never see someone shoot it like Lusby, that hard, that often,” Loyola midfielder J.P. Dalton said. “You watch him and try to mimic his shot. I remember being young and trying to mimic his shot, and I figured I’d just stick to what I’ve been doing. He’s pretty hard to match. He just has a God-given talent. It’s something that wows you, and you’re just happy he’s on your side.”

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