Friday, April 21, 2006

ANNAPOLIS — Just more than a year has passed since Navy midfielder Billy Looney spontaneously declared he was “the money man” in a televised postgame interview, much to the delight of teammates who ceaselessly badgered him about his amusing choice of words.

Today, the Midshipmen would love nothing more than to bank on the junior when No.3 Navy meets No.10 Johns Hopkins at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

It will be just the latest test for Looney, who is coming off a four-goal game against Army and has steadily settled in as the Mids’ most effective midfielder this season after Graham Gill’s graduation last spring.

“I thought I grew into it,” Looney said. “I felt like I had to step up my play because taking a pole is a lot different from playing a short pole. I still try to do fundamental things: beat my man, try to get a step, draw a slide. It’s a big difference with a lot of pressure. But I’ve always thought I was the top guy, and now I guess I am.”

He expressed that sentiment in a bit more spur-of-the-moment fashion last April. Looney remembers being told in the days leading up to last year’s regular-season meeting with Army that “money players” have their best performances in big games.

He then recorded a hat trick to earn a postgame interview with CSTV, where he blurted out, “I’m the money man” moments after an emotional victory.

For some players, it would smack of arrogance. For Looney, it was merely an example of his gregariousness and occasional goofiness shining through, and one his teammates wouldn’t let him soon forget. Coaches even took to calling him “Cash” in the final weeks of the season.

“Ben Bailey, who I played with my freshman year, called me and said, ‘You did not just say that on TV.’” Looney said. “I didn’t mean to be cocky. People that knew me said, ‘You’re such an idiot.’ … [At Easter last year] my whole family sat around and my dad says, ‘You’ve got to see this.’ We had the game on tape, and we didn’t watch the game. We watched my interview.”

Added junior midfielder Tommy Wallin: “He was money that game. I don’t know if I’d really say it. But that’s Billy. I don’t know if he really meant it, but he’s a good kid and he can back it up.”

Looney did again last week, matching a career-high with four goals as the Mids (9-2) escaped with an 11-10 victory over Army. Looney boosted his goals total to 15, the most among Navy’s midfielders.

Looney, a third-year starter, receives extra attention with Gill gone. But his shooting has improved after spending hours in the offseason shooting with assistant coach John Tillman. Since Looney now draws a pole in almost every situation, his improved ability to rip an outside shot with either hand is even more valuable.

Looney’s brother Steve usually joined those offseason sessions, but he’ll be absent from Navy’s first midfield line after breaking his right collarbone against Army. Freshman Bruce Nechanicky will move up to the first midfield to replace Steve Looney, who also played on the faceoff wings and in both man-up and man-down situations.

The injury comes less than a year after Looney’s junior season was ended by a fractured ankle before the NCAA tournament. If the elder Looney were to return, it would probably be no sooner than the NCAA quarterfinals — a point Billy Looney is already eyeing.

“I’d give anything just to see Steve play,” he said. “It’s definitely motivation for me, and I think everyone else on the team too, to come out and play our best. To give him another chance would be awesome.”

Earning a victory over Hopkins (5-4) on April 22 would accentuate those chances. The Mids have dropped 31 straight to the Blue Jays — once every year since a victory in 1974. Players admit it would be gratifying to be part of the team that ends the skid, but everyone in the program simply hopes to back up back-to-back wins over Maryland and Army.

“I don’t dwell on it, I don’t think our guys dwell on it,” coach Richie Meade said. “I think our alumni dwell on it because they have nothing else to think about. We have reality here. We have guys taking chemistry and physics and electrical engineering and math with letters. Thinking about something that happened 30 years ago doesn’t enter a midshipman’s mind.”

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