Johns Hopkins associate head coach Bill Dwan never enjoys playing Loyola (Md.). His younger brother Matt is an assistant coach on the Greyhounds’ staff, and he knows one of them will inevitably have to lose.
The brothers are the defensive coordinators at their respective alma maters, which are separated by just a mile in the lacrosse hotbed of Baltimore. The longtime cross-town rivals will clash in their annual meeting on April 28 with the brothers on opposite sidelines of Loyola’s Ridley Athletic Complex.
The Dwans grew up in a family of five children in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., competing in every sport or game they could dream up in the backyard along with their eldest brother Tim.
“Being the third child with two older brothers, Matt was the guy who got thrown in the goal for street hockey and snapped the ball in our football games,” Bill Dwan said. “He was the classic youngest brother hanging out with the older brothers.”
“My oldest brother — he and his friends were the starting offensive line for high school football team,” Matt Dwan said. “We used to play a game in our backyard like goal line football where they were on their knees and my friends and I could be on our feet and run. It was mainly us getting beat up.”
It undoubtedly toughened him up, and fueled his competitive spirit.
“When I was younger, I really wanted to beat my brothers at everything, and it was impossible because of how much bigger they were,” Matt Dwan said. “When I started to get older, it became more like I was playing the game with them and they were showing me how to play, not just knocking me around.”
Born four years apart, Bill and Matt never played on the same high school or college team, but each had extremely successful individual careers. Bill was a defenseman for the Blue Jays from 1988-1991, earning All-America honors three times and captaining the squad in his senior year. Matt matched those feats at Loyola as he became only the second long-stick midfielder in collegiate lacrosse history to claim First Team All-America (1995) honors.
In Matt’s first year at Loyola in 1992, Bill served as a graduate assistant on the coaching staff, giving a whole new dimension to their relationship. Bill also was the Greyhounds’ volunteer assistant in 1995.
“When he coached at Loyola when I was a freshman, I really started paying attention to his experience of just playing at Hopkins and how knowledgeable he was about the game,” Matt Dwan said. “He has an easy way of explaining things to people.”
“Matt was great,” Bill Dwan said. “He was ground ball guy, scored goals, played his man well … he had a really talented skill set. He was also a low-maintenance guy, which we love as coaches. He did well in school, had no problems off the field, was a captain … he was a guy anybody would love to have on their team.”
Bill began coaching at Hopkins in 2001, and Matt joined the Loyola staff in 2004. They have never coached on the same staff, but both imagine they have similar coaching styles with their laidback personalities.
“I can tell you that their teams are aggressive, just like Matty was,” Bill Dwan said. “Their defenses are well-coached and disciplined.”
While Loyola has not beaten the Blue Jays during Matt Dwan’s tenure, the little brother may get his shot this season despite the lopsided history of the series that began in 1939.
JHU dominated the first 30 years of competition, downing Loyola in every match until 1969. After a lengthy hiatus, the two teams restarted the series in 1993.
The Greyhounds finally topped Hopkins in 1994 (Matt Dwan’s junior season), and beat the Blue Jays again in 1998 and 1999. Since then, Hopkins has reeled off 12 consecutive victories against Loyola.
But this year, that winning streak could be in jeopardy. Loyola enters the contest with a 12-0 record and ranked No. 1 in the national polls, and No. 10 Hopkins (9-3) has lost three of its last four games.
“The tables have turned a little this year with Loyola being No. 1 and undefeated,” Bill Dwan said. “This game is probably more important to us as far as needing to win.”
“I know we’re ranked No. 1 right now, but when you’ve fought against a team that is really good and haven’t beaten them in a while … it’s hard to say we’re the clear-cut favorites,” Matt Dwan said. “We know how dangerous of a team they are and we’re just trying to beat a good team.”
Records aside, Hopkins and Loyola will field two of the best defenses in the nation in Saturday’s game. The Blue Jays rank fifth in scoring defense, giving up just 6.93 goals per game, while the Greyhounds follow at sixth on the list, allowing 7.08 goals per game.
As the Dwan brothers prepare for the top-10 showdown this week, they will talk — it just won’t be about lacrosse or their teams. They’ll chat about Bill’s four kids or their siblings or the NHL playoffs. Before Saturday’s game, they’ll say hello and shake hands, and for the next two hours it will be all business. Regardless of the outcome, they will both be relieved when the game is over.
“I think it would be a lot more fun if my brother wasn’t on the other sideline,” Matt Dawn said. “It makes it a little bit odd.”
“I don’t really enjoy playing Loyola with my brother on the staff,” Bill Dwan said. “If you win you’re happy, but if you get beat, you know how that feels and it is your brother on the other side. I am used to it now, but I don’t enjoy it.”