FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Three games into the season, Loyola (Md.) coach Charley Toomey, a former goalie himself, made the switch. It was a Midas touch move, obviously.
At the time, the Greyhounds, unranked in the preseason, were 3-0. You probably couldn’t have guessed at that time that on Saturday they would be playing in the national semifinals. Especially not after Toomey went with his gut and took junior Michael Bonitatibus out and put sophomore Jack Runkel in.
“They both were playing very well,” Toomey said. “We didn’t lose a game in making the switch. We needed leadership and we felt like Jack was the guy you could hear out there. Jack was the guy who was very organized, he got guys to their spots.”
That’s certainly been the case all season, because Loyola (16-1) is the top seed in the 2012 NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Championships at Gillette Stadium and plays Notre Dame (13-2) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, followed by Duke (15-4) against Maryland (11-5).
Sunday features two championship matches. The Division II final has Limestone (17-1) against Dowling (12-2), followed by the Division III title game between Cortland (21-0) and Salisbury(22-0). The DII and DIII games will be streamed live at NCAA.com.
Neither Runkel nor Bonitatibus barely played in 2011, a season in which Loyola failed to make the NCAA tournament. Runkel, who appeared in one game last year, obviously wanted the job when this season opened but took standing on the sidelines in stride.
“You just have to take it day by day,” he said. “You play your best every day in practice and chips will fall where they may, I guess. You have to go with the mindset that your season’s not over even though you’re not playing. You’ve gotta be there for your guys on the sidelines regardless.”
“Freshman year I got a whole lot of experience watching guys play while watching on the sidelines. That was fine for me, because you’re a freshman and that’s how it plays out,” Runkel said.
Runkel, a big goalie at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, came to Loyola from Avon Old Farms School in Fairfield, Conn., where he was a lacrosse star and pretty good hockey player. No ice hockey goalie for him, however: “I loved playing street-hockey goalie,” he said, “but that was about it. I couldn’t get in the soccer goal or hockey goal.”
Loyola opened the season with victories against Delaware, Towson and Bellarmine. But when the Greyhounds made the trip from Maryland to play at Michigan, Runkel got the nod and he’s been there every since.
“I kept playing well,” he said. “You’ve just got to find your consistency and keep being a rock in the net and being yourself.”
“Runk? He’s awesome,” Loyola sophomore defender Joe Fletcher. “He makes the game fun for you. He just helps us relax on the field and makes you stop and realize how cool the experience is.
“He keeps us calm. You play with some goalies who will yell at you, other goalies will just freeze. He just says we’re all right, if we’re up or down he just says to keep your focus and has a big smile on his face and it’s nice.”
Since the move, Loyola has gone 13-1, losing only to Johns Hopkins on April 28, 10-9 in overtime.
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“Michael is more athletic than Jack, Jack is a tremendous leader and a good stopper. They’re both decent stoppers. We have tremendous confidence in both of them,” Toomey said. “Jack is the guy right now we’ve been on this run with and we feel like he is the glue defensively and making sure that guys get to their spots. We hear him on the sidelines and we know the guys on the field hear his voice.”
Interestingly, in that Hopkins game, Toomey made a late-game switch and put Bonititabus in before then putting Runkel back in for the OT. Interestingly, in that game Runkel had his career high of 14 saves.
“In terms of making saves, they’re both very talented,” Toomey said. “ When we were in our comeback against Johns Hopkins, Michael Bonitatibus was in the goal for us in the last five minutes of that game to put it into overtime. So we’re very comfortable with both of them.”
Runkel was named the ECAC defensive player of the week three times this season. He’s made 128 saves this season with a .535 save percentage. By contrast, Notre Dame counterpart John Kemp has a save percentage of .636.
“Some of our numbers may not be that high, but that’s just because as a unit we’re very good,” Runkel said.
Fletcher, who blocked a shot with 15 seconds left to ice Loyola’s 10-9 NCAA quarterfinal victory over Denver, agreed.
“We work well together as a unit,” he said. “It’s pretty cool.”
“I don’t have a very good save percentage, we don’t have a very good turnover ratio, but make up for that by limiting stops and our offense does a pretty good job of scoring goals, too,” Runkel added.
Which is all his coach can ask.
“He’s done very well but the one thing we do as a unit is we contest almost every shot defensively. So we don’t ask our goalie to stand on his head. We’re not asking our goalie to make 17, 18 saves a game. If they can get to 12, I really feel like we can hold people in check.”