Joe Boylan is full of stories. His pride shows when he recounts how Loyola hosted the 2005 men’s golf championship, the smallest school ever to host an NCAA championship by itself. He’ll tell you how Greyhounds men’s lacrosse dominated in the 1990s and how, after the women’s basketball team won the conference championship in 1994, Men’s Basketball Coach Skip Prosser walked by the trophy and said, “We’re getting that tomorrow night.” And they did, with a trip to the NCAA Tournament to boot.
Boylan has been the University’s director of athletics since 1991, and this day promises to add another round of stories to his repertoire. He roams the grounds of a hilltop stadium that is the culmination of a vision years in the making. Unfazed by the blistering winds and nearly constant rain, he watches the men’s lacrosse team warm up for its first match on the pristine turf of the new home field. On another field to the south, the Loyola club rugby team is deep into a routine thrashing of a visiting opponent. Children scamper about with balloon-animal hats twisted in the shape of greyhounds, and the towering stands fill with energized students come to witness the debut of Loyola’s newest athletics crown jewel.
Today is opening day for the Ridley Athletic Complex.
Complete after four years of construction, the $62-million Reverend Harold Ridley, S.J., Athletic Complex is named in honor of Loyola’s 23rd president, at the request of the anonymous donor who contributed $5 million to the project—the largest individual gift in University history. It was Fr. Ridley who more than 10 years ago first envisioned a state-of-the-art athletic complex to house the University’s men’s and women’s soccer and lacrosse programs. The Ridley Athletic Complex features a 6,000-seat grandstand; spacious locker rooms; a cavernous weight room; coaches’ offices; team meeting rooms; press, presidential, and VIP boxes; and sweeping views of Baltimore. The complex is home to J. Richard Awalt Field, for soccer and lacrosse matches, as well as Sean Lugano Memorial Field, which offers expanded opportunities for club and intramural sports while providing a permanent home for the storied Loyola rugby club. It is what Boylan and others at the University would call a statement of intent for Loyola athletics.
“Jesuit schools have always taken the role of athletics very seriously, the ways it brings about the discipline of the body, how it develops leadership and builds team spirit, not just for the teams themselves, but for the whole student body,” said Loyola President Brian Linnane, S.J.
Loyola’s dedication to athletics has resulted in a résumé of success in keeping with its goal of becoming the leading Catholic comprehensive university in the nation. In fact, the University’s strategic plan counts the enhancement of Greyhounds athletics among its core initiatives, with the Ridley Athletic Complex a key element of that effort.
Spread among the University’s 18 NCAA Division I programs are many conference and league titles, NCAA tournament appearances, and national rankings—including a 1976 National Championship for men’s soccer. Many Greyhounds athletes have attained All-American honors. Some have gone on to play as professionals, including men’s basketball star Mike Morrison, who played for the Phoenix Suns and then-Washington Bullets in the 1980s and ’90s, and goalkeeper Zach Thornton, ’98, a five-time All Star in Major League Soccer. The school has long fielded potent teams in soccer, lacrosse, and basketball, but has also seen considerable success in other sports. The men’s golf team has dominated the MAAC (Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, in which most Loyola teams compete) for a decade, and the men’s swimming team this year won its second consecutive conference title.
Outside of game time, Loyola has maintained a standard of excellence for its sports stars, graduating more than 90 percent of its student-athletes—well above the 79 percent national rate listed by the NCAA. In 2009, the men’s and women’s soccer teams won academic awards from the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, just one recent example of how Greyhounds athletes set an example of discipline for their peers.
“We put high standards on our student-athletes, but I think those we have at Loyola put a high level of expectation on themselves too—in a good way,” said Jen Adams, head coach for women’s lacrosse.
While Fr. Linnane says he’s thrilled with all that Loyola athletics has achieved, he notes that, like the rest of the University community, the Greyhounds cannot rest on their laurels. “To stay the same is to fall behind,” he says.
To that end, Loyola has built not only top-flight facilities such as Ridley, but also a staff of talented coaches ready to reward the University with victories. Second-year head coach Adams, a three-time All-World lacrosse legend, already has her team winning “games we weren’t expected to win, a great sign of where we’re headed,” she said. Also in her second year, Women’s Soccer Head Coach Katherine Remy Vettori has led her team to a record number of victories, an MAAC championship, and the team’s seventh NCAA College Cup appearance. And Men’s Basketball Head Coach Jimmy Patsos has drawn on his previous experience as a national championship-winning assistant coach at the University of Maryland, College Park, to revitalize a Greyhounds squad that had fallen on hard times. (The team had a 1–27 record the year before Patsos took over in 2004.) Now with regular double-digit numbers in the wins column, Patsos says the team is primed for a serious run at the conference championship. While the Hounds ended the regular season at 12-16, the team also scored a major road win over traditional power Indiana, a statement victory that the team dedicated to Boylan.
After nearly 20 years leading Loyola athletics, Boylan is retiring this year. He came to Loyola from Rutgers, where he coached the men’s basketball team to an NCAA Final Four appearance in 1976. He knows success in athletics takes a massive commitment, and he sees the Ridley Athletic Complex as the most recent embodiment of Loyola’s dedication to sporting success.
“We now have a facility that every member of Loyola’s community—students, parents, athletes, alumni, supporters—can really be proud of,” he said. He credits the facility’s completion to the support of all of those groups. The Lugano field, for example, represents the realization of a years-long effort by family, friends, and Loyola rugby alumni to raise more than $1 million to develop and name the field after three-time All-American Greyhounds ruggers Sean Lugano, ’95, who was killed in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001.
The new facility thrills Greyhounds athletes such as junior women’s soccer midfielder Kelly Farrell, who says everything about Ridley is “big time.”
“The locker rooms are amazing, and the weight room is huge. It has everything we need and more,” she said.
She’s not the only one who thinks Loyola athletics is “big time.” That’s what Jim Paquette was thinking when the University chose him as Boylan’s successor. Paquette, previously associate athletic director for development at Boston College, was named Loyola’s assistant vice president and director of athletics in February, and he joined the University full-time April 1.
“One of the things that attracted me was the commitment the school demonstrated to competing at the highest level by going forward with this amazing facility,” Paquette said. He notes that while athletics is not the most important component of a university, it is often the most visible and plays a large role in attracting not only recruits but other students as well.
“It’s like the front porch of a home,” said Paquette. “If you’re looking for a home and you like how the front porch looks, you’ll likely go inside to learn more.”
The Ridley Athletic Complex generates that “front porch” appeal—along with other efforts such as a redesigned athletics Web site featuring social media connections and the Greyhound All-Access video channel. An obvious boon to lacrosse and soccer recruiting, the complex even has coaches in other sports buzzing.
“Ridley adds to our allure,” said basketball coach Patsos. “I’ll be bringing basketball recruits up there.”
Today, it seems as if just about everyone involved with Greyhounds athletics is at the Ridley Athletic Complex to cheer its grand opening. The stadium is sold out, the wind and rain doing little to drown the enthusiasm. Rainy days like this one make Boylan remember one more story, that of Diane Geppi-Aikens, ’84, who is memorialized inside Ridley’s concourse. The famed women’s lacrosse coach led her team to a national No. 1 ranking and an NCAA Final Four appearance in 2003, even as brain cancer was slowly taking her life. (She died just weeks after the team’s tournament run.) He remembers her coaching from a wheelchair, under an umbrella on a drizzly afternoon, an image that has inspired him ever since. All around Boylan on this opening day, other members of the Loyola community are collecting their own stories, experiencing defining moments that together will further the history of Loyola athletics.
“It’s an exciting time to be a Greyhound,” he said. “The best days for Loyola athletics are in the future.”