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Undefeated Greyhounds a dark horse for title

Loyola College in Maryland has a storied men's soccer tradition -- dating all the way back to 1940 -- but this season could prove to be the biggest in Greyhounds history.

The team's 5-0 win at Rider University on Saturday capped an undefeated regular season as Loyola finished 17-0-1. It is the third time in school history that a team has gone without a regular-season loss (at either the NCAA Division I or II level). The other two came in 1971, although the team didn't take part in the NCAA tournament that year, and 1986, when the Greyhounds lost to eventual national champion Duke 2-1 in the Elite Eight.

"Those older teams are remembered because they were so good," junior Jamie Darvill said. "Obviously, we want to do some of the things they did. It's great for the program. The current team recognizes that and, perhaps, wants to be remembered in the same way as we look back on some of those teams."

This year, the Greyhounds have the potential to go even further than their predecessors.

They haven't lost in regulation or overtime in 26 matches -- the only loss in that span came in a 4-2 loss on penalties to Maryland in the second round of last year's NCAA tournament.

Loyola's offense has averaged 2.50 goals per game this season, second only to Wake Forest. That's in part due to a double threat in forwards Darvill and Phil Bannister. Darvill ranks third in the nation in points per game (2.11) while Bannister comes in at No. 13 with 1.75 points per game. Both are also among the nation's top 20 in scoring.

NCAA Scoreboard
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Led by goalkeeper Milos Kocic, who ranks sixth nationally in save percentage (.867) and 15th in goals against average (.607), the Greyhounds have been virtually as solid on the defensive end. The team's 11 shutouts are sixth-most in the nation.

In a year when smaller programs have stepped up big-time, Loyola is leading the charge.

"That's the beauty of Division I," Greyhounds coach Mark Mettrick said. "For me, it makes Division I soccer exciting that some of the smaller programs are in there. It's great to see small programs competing."

And competing is what his team is set on doing -- whether it's in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament this weekend or the NCAA tournament further down the road.

"[Throughout the season] we had games that we knew would be tough games and we got through those," midfielder Steven Bantock said. "I think we use the pressure to push us, and we don't fear it. If we get a big team [in the NCAA tournament], I think most of the team wants that and wants to be in big games."

Much of the Greyhounds' confidence comes from knowing they've come a long way since being the team that saw its season ended by the Terrapins in 2007.

"I think we learned to play in big games, and that's a great experience for this year," Kocic said. "We're going to know how to handle it better. ... Last year, I think we were maybe a little intimidated by them. Now, we have respect for teams, but we're going to get in the games right away. We're not going to wait for them to do something first."

And in a way, Loyola has been playing one-and-done soccer for months, as the possibility of an undefeated season got closer and closer.

"I think instead of seeing it as being pressure, we try to look at it as an opportunity to go out and do our best every game," Mettrick said.

He feels that mentality should help carry his team through the postseason.

While the Greyhounds have already earned themselves a place in Loyola soccer history, they know there will be plenty of time in the future for reflecting on what they've accomplished.

"When the season is over, that's when we're going to be like, 'Oh, wow, we just finished an undefeated season,'" Kocic said. "That's something only two other Loyola teams have done, in '71 and '86, so that's going to be great for us and our program."

But first are the upcoming conference and national tournaments, which are at the forefront of everyone's minds.

"It's nice to be winning the amount of games we are, but we don't want it to stop here," Bantock said. "Everyone wants to keep carrying on and getting better and doing whatever it is that we can achieve."

Maria Burns Ortiz covers college soccer for ESPNsoccernet. She can be reached at mariamburns@gmail.com.

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