Sometimes, all Loyola attacker Georgia Latch needs to see is a glance or a hand gesture from a teammate to know what should happen next. A pass or a shot. A roll dodge on the crease — her favorite — or a pause to set up a scoring chance for someone else. With the ball in her stick, the decisions are literally in her hands. The coaches certainly aren’t yelling at her about the next step to take, and none of this is planned out ahead of time.

For the Greyhounds, the lack of a plan is, in some ways, the plan.

Loyola women’s lacrosse coach Jen Adams, one of the top players of all time in her days at Maryland roughly 20 years ago, gives her players latitude on the field, and it has a practical application in addition to keeping everyone happy. “When we on the sideline have no idea what they’re about to do,” Adams said after coaching practice the other day, “it’s very difficult for the opposition to figure it out.”

It’s hard not to chuckle at the thought, but this is the real approach when you watch No. 10 Loyola (13-2, 6-0 Patriot League), which has arguably the most prolific offense in the nation at the moment, averaging 20 goals over the past six games, including the Greyhounds’ 21-5 drubbing of conference foe Bucknell on Wednesday.

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For Loyola’s seven-on-seven offense, there’s a starting point that looks like what other teams use, with attackers and midfielders spread throughout the zone.

Then comes what they call the Scramble.

“Everything does come out of a sense of initial balance and structure, and then it’s about creating imbalance and chaos amongst the defense,” Adams said. “You start things off and get some motion going, and you want the defense to miscommunicate or maybe miss a slide pattern and take them out of what they’re comfortable doing, then exploit that and find opportunities to strike while the iron is hot off that disorganization.”

It’s worked. Latch, an Australian offensive talent just like her head coach once was, leads the team with 69 points. She had a casual five goals and three assists on Wednesday. Seven Loyola players have scored at least 20 goals and 30 points, topped by Latch’s team-high 35 assists, and midfielder Jillian Wilson’s (Gerstell Academy) team-high 43 goals, which goes with 14 assists and 144 draw controls. Attacker Sydni Black is third on the team with 55 points, and midfielder Chase Boyle and attacker Emily Wills aren’t far behind with 49 and 48 points, with balanced goals and assists.

“We’ve got so many different people on this team that can be a threat,” said Latch, who often faces double-teams or faceguards. “You take out one, then there’s another person that can step up and score five goals against a team.”

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By “controlling what we can control — attitude, effort, and being athletes and enjoying being out there,” Wilson said, Loyola has simply overwhelmed a number of opponents early, like with a 7-3 first-quarter in a 19-5 win against 15th-ranked Army last weekend and a 9-4 start in a 20-10 victory at then-No. 22 Princeton a game earlier.

Pair depth on offense with their own highly-ranked defense (second in goals allowed per game), led by cover sensation Katie Detwiler and backed by sophomore goalie Lauren Spence, and the Greyhounds have outscored teams by 14 goals in their last six outings. In their last loss, a 9-7 defeat to now No. 1 Syracuse at Ridley Athletic Complex, the Loyola defense became the only unit to limit the high-scoring Orange to single digits this season. At the same time, though, Latch was held scoreless. The result was part disappointment and part realization that this team can make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.

As the postseason approaches, the Greyhounds — who have won three straight conference titles, reached last year’s NCAA quarterfinals and have never lost a Patriot League game under Adams — appear on a collision course with No. 23 Navy (12-3, 6-1) to decide the league championship, and they are ranked ninth in the latest RPI used to determine NCAA tournament seedings, according to lacrossereference.com.

The Greyhounds host Patriot League opponent Lafayette at 3 p.m. Saturday, and then close the regular season at Navy Friday night in a game that will likely decide the conference tournament’s top seed and host school.

This was the kind of thing Adams envisioned when she left an assistant coaching position at her alma mater after the 2008 season, to build a program as she knew best. Now in her 15th year leading Loyola, Adams eclipsed the 200-win milestone as a head coach in April and surpassed the late Diane Geppi-Aikens as the program’s winningest head coach, and Adams has built teams in her image of how she liked to play and watch the game.

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The idea that not knowing exactly what’s going to happen next or dictating what she thinks should occur is OK. That’s primarily because as a player at Maryland — where she won four straight national titles, set every scoring record imaginable and became a National Lacrosse Hall of Famer — “We had some sets and plays, but we were given quite a bit of freedom,” she said. “It’s how I learned to play the college game.”

And that worked out just fine.

From 1998 to 2001, after arriving in the U.S. from Australia, not only did Adams leave her name all over the record book (like 88 goals and 148 points her senior year), she produced offense with flair, creative stickwork and trademark side buns in her hair as the Terps dominated with two unbeaten championship seasons. Individually, she was a three-time national player of the year and her 445 career points still rank second in NCAA Division I women’s lacrosse history.

Turns out, roughly 20 years later, a new generation of players can still figure out how to score on their own, given the right tutelage, preparation and trust in each other. “We sort of are all just capable of playing whatever sort of lacrosse works best for all the different people on our team,” said Latch, who got on Adams’ recruiting radar via youth leagues back home, down under. “If there are people that are good at playing at X [behind the cage] and driving, they’re capable of doing that. If there are cutters on the team that are good at cutting or not as good at dodging, then they can do that as well. The offense really highlights everyone’s strengths and allows everyone to do what they’re best at.”

Adams said: “We’re deep offensively, and sometimes that can be to the detriment of a team, they’re all kind of pitted against each other and taking away from each other’s strengths, but this group has evolved as the season has gone on to be able to highlight each other, to make it work with a lot of unity and chemistry. One thing I’ve known from day one was this is a very selfless group. They’re willing to share the ball and play a very creative style. It was just a matter of time for it to fall into place and the puzzle pieces to fit.”

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It’s not all glances and gestures that make it work, but they do play a part. “We practice like 20 hours a week,” Latch says. “You get the hang of what people want to do and when they want to do it, and we have a lot of freedom to sort of do whatever we want. It works out well in favor, obviously.”

Obviously.

A late-season surge

After falling to Maryland in a one-goal game on April 5 and beating nationally-ranked Michigan last Thursday, 14-7, the Johns Hopkins women (7-7, 3-2 Big Ten) have entered the coaches’ top-25 poll in head coach Tim McCormick’s first season.

The 22nd-ranked Blue Jays have won three of their last four and beat Towson in overtime on Tuesday night. Freshman midfielder Ava Angello scored five goals, including the winner. With Big Ten tournament seeding and an NCAA at-large berth in mind, Hopkins hosts No. 14 Penn State (11-4, 3-2) at noon Saturday.

Games to watch

It’s rivalry weekend or, more specifically, rivalry Saturday night.

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At 6 p.m. Saturday, the No. 7 Johns Hopkins men (10-4, 3-1 Big Ten) face No. 4 Maryland (8-3, 3-1) in College Park in a bitter rivalry game that could decide the top seed for the Big Ten conference tournament and will likely influence NCAA tournament rankings too. The game will air on the Big Ten Network.

Around the same time, in Annapolis, the Navy men (7-6, 4-2 Patriot League) — winners of four straight — host conference-leading and No. 9-ranked Army (9-2, 6-0) in the program’s traditional annual meeting. CBS Sports Network will broadcast the game starting at 7 p.m.

Finally, the No. 12 Maryland women (12-4, 4-1 Big Ten) play on the road at league rival, No. 2 Northwestern (14-1, 5-0) at 8 p.m. Eastern time Saturday, also televised on the Big Ten Network. It’s a critical game for the Terps, who lost to Penn State last time out but can nab the Big Ten regular season title with a win.

End lines

On Thursday, the Tewaaraton Foundation narrowed the list of those in the running for the Tewaaraton Award — the Heisman Trophy of college lacrosse—to 25 men’s and 25 women’s nominees.

Several players from our local watch list a few weeks ago made the cut, including Yale attackman Matt Brandau (Boys’ Latin) and Maryland defenseman Brett Makar, and James Madison attacker Isabella Peterson (Hereford), Maryland defender Abby Bosco, and Denver defender Trinity McPherson (Catonsville).

Wilson of Loyola was also selected as a nominee. She is only three draw controls from setting the program’s single-season record and is on pace to set the career mark as a grad student.

Five men’s and women’s finalists will be picked on May 11 with the winners announced in a ceremony in Washington, D.C., on June 1, the week after the national title games are decided.

Corey McLaughlin is a veteran writer and editor who has covered sports in Baltimore for a decade, including for Baltimore magazine, USA Lacrosse Magazine and several other publications.

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