It was a rare sight to see last Friday evening, around 7:30 p.m., when the great Pat Spencer exited the Loyola University men’s lacrosse locker room and sat before a small group of reporters at Ridley Athletic Complex, visibly frustrated by the outcome of what just happened on the lacrosse field.
His coach, former Loyola goalie Charley Toomey, and teammate, current goalie Jacob Stover (former Ravens kicker Matt’s son), spoke about the disappointment of a surprising 7-5 loss to Army on their home field in the Patriot League semifinals, and the hope and expectation that the NCAA tournament selection committee would still grant them an at-large berth. Meanwhile, Spencer—Baltimore-raised and one of the greatest college lacrosse players of all-time—alternated between running his hands through his sweaty hair in disgust, and closing his eyes and appearing to try to calm himself down.
For only the fourth time in a sparkling four-year career at Loyola—where he’s dazzled observers, teammates, coaches, and opponents (see this diving, back-handed goal) since the first game of his freshman year—Spencer recorded less than two points in a game, with one assist and no goals.
For a college senior who is third all-time in points scored by a NCAA Division I lacrosse player (360), is six assists shy of that all-time record, and owns a list of other league and program scoring bests, it was the equivalent of Michael Jordan or LeBron James being held to a couple points on the basketball court.
And now people were asking the only questions they could: how eager Spencer and the Greyhounds might be to get another chance to play this week when college lacrosse’s NCAA tournaments begin. He couldn’t end such a great playing career with a goose-egg in the goal-scoring column, right?
“We all want another opportunity,” Spencer said. “We really didn’t put our best foot forward today. But we got a really good team and we know what we’re capable of doing coning down the stretch. Yeah, we want to get back out there.”
Fortunately for them, and anyone who wants to catch a final glimpse of Spencer in person locally, Loyola indeed heard its name called on ESPN’s Selection Sunday broadcast, as the tournament’s eighth-seed, and will host traditional lacrosse power Syracuse at noon Saturday. The game will air on ESPNU. Another local figure, former Johns Hopkins goalie Quint Kessenich, will provide color commentary.
Win or lose, it will be the last home game for Spencer and 11 other Loyola seniors. The rest of the tournament is played at neutral sites, with the championship on Memorial Day up I-95 at the home of the Philadelphia Eagles.
As is typically the norm around these parts, the Loyola men’s team joins a handful of other local programs in the lacrosse postseason, which include women’s and men’s teams from Towson, Johns Hopkins, UMBC, Navy, and University of Maryland.
Spencer, however, is the headliner. And, time being what it is, is inching closer to the culmination of a remarkable college lacrosse career. His resume: a three-time finalist for the Tewaaraton Award, the equivalent of football’s Heisman Trophy; three-time All-American (so far, only because this year’s picks haven’t been announced yet); four-time Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year; five points shy of moving into sole possession of second-place on the NCAA all-time scoring list; and helping Loyola reach the national semifinals as a freshman in 2016.
But it all started relatively off-the-radar. In a sport where college recruiting can often happen at an uncomfortable and unreasonable early age, Spencer was passed over by top-tier Division I programs because he didn’t fit the prototypical mold and profile as an early high-schooler.
He was a late-bloomer, going from a skinny, 5-foot-6 sophomore, and playing on Boys’ Latin’s junior varsity team, to a 6-foot-2, two-year varsity sensation who led the Lakers to an undefeated season and a No. 1 national ranking in 2014. By that point, he’d already decided to stay in the neighborhood and play in college at Loyola. He caught the coaching staff’s attention with performances with the Baltimore Crabs summer club team.
Four years later, the local boy is readying for one last NCAA tournament ride, and we’re hoping for at least one more spectacular dive show tomorrow, like this one . . .
But his college athletics career might not be done, even when the lacrosse story ends.
Spencer was also a Sun All-Metro basketball player in high school, as guard, and he’s got realistic hoop dreams. His younger brother, Cam, will play basketball at Loyola next year, and older brother has stated his desire to use an extra year of NCAA eligibility to play somewhere next winter. In fact, Spencer has played in the competitive Annapolis Summer Basketball League the last four summers, and was MVP in 2017. (And there he impressed semi-famous street-ball legend “White Chocolate,” former Bowie State point guard Randy Gill.) There’s a lot of concepts from the lacrosse field that apply to the basketball court, and vice versa. And he can dunk.
Plus, Spencer graduates from Loyola this month with a degree in finance. In short, the guy has options. He was also the No. 1 overall pick in the recent Premier Lacrosse League pro draft, meaning he could show off his stick-and-ball wares to national audiences on NBC this summer while earning a salary and benefits.
That’s all discussion for another day, though. For at least one more 60-minute lacrosse game on Saturday, No. 7 in the Loyola green, cool gray, and white uniform will look to make the most of his shot at career-closing redemption (a national title would be storybook and ideal), and try to enjoy the present. It will be a show for the rest of us.