A difference maker on the field

Pat Spencer, '19, brings leadership, speed to the game

Head men’s lacrosse coach Charley Toomey, ’90, and the Loyola men’s lacrosse team go through the same routine every year when freshmen arrive. The coach, along with his seasoned players, emphasize the importance of going to class and attending study hall.

One thing was different, however, in the fall of 2015, attackman Pat Spencer’s first semester on campus.

“Day one after fall ball, the seniors came up into the office and said, ‘Coach, is Pat going to class? Is Pat getting his hours?’” Toomey recalled recently. “I think they recognized immediately in the locker room that this kid really has a chance to help this program—this year, now. That never happened before.”

It wouldn’t be the first time Spencer found himself in the midst of something unprecedented in the Greyhounds’ program.

Now a senior, Spencer set Loyola’s career record for points in March. He was a finalist for the Tewaaraton Award, given to the top player in college lacrosse, as a junior. In 2016, as a first-year student, he helped the Greyhounds reach the national semifinals.

Spencer faces of against opposing player.

Loyola and Spencer are on track for another NCAA tournament appearance this spring, and Spencer is on the short list of national candidates for player of the year.

“Coach Toomey kind of gave me the green light from day one to play my game and lead the offense, and I feel like we’ve done pretty well so far,” Spencer said, adding, “We still have some more things to accomplish.”

In high school, Spencer didn’t play varsity lacrosse at Boys’ Latin until his junior year, and Toomey and his staff scouted him as much on the basketball court as the lacrosse field.

But a late growth spurt helped Spencer transform from a player likely to contribute for four years to an instantaneous difference maker.

“We knew we were getting a talented kid, but didn’t have any idea of the beast that was going to step on the field for us as a freshman,” Toomey said.

Marc Van Arsdale found out the hard way. Then the offensive coordinator at the University of Virginia, he watched as Spencer scored two goals and two assists in his college debut against the Cavaliers.

“We knew he was a very good player,” said Van Arsdale, who is now in his third year as a Loyola assistant. “You’re thinking, ‘A freshman in his first game, what’s he going to be like?’ It didn’t take very long to realize that these were two pretty good teams out there on the field, and the best player on the field was a freshman in his first game. So you knew it right off the bat.”

Spencer being chased by another player.

It was also exactly what Spencer was looking for in a college experience. He stepped into a veteran locker room his first year and immediately fit in, not drawing attention to himself with anything besides his play.

He delivered a 37-goal, 52-assist season as a freshman and hasn’t looked back since, all the while becoming perhaps the best player in school history, not to mention an instrumental part of one of the nation’s strongest lacrosse programs.

“The appeal was obviously a winning culture and a great staff,” Spencer said. “The appeal was that I was hopefully going to come here and compete and get a starting spot right away, and be able to help the team. It’s just been more than I could ask for.”

The same can be said of Spencer, who blends some of the best facets of any attackman. He is a physical presence at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, yet also maintains a superb level of quickness. His skill level with both hands is high, which means opponents can’t simply push him to one side and negate his effectiveness.

Moreover, he maintains a calm, analytical approach that, paired with an understanding of the game, ensures his decision-making is almost always top-notch. Uncommon poise and competitiveness give Spencer’s skill set its edge.

Van Arsdale coached three Tewaaraton winners at Virginia, and three others who are now members of the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame.

Spencer’s place among those guys?

“I don’t have any problem saying Pat’s at the top,” Van Arsdale said. “If you were starting a team of all those guys at their best, who would you take? I don’t think you’d hesitate for a second that it would be Pat. I think that’s pretty high praise for where he is, because he sort of combines so many of the best traits of the really great players.”

Spencer runs as two players close in on him.

His final season at Loyola has meant a few adjustments. Spencer never ran for captain in his first three seasons, deferring to the older veterans on the roster. Now the Greyhounds expect a greater amount of leadership from him, as well as more willingness for him to put the ball in the net rather than set the table for others.

“He’s become more assertive in terms of scoring goals for Loyola,” Toomey said. “That’s the step we needed him to take. He was a distributor. He always had the ability to turn a corner and win a matchup or take what was given to him, but now you’re seeing a guy who’s much more aggressive with the ball in his stick.”

Spencer has set the school career records in points in assists by the midway point of his senior season, and he is in the top 10 in both categories of NCAA Division I players; he’s accomplished plenty during his illustrious career. One of the few things missing is bringing Loyola its second national title—a lofty aim Spencer hopes to deliver on in May.

“I’ve just had incredible teammates, and the coaching staff has always been incredible, too,” Spencer said, adding that making the final four freshman year was a highlight.

“It’s been an enjoyable experience, and we’ve been able to win, so I think that helped a lot. We’ve had three Patriot League titles, with hopefully one more to come.”

Photos by Chris McNulty & Larry French.