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hen Loyola University sophomore and All-America attackman Pat Spencer was a sophomore at The Boys’ Latin School in Baltimore, Bob Shriver, the school’s retired legendary lacrosse coach, saw a bright future awaiting the kid.

"> Pat Spencer: How a Late Bloomer Became an Evergreen Sensation | USA Lacrosse Magazine

PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER

Loyola sophomore attackman Pat Spencer draws immediate attention from Virginia defenseman Tanner Scales in the teams' season opener Feb. 11 at Ridley Athletic Complex in Baltimore, Md.

Pat Spencer: How a Late Bloomer Became an Evergreen Sensation


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hen Loyola University sophomore and All-America attackman Pat Spencer was a sophomore at The Boys’ Latin School in Baltimore, Bob Shriver, the school’s retired legendary lacrosse coach, saw a bright future awaiting the kid.

So did others who watched Spencer on the field, where his quickness, two-handed stick skills, uncanny field vision, cool decision-making and fiercely competitive streak were obvious. When Shriver recommended that Spencer — whom he considered a definite Division I player, even in a skinny, 5-foot-6 frame — would be best served by playing his sophomore season as a leader of the junior varsity, the Spencer family agreed.

After all, the Boys’ Latin varsity attack in 2013 was bursting with big-time talent in Colin Heacock, Shack Stanwick and Colin Chell, who had committed respectively to Maryland, Johns Hopkins and Ohio State.

“We just felt it made more sense for [Spencer] to have the ball in his stick a lot more than he would have that year playing on the varsity,” Shriver said. “Patrick was still growing. He already was a good athlete with tremendous hands. I’ve always believed that if you’re good enough, [good schools] will find you. Patrick is a perfect example of that.”

In one sense, Spencer — who went on to be a two-year varsity sensation, leading the Lakers to an undefeated season and a No. 1 national ranking in 2014 — became a victim of a collegiate numbers game.

Since he was temporarily undersized and didn’t play for the Boys’ Latin varsity team until his junior season, Spencer was passed over by top-tier Division I programs that increasingly receive early commitments from recruits. That allowed smaller lacrosse schools such as Penn State, Fairfield and Villanova to pursue Spencer as his junior year approached.

It also allowed Loyola, after its coaches were impressed by Spencer’s club performances with the Baltimore Crabs, to move in and make the Greyhounds the top attraction to him. And it gave Spencer, who also experienced a hefty growth spurt at Boys’ Latin and now is listed at 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, a place to put together a phenomenal freshman season in 2016.

After leading Loyola to a 14-4 finish that culminated with the Greyhounds’ third trip to the NCAA tournament’s championship weekend, Spencer is a sophomore in rarefied air — a preseason first-team All-American whom Shriver calls “the steal of the draft.”

Last spring, Spencer tied Loyola’s single-season scoring record with 89 points, leading the Greyhounds with 52 assists and tying the team-high with 37 goals. He came within two assists of setting the school’s single-season assist record and scored at least four points in 14 games.

Spencer capped a dazzling Patriot League run by blasting Army with five goals and five assists in Loyola’s rout over the Black Knights in the conference tournament title game. He became the first player in league history to be named Offensive Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year in the same season. He wound up second in Division I in points (4.94) and assists (2.89) per game.

It was the most prolific season ever by a Loyola freshman. It was also a powerful statement by the sport’s preeminent late bloomer.

“[Spencer] is an extremely talented kid who really sees the game and allows the game to come to him,” said Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala, who has maintained a Boys’ Latin-to-Homewood pipeline but missed Spencer. “For everybody who wants to criticize early recruiting, he’s the perfect story.”


“I walked off the field that day thinking two pretty good teams had just played, and by far the best player on the field was a freshman playing in his first game.” — Loyola assistant Marc Van Arsdale, on Pat Spencer's collegiate debut at Virginia in 2016


Looking back on that anxious recruiting phase while at Boys’ Latin, Spencer says the case for coming to Loyola was too compelling to pass up.

The campus is about an hour’s drive from his family’s Anne Arundel County home in Davidsonville, Md. The Greyhounds play in the sparkling seven-year-old Ridley Athletic Complex. Loyola is five years removed from winning the school’s only NCAA Division I championship in any sport and has since remained in the upper echelon of college lacrosse. The school’s academic reputation is solid as ever. The men’s lacrosse program is led by 12th-year head coach Charley Toomey.

“You grow up watching the big-time schools like Duke or UNC or Virginia on TV. As a player and competitor, that’s where you want to play,” Spencer said. “The [recruiting] process was frustrating. You’re thinking you’re better than this kid or that kid who is going to Duke or wherever, but none of those places have spots open.

“You’re either so lucky to have all kinds of great schools coming after you [early], or you’re under the radar like I was. Luckily, Loyola had spots open. There weren’t a lot of choices to be made, but the decision to come to Loyola was easy. This is a great place.”

“I wasn’t sure if Pat was going to start as a freshman,” Toomey said. “When we offered him [scholarship money], we felt that, even if he never grew, we were getting a guy who could handle himself at the Division I level.”

Spencer committed to Loyola in August going into his junior year of high school.

“Pat was like 5-8 when we watched him play with the Crabs. After he committed, we watched him play as a junior and he was just blowing up [physically] and getting better,” Toomey said. “Great stick and skill set, so smooth with both hands. We felt strongly that he could help us.”

COURTESY OF BOYS' LATIN (TOP LEFT) AND BALTIMORE SUN MEDIA GROUP (MIDDLE LEFT)
PHOTOS BY JOHN STROHSACKER (BOTTOM LEFT, RIGHT)

Spencer, who played two seasons of varsity lacrosse and could play four positions on the varsity basketball team at Boys' Latin, takes the microphone at his senior sendoff (top left) and at a Loyola post-game press conference.

Spencer’s sudden splash of collegiate success came as no surprise to Gene Ubriaco, the assistant coach at Boys’ Latin, whose son, Michael, will graduate from there next year and bring his talent as a long-stick midfielder to Johns Hopkins with the incoming class of 2018.

Between the time he spent coaching Spencer in lacrosse, watching him excel on the basketball court with the Lakers as an All-Metro guard — who could play four positions on the court — and even playing numerous rounds of golf with the youngster, Ubriaco said Spencer’s performance from the outset with the Greyhounds, while precocious, seems inevitable now.

“Patrick is creative and instinctual and stylistic. He’s got so much charisma,” Ubriaco said. “As a basketball player, he was a 2 guard who could handle the ball a lot and really take it to the basket. The ultimate compliment for attackmen is they make everybody better. Patrick can make a 5-foot guy play like he’s 10-feet tall.”

“As a competitor, I don’t think I’d want to play too many board games with him,” Ubriaco added. “As a teammate, he’s authentic. He’s got your back all the way, but he’ll tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. He’s still my favorite lacrosse player to watch. I think we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg with him.”

 

Loyola players recall how Spencer effortlessly forced his way into the Greyhounds’ rotation in his first fall season.

Senior midfielder Brian Sherlock had heard Loyola was getting a good multi-sport athlete who could contribute early on. But watching Spencer in the opening days of fall season — dodging past defenders from up top, behind the cage and on the wings, recognizing double teams and executing pinpoint passes to open teammates, taking and making smart shots — was a revelation.

“[Spencer] looked like the go-to guy running our offense right from the start. It came so naturally to him,” Sherlock said. “His vision and athleticism — he was unbelievable on the first day of practice.”

“He’s a quiet, humble guy, but you could tell quickly that he wasn’t nervous at all,” senior attackman Zach Sirico said of Spencer. “He knows how to beat you, and he doesn’t force things. He didn’t make those frantic freshman plays.”

“It’s never been about wanting to score a goal or wanting to get an assist to me,” Spencer said. “It’s about making the right lacrosse play.”








Spencer didn’t wait long to show his versatility last year. In Loyola’s season-opening rout over Virginia in Charlottesville, he made his mark on the Greyhounds’ first two possessions by scoring a goal and assisting Sirico on another. Spencer finished with two goals and two assists.

Marc Van Arsdale, Loyola’s first-year offensive coordinator, was on the losing end of that decision at Virginia a year ago.

“First, Pat turns the corner and scores on us. Then, he turns the corner again, the slide comes, and he feeds Sirico on the crease for a goal,” Van Arsdale said. “I walked off the field that day thinking two pretty good teams had just played, and by far the best player on the field was a freshman playing in his first game. You don’t see that very often.”

“I was real excited to be able to come here and coach someone like that,” Van Arsdale added. “I’ve come to appreciate just how athletic [Spencer] is. He’s always moving under control. It looks cruise gear. Then he turns it on and goes. I continue to see what I thought I saw last year.”

“The way Pat can look through a defense makes me look at [defensive coordinator] Matt Dwan in practice, and we just shake our heads,” Toomey said. “He’s a cerebral, relentless competitor who will put the ball on your stick if you’re open by a sliver of a window. Pat makes plays that the offense has to catch up to.”

Although Spencer opened his sophomore season without scoring a goal for just the second time in his young career — he missed on six attempts and collected two assists in a wild 16-15 loss to visiting Virginia — Cavaliers coach Lars Tiffany was quick to credit Spencer with affecting the game significantly, even without the ball.

Fifth-year senior defenseman Tanner Scales shut off Spencer for much of the day. His refusal to leave Spencer figured directly in Loyola getting five combined goals from its defensive midfield and faceoff man Graham Savio.

“We were fortunate. [Spencer] was close to getting couple of goals and a couple more assists,” Tiffany said. “I don’t know if there’s a better player in college lacrosse who takes what the defense gives him. The game really does seem to slow down for him.”




PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER

Spencer experienced a significant growth spurt between his sophomore and junior seasons at Boys' Latin. By that time, most college coaches had moved on.


According to Bruce Spencer, Pat’s father, his oldest of three sons had that innate gift as far back as early in elementary school. At age 7, in his first year of 65-pound football, Pat wanted to play quarterback for the first time. By the second game of the season, in part because of his unusual field vision, Spencer was starting under center.

“When Pat was little, his coaches would tell me he sees things the other boys don’t see,” Bruce Spencer said. “He’s always been a selfless player who doesn’t care about numbers. He truly enjoys playing the game.”

And Spencer appears unaffected by the attention he has created. Besides doing lots of extra lacrosse drills on the side, Spencer often finds solace in his love of basketball.

Whenever he can, Spencer watches his younger brother, Cameron, play varsity basketball at Boys’ Latin. Late on weeknight evenings, Spencer can be found shooting baskets alone in Loyola’s Reitz Arena. He gets home regularly on weekends, where he will shoot in the driveway with Cameron or someone else from the neighborhood, sometimes with car headlights illuminating the makeshift court.

One thing seems very clear. The early rush of collegiate success has not gone to Spencer’s head.

“Patrick realizes the numbers are there because [Loyola] plays a certain style and they have guys who know how to execute their roles,” Bruce Spencer said. “Last year hasn’t changed him at all.”

“That experience last year is something I’ll never forget,” said Pat Spencer, who does not enjoy reliving the Greyhounds’ 18-13 loss to eventual champion North Carolina in the NCAA semifinals.

“I want to keep that [bitter] taste in my mouth, that feeling that we were two games shy of getting it done,” he said. “But I’m not holding onto last year.”