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McNulty is the new breed of long stick midfielders

Baltimore Sun - 3/6/2020

Loyola University head lacrosse coach Charley Toomey already knew that Bishop Shanahan High School’s Ryan McNulty was a gifted player, but it was the stories about his involvement in the community which made him even more attractive.

There was one in particular when McNulty befriended a female classmate with Asperger’s syndrome. He would take her to dinner or out socially on the weekends to make her feel comfortable with her classmates, who sometimes made her feel awkward.

“I remember talking to his club coach, and he kept telling me about how great of a human being he was,” said Toomey. “There were just stories on top of stories of how he gave back to the community, especially about how he would visit this young lady daily to make sure she was OK.”

“From that point on I knew we wanted him,” said Toomey. “He isn’t just the type of guy you want in your locker room, but you need.”

Being unselfish is what makes McNulty successful on the field as well. He isn’t just a good long stick midfielder but maybe the best in college lacrosse. These are the guys that do all the dirty work like gobbling up ground balls or shutting down the opposition’s top midfielder.

But those who have played against the 6-foot-2, 200-pound McNulty are aware of his overall talents.

“Ryan McNulty defines what the king stick midfield is or quite frankly has become,” said Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala, whose team lost to Loyola earlier this season. “He is athletic, rangy and defends well. In addition, he brings with him a set of offensive skills that has quickly become associated with the long stick. He has outstanding skills, a solid IQ and is dangerous is both transition and quick strike offense.”

A bonus, which Toomey suspected when McNulty was still playing at Bishop Shanahan near Exton, Pennsylvania, has been his leadership. McNulty isn’t just Loyola’s pace setter in games but in practices.

When drills get sloppy, McNulty has the green light to call a timeout and adjust the tempo. If a teammate is dropping too many passes, he’ll probably hear a few words from McNulty. After red shirting as a freshman because of a foot injury, McNulty still has one more year of eligibility left.

He is in position to be a captain for three straight years.

“Early in his career he would speak to teammates and hold guys accountable, and that is what you are looking for,” said Toomey. “I love the way he goes about his business and speaks his mind. But he is also the first one to run up to you and put his arm around you.”

McNulty is his own man. Few players his age have his spirit or maturity, and he is actively involved with several ministries on campus.

Usually on Thursday he can be found in Baltimore with team chaplain Father Timothy Brown delivering food to the homeless on the streets or at homeless shelters.

What Toomey saw when he was recruiting McNulty is what he sees every day now.

“I would have to say that I have always been outspoken,” said McNulty. “I feel confident in what I have to say and usually am trying to add some insight. If I feel the vibe isn’t right in practice I will stop it, bring everybody in and get them focused. The first time I did that, everyone reacted well. I am not afraid to say what is on my mind.”

He backs it up on the field.

In 2018 McNulty led the team in ground balls with 53 and forced 15 turnovers while scoring four goals and two assists. Last year he collected 65 ground balls, had a team leading 25 forced turnovers and scored two goals and two assists.

He is a major key to Loyola’s transition game.

“He is an impact player all over the field,” said Towson University coach Shawn Nadelen, whose Tigers also lost to Loyola in 2020. “He thrives in transition from defense to offense. He is able to generate scoring opportunities in transition and finish them. He has the ability to be solid on ball in the half field sets and anticipates well off the wings of face offs to get ground balls and earn possessions for Loyola. He finds ways to make plays and provides a spark for their team.

It’s rare to have a long pole middie who can run and pass as well as McNulty. In five games this season he has won 20 ground balls, forced nine turnovers and scored two goals and two assists.

And that’s after shutting down the opponent’s top midfielder every week.

“It’s the first time in a while where we prefer to have the ball in a long stick’s hands instead of short stick,” said Toomey. “He is so capable of making the right play, finishing as a stretch shooter, or handling a pass to the inside.

“The kid has the ability to outscore his match up,” said Toomey. “He can hold a guy to an assist or a goal in a game, but he is capable of two assists and a goal in a game if we are running well in transition.”

No. 11 Loyola runs as well as any team in the country. One that might be better is No. 13 Duke, which visits Loyola Saturday. Somewhere during the game the Greyhounds are going to need a big goal, ground ball, a defensive stop or crisp pass.

Then it could be McNulty time.

“I love making the gritty play, I love being all over the field,” said McNulty. “Scoring a goal, especially with a long stick, can be demoralizing to the other team and it can provide energy to your sideline.”

“Duke is a great team, extremely well-coached and very athletic,” said McNulty. “They are coming to play, and they know that we are a team that isn’t going to roll over. But they also might be thinking that a little bit because they have won the last four. I can’t wait to get out there and put a shock on some people’s faces.”

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