Loyola alum Connor Koch owes a lot to the pioneers who paved a path for the program’s success.
A four-year varsity player and captain, Koch (Class of 2019) took advantage of an opportunity to give thanks to some of those people.
At halftime of the team’s 20-7 win over Lake Forest at home May 11, Koch and five of his teammates assembled at midfield to pay tribute to the Class of 1988. He was joined by senior captains senior Mick Burden and Mike Feuer (pictured above) and junior captain Kaden Keller as well as senior Patrick Cronin and senior Dylan Yapp.
Representing the Class of 1988 was Bill Berghoff, David Burden and Mike Meccia. Mike Feuer, the program’s first head coach and father of Mike Feuer, also was in attendance.
Conceived in 1986, the Ramblers pieced together their first team and played a limited schedule the following season. For most of the players, lacrosse was a brand-new sport.
Loyola proved to be a quick learner, winning its first state title in 1990. In their 32 seasons of existence, the Ramblers own 12 state titles, including the first in IHSA history in 2018, and 12 runner-up finishes. New Trier captured its state-leading 13th state championship this season to go with nine second-place finishes.
“It’s inspiring and fulfilling to see [Loyola] dominate after those early years of getting crushed,” David Burden said. “We put so much sweat equity into building the program, and it’s cool to see how far it’s come and how successful it is.”
While Koch admitted he wasn’t too familiar with the origins, his family is synonymous with Loyola lacrosse, both boys and girls.
Koch’s older brother, Kyle Koch (Class of 2017), was a four-year varsity player at Loyola, winning one state title and taking second twice. An All-American in high school, Kyle plays lacrosse at Marquette University. Their younger sister, Kelsey Koch, will be a senior for the Ramblers.
Connor said he was grateful for the opportunity to connect to the program’s past.
“It was a cool thing,” he said. “Loyola lacrosse is one of the most important things in my life, and I know it’s been a big deal to a lot of other people.”
A native of Glenview and graduate of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Berghoff was surrounded by high schools with lacrosse teams, but he knew little about the sport. In fact, he didn’t pick up a stick until his junior year at Loyola.
Berghoff’s mother, Loretto Berghoff, helped form a parents club that was instrumental in persuading the school to recognize lacrosse as a sport.
“We had humble beginnings,” Bill said. “A lot of us didn’t know the rules or even where to buy equipment. We wanted to be competitive and win, but we knew we had to start somewhere.”
David Burden (no known relation to Mick Burden) first was exposed to lacrosse while growing up in Evanston, where he attended St. Athanasius. But it wasn’t until his freshman year at Loyola that he truly took an interest in the game.
As a sophomore, Burden was among those who persuaded Loyola’s administration to add lacrosse to its athletic roster.
“They didn’t realize how much demand there was for it,” he said. “The day after we put up the sign-up sheet, there were 40 kids in a classroom wanting to play.”
In their third official season, the Ramblers captured the state championship by beating Evanston. It was no fluke as they tallied another state title the following year with a win over Lake Forest. Mike Feuer was named the Illinois High School Lacrosse Association’s coach of the year in 1991 and again in 1996.
Todd Rassas (Class of 1993) helped put the Ramblers on the regional, if not national map, when he went on to play at University of Notre Dame. He finished his college career as a three-time All-American and later was inducted into Notre Dame’s Hall of Fame. Rassas is a member of Loyola’s Hall of Fame.
This past season saw 2019 graduates Timothy Hackett, Cooper Prawdzik and Dom Urukalo named All-Americans. It was the fifth year in a row at least three Ramblers earned that honor. Hackett and Urukalo both were three-time All-Americans.
Loyola assistant coach Brian Rynes (Class of 1999) has been intimately involved in the lacrosse program for 17 seasons. His older brother, Kevin Rynes (Class of 1998), got him started in the sport.
By the time Brian arrived at Loyola, the Ramblers were a perennial power in Illinois, with three state titles and two runner-up finishes in their first eight seasons.
After taking second as a sophomore, Rynes and the Ramblers captured a state championship during his senior year. He continued his career at Loyola University in Baltimore, Maryland. Rynes returned to the Ramblers as an assistant coach in 2007 and was named assistant coach of the year this season by the IHSLA.
As a member of Loyola’s staff, Rynes and the Ramblers have won three state championships and taken second seven times. Rob Snyder has been the team’s head coach since 2004 and has led Loyola to five state titles and been selected coach of the year twice.
“The measure of a good program is lasting success,” Rynes said. “We haven’t had any valleys. Another thing I’m proud of is that we try and do it the right way. Everything we do is with the best interests of the players in mind.”
While Loyola was one of the top teams in Illinois while Rynes was a player, he remembers the lopsided losses to teams on the East Coast. Fast forward to today, and the Ramblers not only are competitive against traditional powers, they are beating them. Last year, Loyola went 3-0 against teams from the mid-Atlantic area, including a first-ever win over Georgetown Prep, of North Bethesda, Maryland.
“I think back to my senior year when had a very, very good team,” Rynes said. “We went to Baltimore and were outscored something like 39-1. Now when we travel out East, we are winning games and teams are collecting film on us.”
Furthermore, seven 2019 alums — Burden (Richmond), Nolan Chow (Wesleyan), Mike Feuer (Gettysburg), Hackett (Bryant), Koch (Gettysburg), Prawdzik (Harvard), Najee Taylor (Loyola Maryland) — plan to play in college.
Additionally, Will Nowesnick (Class of 2014) and graduate of Salisbury University plays professionally for the Atlanta Blaze of Major League Lacrosse. The defenseman was a Division III All-American in college.
“Back when Loyola started, there weren’t a lot of kids from the Midwest playing in college,” Rynes said. “Look at us now. We’ve been lucky to have had smart coaches with high lacrosse IQs teaching the players.”
Although his playing days have long since past, David Burden remains close to Loyola lacrosse. He had nephews who played for the Ramblers, including Patrick Riordan (Class of 2016), who won a state title as a senior. Burden has two sons who play lacrosse. Both attend Sacred Heart in Winnetka and plan to go to Loyola.
Bill Berghoff marvels how the program has evolved over the years.
“We were like an expansion team,” he said. “It’s amazing to see how Loyola has developed into a state powerhouse with guys playing in college.”
Loyola lacrosse has been a fixture in the lives of both Mike Feuer and Connor Koch. Most likely, they will serve as alumni ambassadors.
“I’m proud to have helped carry the program to this point,” Koch said. “It’s a special thing to me.”
Photo credit: Margo Grogan/Sports Depiction