Loyola women in NCAAs

March 07, 1994|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Sun Staff Writer

ALBANY, N.Y. -- To appreciate how far the Loyola women's basketball team has come, talk with Mary Thompson.

A senior guard from the other side of the Green Mountains in Vermont, Thompson wondered what she was getting into three years ago, when she started for a Greyhounds team that won four games.

Yesterday Loyola beat Fairfield, 72-66, in the championship game of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament at the Knickerbocker Arena and earned a berth in the NCAA tournament. When she was a freshman and the Greyhounds were among the dregs of Division I, did Thompson ever consider the possibility that she may some day play in the NCAA tournament?

"Absolutely not," Thompson said. "This is unbelievable. Patty Stoffey got here when I was a sophomore, and last year Coach [Pat] Coyle came in and changed the whole program. You don't know how far this team has come."

After spending a good portion of the winter overcoming steep odds, the Greyhounds are delighted with the prospect of traveling to a Penn State or Tennessee in the opening round of the NCAA tournament next week. Loyola (18-10) lost its first six games; shrugged off a nine-point, second-half deficit in Saturday's semifinal defeat of St. Peter's; and yesterday trailed by 11 with 11 minutes left.

"I haven't seen a team with this much fight since Rutgers in 1982," said Coyle, who was the Most Valuable Player in the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women title game that year, playing for Rutgers. "The fight in this team is unbelievable."

Their focus is also remarkable. Stoffey, a junior forward who is the second-leading scorer in the nation, let her teammates get mad when she wasn't named MAAC Player of the Year. She kept cool and had an amazing three-day run, obliterating the tournament scoring record with 99 points. She didn't force a shot yesterday, making all 13 of her free throws en route to gathering 27 points and 15 rebounds.

Her biggest play ended up in the assist column. Loyola got back in the game with a 9-0 run midway through the second half and moved out to a 66-59 lead with two minutes left, but Fairfield (17-12) was within 67-66 on Christine Flyer's three-pointer with 39 seconds left.

At the other end of the court, Stoffey flashed to the foul line, drew the defense and spied Camille Joyner cutting backdoor. Joyner converted a three-point play with 26 seconds left, and the Greyhounds had their first berth in a national tournament at any level in 23 seasons of play.

Joyner, who joined tournament MVP Stoffey on the all-tournament team, had 15 points and seven rebounds. Another junior, center Patty Taylor, scored the Greyhounds' first eight points and finished with a season-high 17 points and 10 rebounds. Colleen Colsher played the point for the entire 40 minutes.

Thompson? She made a huge three-pointer with 2:38 to go, and served as a reminder of how far the Greyhounds have come.

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