Coyle's second season brings women's turnaround full circle LOYOLA TWO-STEPS INTO NCAA DANCE

March 09, 1994|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Sun Staff Writer

When the Loyola women's basketball team earned its way into the NCAA tournament Sunday, no one was happier for head coach Pat Coyle than her identical twin, Mary Coyle-Klingler.

And why not? After all, they've shared a birthday, a national championship when both played for Rutgers in the early 1980s and an enduring love for the game.

"We'd sit and watch millions of games and she was always analyzing and figuring out the X's and O's," said Coyle-Klingler, who teaches and coaches at Rutgers Prep High School in Somerset, N.J. "And when she played, she especially liked the O's, because she never saw a shot she didn't like."

But, at the biggest moment of her sister's coaching life, when the Greyhounds beat Fairfield, 72-66, in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship game, Mary was nowhere near Knickerbocker Arena in Albany, N.Y.

"I could kick myself in the butt for that," said Coyle-Klingler. "But I talked with her right after the game and I told her no matter where she goes in the tournament for the first round, we'll be there. She must be so excited."

Indeed, the NCAA bid, the first by a Baltimore area school in the 13-year history of the women's tournament (Towson State, UMBC, Mount St. Mary's and Coppin State can enter the 64-team field by winning their conference tournaments this weekend) has made for some excitement on the Loyola campus.

"It's been crazy," said Coyle, 33. "There were people coming out of here, celebrating at 11:30 [Monday night]. And with the men getting in, it's really made it extra special."

The second-year Loyola coach has turned a moribund Greyhounds program into a winner, taking the team last year to a 14-15 mark, an 8-6 league record and a spot in the MAAC tournament final, just one season after Loyola posted a 6-21 mark.

This year, however, Coyle, the Most Valuable Player of Rutgers' 1982 Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women national championship team, has directed Loyola to an 18-10 record and a second-place finish in the conference.

The Greyhounds have won nine straight and 15 of their last 17.

"I was more happy for the kids than I was for myself," said Coyle. "I think there's going to be more championships, hopefully, down the road, but to have this group win, with what they've gone through, I'm really happy for them."

Coyle, who was an assistant at Rutgers and St. Joseph's, was passed over for the head coaching slot at St. Joseph's before the 1991-92 season and took a year off from basketball to assess her future in the sport. Then, Loyola athletic director Joseph Boylan, who had coached men's basketball at Rutgers, offered her the job here.

"That year off was probably the best thing I ever did," said Coyle. "I made a conscious decision. Did I want to be in this business or do something else? It was tough being out, but I couldn't be in a better situation. I'm working for a great guy in Joe Boylan. He understands what needs to be done. If it meant sitting out a year to have this opportunity, then it was well worth it."

Loyola's accomplishment this season is all the more impressive considering that the Greyhounds lost their first six games -- at home by nine points to Duke and three to Towson State and on the road against Purdue, Pittsburgh, George Mason and Washington.

All six of their losses came to teams with tournament aspirations, and they reflected a schedule toughened by Coyle for MAAC play.

"We did it [scheduling] for a reason, but I tell you after that sixth loss, I was down and the kids were down," said Coyle. "I thought the competition we played would help us, but when you're sitting at 0-6, you're thinking, 'When is it going to pay off?' "

Coyle said she spoke to Loyola men's lacrosse coach Dave Cottle and to ESPN women's basketball analyst Mimi Griffin for advice, and asked Cottle to talk to her troops. Since he did, the team is 18-4.

"He'll probably want my job," Coyle said, joking.

But Coyle's calm and reserve also helped the players endure until they could get that first win, an 84-48 victory over UMES that launched a three-game winning streak.

"With the 0-6 record, we were definitely down, but she just kept being positive with us," said junior Patty Stoffey, the second-leading scorer in Division I women's basketball. "She knew for March, being 0-6 would help us. Those games got us ready for the MAAC. Once we got to the conference, we were so much more confident. She just does it all."

If there's anybody who believes that Pat Coyle can do it all, it's her twin sister.

"She's going to win the big one," said Coyle-Klingler. "I might be ++ biased, but she's been to the big time and she's won. They [the Greyhounds] are in the tournament and that's what it's all about."

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